NATIONAL FEATURES: Irina Brizhak, HRD at METRO Cash & Carry, on the policy of mutual care in the company and the right of a cashier to speak up
Leadership Journey (LJ): Why did you decide to invest your time, energy and knowledge in the training of specialists in the Global HR Pro program?
My colleagues and I are ready to teach everything – we are more interested in how a person thinks logically, thinks critically
Irina Brizhak (I.B.): I have a demand for human resources (HR), but they are not available. There are vacancies that may stay open for six months, for a year. The rate of change in the company is great, I need ready-made specialists who would fit a position, but I have to lower the requirements constantly. My colleagues and I are ready to teach everything – we are more interested in people who are capable to think logically, to think critically.
LJ: What are the requirements for these people? Thinking outside the box?
I.B.: The requirements depend on the position profile and the role of HR in the organization. If HR acts as a business partner, we are talking about people who have a basic education, HR expertise and understand how a business works, since our task is to offer solutions that will be effective for this business. After all, what works in one company may not work in another. This, in fact, is the link between HR and business. Very often in interviews, when we describe a business problem, we get quick HR solutions that do not solve the problem, which means that we tend to offer HR solutions for the sake of the solutions themselves.
A deep HR expertise helps to focus more on business needs and take the organization to the next level
HR function should be built according to the logic of a business support service: some need just technical support for HR processes and payroll; some need full support for an employee’s life cycle, and some need an HR officer to act as a partner in business and participate in the strategy development and implementation. A deep HR expertise helps to focus more on business needs and take the organization to the next level.
LJ: How is it in Ukrainian reality to support the corporate culture of the parent global company? After all, a country always brings in its features, including mentality.
I.B.: Each company has its own values. In fact, this is the basis of corporate culture. The values describe how we work in the organization. In my opinion, a lot depends on the operational model – whether it is centralized or decentralized. For example, in Coca-Cola, there was a more centralized management model; the values explicitly implied, what the company considered “good thing” and “bad thing”. There were almost no discrepancies between the countries. METRO, on the other hand, had decentralized its management model. We do have common principles of operation in all countries. However, in Ukraine, they are supported by our values, which are closely related to common principles, but formulated in a simpler language and reflect the corporate culture in Ukraine. Local specificity is present in any business. We work with people; that is why; corporate values often echo human values.
We work with people; that is why; corporate values often echo human values.
For example, understanding the principles of trust in Ukraine and Germany may be the same, but within the framework of corporate culture we will most likely formulate the desired behavior differently, and in Ukraine we will further support it with more detailed compliance policies, as Ukraine is among the countries with high levels of corruption.
LJ: How can you describe the METRO corporate culture?
I.B.: We thought for a long time what was important for our employees and what would be a unifying factor for the whole organization. Caring has become such a factor, it is very valuable and important for all employees. We explained it with the help of the acronym DBAE (Care in Ukrainian – Ed), which became the basis of our value proposition and which we express in the brand message “METRO cares for those, who cares”. In short, the company takes care of the employees; the employees take care of the business.
METRO Cash & Carry has come a long way from a very centralized organization, where all decisions were made in Düsseldorf; the employees were simply expected to complete tasks. The company worked in a very rigid hierarchical structure. METRO globally changed its operating model because the company recognized that it was very difficult to operate in 30 markets in such a structure.
LJ: Who was holding this centralized system, who was ruling? The Board of Directors?
I.B.: I would have looked at this issue in a different way. When you grow at the expense of expansion — open new stores, come to new countries, you can simply copy the format and management model. Then the expansion rate decreases, the focus on the efficiency and profitability of the existing business increases — that is when we start thinking about changing the corporate governance system.
Despite a successful start, by 2013 METRO was going through hard times. That is why a restructuring team arrived in Ukraine and managed to make the business successful thanks to a change in the operating model. The local team of top managers received the right to create their own strategy within the umbrella strategy and to bear full responsibility for its implementation. This implies other qualities of employees – we need people who can generate ideas, implement them, who are not afraid to make mistakes and take responsibility for themselves.
