The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Teamwork – Working environment

Sharing knowledge, learning together

Corporate culture. Experience and practice are the best teachers. The Friedhelm Loh Group is convinced of this fact, which is why it strongly en­courages staff to support one another. Everyone stands to win – including the company.

Text Rebecca Lorenz and Sophie Bruns ––– Photography

Pages of statements, days spent waiting for a reaction – not anymore! Internet, email and social media are the way we all interact nowadays. Some 917 billion emails will have arrived in Germany’s inboxes during 2018, according to the joint prognosis by its two largest providers, Web.de and GMX. Communications run even faster and more informally on social media platforms. The trade magazine “Monitoring Matcher” estimates that 34 million Germans use WhatsApp and 13 million Facebook each day. And, according to the sector association Bitkom, they embellish each text with an average of two emojis to get their message across as succinctly as possible.

Intercompany relations

“We have found out that close relations are most likely to develop naturally if they are nurtured from the start,” says Tina Pfeiffer-Busch, the Team Leader for Commercial Training at Loh Services. This is one of the ­reasons why attendance at the ­Friedhelm Loh Group’s annual workshop is a compulsory part of apprenticeships. “While working together on projects, the trainees get to experience how important it is to work as a team and all pull together.” After all, each and every participant has to contribute his or her professional expertise to the project if the team is to be successful. They continue to benefit from the contacts they make in the process far beyond the workshop itself – basically, whenever they need advice from a different department or sister company.

Surging digitization is transforming the world of work – not only production methods and workflows, but also employees’ social interaction. “Mobile phones, computers and cameras can overcome space and time barriers very easily,” says management consultant and author Barbara ­Liebermeister (See the interview on page 47). “It has never been easier to make contact with others and communicate – but these digital channels still can’t replace close personal relationships.”

A survey conducted by the Allensbach ­Institute entitled “Discussion Culture 2.0” confirmed this fact, revealing that some 60 per cent of Germans still prefer “proper” conversations. This kind of contact is felt to be more intensive, open and honest. The reason for this is the physical presence, which makes it possible for those taking part to augment their words and voice with facial expressions, gestures and body language. “This generates trust – which in turn forms the basis for positive and constructive relations,” Liebermeister explains.

Experiencing collegiality

This effect benefits employees and company alike. “Many managers underestimate the extent to which human relationships influence a company’s success,” she says, “Which is why they are seldom nurtured.” This is a mistake, as positive relationships improve the atmosphere at work, boost motivation and thus increase the drive for innovation, efficiency and productivity.

“We are conscious of the correlation between training, motivation and business success,” says Regina Mundel, Head of Staff Development at the Friedhelm Loh Group, “Which is why we consider good and close relationships an intrinsic component of the whole entity.” The authenticity of this statement is reflected in the company principles of the Friedhelm Loh Group, which not only promote employees’ professional development, but also cooperation. 

Intergenerational relations

“Our employees should keep on feeling part of the community even when they get older,” says Heidi Bastian, who’s in charge of the seniors’ club at Loh Services. Besides lending young members of the workforce a helping hand with social projects, the retirees occasionally also offer them advice when it comes to product development. “Above all, the following generation can benefit from the expertise and experience of employees who have only just entered retirement,” Bastian says. “In return, the retirees also learn from the younger workers – gaining an insight into the latest digital trends and technologies, for instance.”

This is no simple undertaking with 80 subsidiaries, 18 production sites and a workforce of more than 11,500 spread across the globe. “Of course, it would be impossible for everyone to always communicate face-to-face under these conditions,” Mundel says: “It would be completely unrealistic to expect this, as well as completely inefficient.” Nonetheless, the Group regularly provides opportunities for employees to meet colleagues from the ­other companies, countries and age groups in person. 

Fostering encounters

Whether young, old or from a different country – the Friedhelm Loh Group helps people to meet one another. To ensure that staff members’ contact with their colleagues doesn’t disappear when they retire, the Friedhelm Loh Group founded a seniors’ club 18 years ago. Since then, members have been meeting on a regular basis for group activities such as outings or voluntary service. Young staff members also meet regularly. Once a year, the Group’s young new recruits gather at Gnadenthal Abbey with the aim of promoting collegiality throughout the Friedhelm Loh Group from day one. The second-year apprentices take part in a group workshop that helps them get to know one another, work together on projects and thus lay the foundation for close and focused collaboration.

Intercultural relations

“Both professional and personal relationships are different in Germany from in my home country of Syria,” says Bayan Ahmad (30), who works in the European internal sales team at Rittal. He fled to Germany four years ago and became a permanent member of staff after completing an internship at the Friedhelm Loh Group. “My co-workers helped me to find my way, despite the cultural differences. Language is the biggest barrier to integration. Which is why I’m so pleased I can speak German well by now,” Ahmad says. After all, personal conversations are not only important for bonding with customers, but also for daily interaction at work.

To be successful on the world stage, companies need staff who understand the needs and characteristics of their international customers. Above all, this calls for open minds and cultural diversity. One of the ways that the Friedhelm Loh Group works to achieve this is via its pilot projects to integrate refugees, which bolster cultural exchange. 

Everything that the Friedhelm Loh Group offers aims beyond simply improving work results. “All this interaction provides inspiration that boosts workers’ performance, which of course is a positive side effect,” Mundel says. “We are conscious that we reap what we sow.” After all, the employees’ commitment to fostering good relationships generates learning and working success. Ultimately, the family-run company pursues another aim – that of strengthening solidarity long-term. In Mundel’s words: “What is a family without a sense of community? Of being close? And belonging?”

  • Things are best done in person

    Things are best done in person

    Interview. Barbara Liebermeister is an expert in business communications, focusing on the role that they play in securing both personal and business success in the era of digitization.

    Video conferences, emails, chat messages – everyday working relations have changed enormously in recent years. Does actual personal contact still play any role in the era of digitization? Digital media simplify work processes, but they can’t replace personal interaction. Anyone who seriously wants to be successful cannot rely on their professional expertise alone. Emotional ties play a key role in working relationships. Human beings are social creatures. They need personal contact to establish close and trusting relations. In other words, it can be said that the more personally people interact, the better they will communicate in the end. The futurologist John Naisbitt had good grounds to predict that: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st-century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanded concept of what it means to be human.”

    How do close and positive relations affect how people and companies work? Nurturing personal relationships intensively helps us to understand our colleagues better. The atmosphere at work improves as a result. This is particularly important for companies when specialist workers are in short supply, as it strengthens employees’ loyalty. It also boosts their motivation – which in turn increases efficiency and productivity. Incidentally, this doesn’t only apply to co-workers, but also to our working relationships with partners and customers. Eating lunch together, brainstorming or attending a workshop strengthens our personal relationships, which can motivate people immensely during a project.

    What benefits can be reaped from collaborating across cultures, age groups and national boundaries? Employees and even entire companies can gain inspiration from “strangers”. How do your colleagues or customers work in Japan? What are the workflows like there? And what expertise can I take on board from experienced or digital-savvy colleagues? By observing someone else’s strengths at the same time as owning up to our own weaknesses, we can learn from one another and harness new synergies.

    How can companies promote positive relations? For this kind of collaboration to have a positive effect, people have to stand eye-toeye. This is the only way to nurture values such as tolerance and appreciation. People generally notice very quickly if something changes in the manner of their social relations – for instance if someone takes longer to respond to an email, writes more briefly than before or suddenly seems more formal. In cases like these, I would advise people to immediately instigate a conversation. This is important because misunderstandings arise much more quickly in digital communications than in face-to-face conversations.

     

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