Work on values


GEALAN has adopted its own code of values and wants to strive and live by values. Why? Because a good working atmosphere is no coincidence, but hard work. Because values are navigation systems that provide orientation. And because everyone in the company benefits from them.

A somewhat nervous applicant faces a GEALAN team that wants to get to know him or her better: every year, Michael Grüner (41) experiences dozens of job interviews, each one not only exciting for the potential new employee, but also an important matter for GEALAN’s HR manager. “Unlike the past, applicants today ask more questions: what about working hours, work-life balance, how modern is the technology I will be working with? We then show them specifically what benefits GEALAN offers”. These include its innovative shift system in production, opportunities for mobile working, flexitime, team event bonuses, summer parties, JobRad (bike leasing) and so on. “But the issue of our corporate culture is also becoming increasingly important for applicants”, Grüner emphasises, “How do we actually treat one another?” GEALAN works not only on products, but also on values: value-based work, in both senses.

“Demographic factors have a strong impact on us, because the proportion of working age is falling at our locations in Upper Franconia as well as in Thuringia. We also traditionally face strong competition for staff in the industry – this is precisely where our corporate culture can be the decisive factor that makes people choose us”. Regardless of whether a position needs to be filled on the production line or at management level – which Michael Grüner describes as very different but sometimes almost equally difficult challenges – GEALAN looks for a very specific character trait in all applicants: “We need team players who can get along well with and appreciate others. The world is becoming more complex, even a technical expert can no longer manage alone, everyone is dependent on cooperation. We want people who don’t think they know everything and can do it all on their own, but can also take a step back sometimes, listen to other opinions. Ability to work in a team: we need that in administration, in the commercial sector, everywhere”.

GEALAN has the greatest need for staff in production, logistics and lamination. Skilled workers are scarce and in demand, and turnover is high, as is typical in the industry. According to Michael Grüner, this won’t change any time soon. For the commercial sector, on the other hand, he predicts fewer bottlenecks because processes are becoming leaner and intelligent software solutions mean fewer staff are needed. On the other hand, new job opportunities are more likely to open up in the software sector, especially for customer-oriented applications.

No matter where in the company: values count. GEALAN has thought carefully about which values are important enough to be included in its own code of conduct, ultimately selecting five out of 32 potential ones: PROFESSIONALISM, TEAM SPIRIT, TRUST, APPRECIATION, OPEN COMMUNICATION. All five are equally important. “We developed our values topdown and bottom-up, that is, in management committees and from within the staff”, explains Michael Grüner. A good twenty employees accompanied this process as value ambassadors for their departments. To ensure theory was turned into practice, they translated these values into specific directives, such as: we stand by decisions made together. Talking to each other in person is even better than writing emails. We value our counterparts, regardless of their position in our company. In this form, values really can be put into effect in everyday life.

“One department might have the right team spirit, but the professionalism needs to improve while in another, the opposite applies. That’s why the teams have set their own priorities to work on”. The GEALAN team sees its values as a tool: you have to use them and possibly adapt them to make a difference. “Of course, the work on our values never ends”, says Grüner, “But that doesn’t mean there’s no progress” 

GEALAN stands for a culture of openness, of approachability. The company doesn’t believe in traditional hierarchical levels, closed doors and superiors who you’re not allowed to bother, he adds. “We want approachable managers. The fact that we cultivate a positive welcoming culture and good teamwork, that we have a certain harmony here, is noticed by many of our visitors”.

GEALAN’s values are a pillar of its corporate culture. Michael Grüner concedes that is not always possible to implement them fully. Unrealistic ideals and a “love, peace and harmony” mentality would ultimately be the opposite of a healthy climate. “If conflicts arise, we try to get both parties to the table. That’s where we HR managers see ourselves in a mediator role. Many people already find it very helpful when they see that their concerns aren’t being ignored but taken seriously. Sometimes you’re surprised to discover that you can understand the ‘other side’ quite well and that you just misunderstood one another. In those cases, conflicts can be easily resolved”. Part of GEALAN’s value set is not to sweep unpleasant things under the carpet, but to remain self-critical and willing to initiate improvements.

To find out where improvements are needed, GEALAN listens carefully – for example in regular anonymous employee surveys, which are not only conducted in Oberkotzau and Tanna, but at all locations in Europe, and are evaluated externally. Sometimes little things come out in these surveys, Grüner reports. In the tool maintenance workshop, something is in the way, and you have to move it around. Or the light at someone’s workplace is too bright – “of course these are small things that we can sort out in no time at all. Things become more difficult when communications aren’t ideal somewhere. “Then we try to find out whether we are communicating too little, too slowly or in the wrong place.” Communication between people is never perfect – it can always be worked on. “We deliberately coach our leaders. They need to reflect on questions such as: how do my colleagues see things? Am I a good listener to them? Do I give enough scope for feedback? As someone who leads and is dominant, you sometimes have to slow down a bit to hear what’s important to the staff – everyone can benefit from that”. At the same time, there are also staff workshops that promote dialogue, show how you can find solutions together, contribute to respectful cooperation. “That works, people enjoy taking part”

For each individual, work on values occurs in small steps. According to Grüner, work hacks – small tricks on how to work better – can be a good inspiration: for example, resolving to answer every email within a week or to set time limits for meetings. That’s concrete and actionable, “if that works, we move on to the next communication issue”

Grüner goes on to explain that it sometimes takes a little persuasion to get all staff to understand that their opinions are important. “For instance, we’re tinkering with our new office concept. If I just ask in general terms, there aren’t a whole lot of suggestions. But if I approach someone directly from each area and ask them one-on-one: how would you design that room? Then I get lots of great ideas. The more specifically we ask, the more specific the answers are. Communication is a joint learning process”

What values are really worth is most likely to become apparent in a crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is also affecting the GEALAN workforce: mandatory mask-wearing in the production units, absences due to infection and quarantine, borders closed to the Czech Republic. Our employees have pressing questions: I feel sick, what should I do? Do I have to wear an FFP2 mask? How can we change shifts to minimise contacts? What are the entry requirements? – “There were a thousand questions and hardly any official answers – often we just didn’t have the legal basis yet”, Grüner recalls. This made the work in the prevention team complicated – professionalism and openness were key in this confusing phase. However, team spirit proved to be the overriding value in this crisis. Coping with breakdowns in the departments, having an open ear for the concerns of others, spontaneously organising accommodation for our Czech colleagues – “Looking back, I reckon we solved those challenges together pretty well – it was only possible because everybody pulled together”.

Meanwhile, we were forced to adapt quickly to completely new circumstances: with the help of video conferencing, new office use concepts and tablet/sensor-based solutions in the production and home office environments, a new working world has emerged at GEALAN. Michael Grüner can well imagine that some aspects will be retained once the pandemic is over. “Our working environment will have to allow for concentrated home office work and teamwork in the workplace in equal measure. Our office concept will become more hybrid so that several participants can take part in video conferences undisturbed, and others can connect externally. The technology for all this is in place, we just need suitable right spaces and concepts”.

What remains in all this upheaval are GEALAN’s values. To perpetuate them, they are passed on to every new colleague. The interview is over. If the applicant is accepted, they are not only starting a new job, but also embracing GEALAN’s set of values. They themselves become an important part of this value work.

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