WE NEED PEOPLE, WHO CAN GENERATE IDEAS, IMPLEMENT THEM, WHO ARE NOT AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
LJ: Do you mean people of a certain level, management? Are we talking about them? Right? I do not think that grassroots employees should strictly be oriented to such decisions.
I.B.: Yes. We are talking about managers, but in any case, an employee on the trading hall knows more than a manager in the office. It was just when the operating model was changed, that the way we work with people became important.
When the operating model was changed, a need to change the corporate culture arose. What was the culture? “I was told — I did; I was not told — I did not do.” A decentralization model assumes that an employee understands and knows what and how to do no matter his management level. A cashier can easily come up to a manager and say: “Look, it would be better to do my job like this …” In such a case, his personal effectiveness and productivity will be higher.
This means initiative, and understanding of how each job affects the overall result. Not just working from 8 am to 6 pm, but working, because it is interesting and because you like what you do. Because you understand the direction of the company, and you share its values. And this is a completely different culture – a culture of openness, collaboration, responsibility for the overall result and teamwork.
NOT JUST WORKING FROM 8 AM TO 6 PM, BUT WORKING, BECAUSE IT IS INTERESTING AND BECAUSE YOU LIKE WHAT YOU DO
LJ: Was the process going in full swing when you had joined the company?
I.B.: No, I came to transform the company’s HR function. At that time, the business had already changed – a rather unsuccessful business in Ukraine had become very successful.
LJ: Was it the period from 2013 to 2016?
My primary task was to transform the culture of the organization due to a change in the operating model of management
I.B.: I have joined METRO Cash & Carry in 2016. The business itself was already successful – sales and profits were growing (and continue to grow) year after year for several years in a row, despite the fact that new stores did not open, and several stores were lost in the Donbas and Crimea. The top management team was fully responsible (and is responsible) for the development of a local strategy and its implementation. Accordingly, by 2016, the company (management) increasingly began to wonder how existing HR practices support the business need to attract and retain the best employees, help maintain a high level of commitment and future growth needs, whether corporate culture requires changes, etc. My top priority task was to transform the culture of the organization due to the change in the operating model of management.
LJ: What did you have to work with?
I.B.: In the Ukrainian market, METRO was associated with a Ukrainian company and was not perceived as international. And in (recruitment) interviews, we often heard about the opacity of processes, nepotism, bribes, etc. We also worked with negative emotions – the result of a major restructuring of 2013–2014. In fact, at every meeting with candidates, we had to “sell” the company and the position, debunking the myths, explaining what and how we were doing now.
LJ: How many people do you have in the HR department?
I.B.: I have a big team. In HR expertise alone, there are about 50 people. I am also responsible for administrative issues and labor protection.
Although the business request was to change the culture and work with talent, my first year in the position was focused on creating an HR strategy, changing the structure of the department, attracting strong market experts to close operational tasks positions and simultaneously changing the HR practices linked to strategy.
LJ: What was the rotation for the period of your work in the company?
I.B.: I faced a high staff turnover. People told me: “It is typical for retail, get used to it.” But I knew that our business model did not allow to have a high staff turnover. I still consider it is high, but, if we take the retail benchmark, it is the lowest. I reduced the staff turnover by half in three years. In addition, I think the overall staff turnover and the benchmarks mainly take into account the voluntary staff outflow.
OUR BUSINESS MODEL DOES NOT ALLOW TO HAVE A HIGH STAFF TURNOVER
LJ: Do people want to work at METRO Cash & Carry now?
I.B.: Definitely yes. With the help of the value proposition and positioning of the employer’s brand, we have managed to change the perception of our company and move away from the association METRO = Ukrainian company to the association METRO = international company. Of course, the employer brand itself is not yet very strong. Many come to us to work with professionals; some are interested in the tasks that we offer. But we are on the right track.
METRO = INTERNATIONAL COMPANY
LJ: Where do people prefer to work – in the stores or in the office?
I.B.: The office. The stores are less attractive. Many trade professions in Ukraine are undervalued. We constantly think about how we can increase the prestige of store sales jobs; we cooperate with universities, attend job fairs, tell students about the skills necessary not only to work in a store, but to manage it.
LJ: How do you build your work? Is a double decrease in staff turnover the result of a project you are working on? Or do you have a process and strategy global goals?
I.B.: I started with a business strategy study. I figured out the goals and objectives of the business. I learned the specifics of working in retail by watching the work in the store and the office, participating in various business meetings and interviews with the leaders of the directions. Based on this, I identified three strategic areas of work that became the basis of METRO’s HR strategy: culture, talent, and HR capabilities.
By creating a METRO value proposition and building communication inside and outside the organization, we were able to improve and expand the candidate funnel
In each direction, a picture of success was outlined and projects were identified that would lead us to the desired result. For example, we had a problem with recruiting. Having sorted it out, we came to the issue of high turnover, and the effectiveness of the selection process itself, the ability of managers to articulate clearly who we are looking for and for what purposes, etc. A lack of value proposition and positioning of the company as an employer was a key problem to attract talent. This has become our priority. By creating a METRO value proposition and building communication inside and outside the organization, we were able to improve and expand the candidates funnel, which affected the speed and quality of closed vacancies, reduced staff turnover, and improved commitment rates.
LJ: What project within the framework of these strategies do you implement now?
I.B.: We work in all three areas, which I indicated above. We continue to work on the employer’s brand and now start to implement the third phase of the project. In fact, our value proposition DBAE (abridged from the Ukrainian words Dovira, Bezpeka, Ambitsii, Ednist, meaning Trust, Security, Ambition, Unity – Red) are perceived by the company as values, our task is to reinforce this moment correctly. This will help us strengthen the changed corporate culture. We focus on the development of leaders, mental health of the organization.
LJ: Would you call yourself a crisis manager? What does drive you more — a need to solve a difficult task or a need to support the movement when everything is put already on the rails?
After crisis managers, there are many gaps – I manage to fill them in and build a system that will work without me
I.B.: I do not like to support the movement; I get bored. However, I would not call myself a full-fledged crisis manager. As a rule, after crisis managers, there are many gaps — I manage to fill them in and build a system that will work without me.
LJ: Do you conduct NPS?
I.B.: Yes, we measure eNPS. Employees answer a simple question: “Would you recommend this company or not?” If I recommend, then I feel comfortable here, confidently, it echoes my values. The question is simple, but it is difficult for many to answer it. Some are embarrassed about working for METRO. Little by little, it is changing. This metric is more important to me than the classic commitment survey.
LJ: Does your company pay a lot of attention to upgrading employees’ skills, training programs?
И. Б.: Да. Мы не просто подтягиваем необходимые навыки — мы готовим организацию к будущим вызовам.
LJ: Чему уделяется большее внимание? Это лидерские программы или программы по продажам?
I.B.: We prioritize training programs each year with a rigid link to a business strategy. There are programs that are mandatory for everyone — these refer to work standards, labor protection, compliance, quality, etc. By the way, we were the first in the retail sector to be certified according to HACCP standards.
The lower is the level of an employee, the more standard training programs are, the higher the level of an employee the more specific the training is
There are special programs for leadership skills development and programs for the speedy development of candidates for key management positions. We treat education comprehensively; training is one of the tools. The lower the level of employees, the more standard training programs, the higher — the more individual the approach becomes.
LJ: How do you see your personal development strategy?
I.B.: I like my job. I once thought of a career as a CEO, but I realized that I could do more in the position of HR. I devote a lot of time to self-development. I constantly read, try to maintain my level of qualification. To this end, in 2016 I have passed the SHRM exam (Society for Human Resource Management; Alexandria, Virginia, USA – Ed) and received an international certificate. The companies, I used to work for and am working now, in their turn, allowed me to attend exhibitions and conferences that were of interest and organized special programs to get new skills. For example, recently we had media training. Professionals from the BBC were teaching us to communicate with journalists and we practiced the skill of real-time interview and comments. It was interesting; there is work to do.