What is the best way to manage a 21st century worker if you acquired your management knowledge and experience in the 20th century? How can you keep up with the competition and stay at the “top of your game”? What is the best strategy for talent management? How can you help employees develop? These and similar questions have led us to reflect on what we should do differently in our organisation to excel consistently. In 2013, company leaders asked themselves: what can we do to change traditional leadership? What does leadership mean to us and to the organisation? That was the beginning of our journey toward building a culture of leadership within the company. In this culture, coaching and the related philosophy is one of our main and strongest tools. It sounds ambitious, and is not all that simple, but the result is certainly rewarding.
Within each of us is an incredibly powerful force, which we usually call potential. Unleashing and channelling this power is at the heart of our company’s Leadership Culture. I would like to share our experience with you. Let me begin by introducing Festo.
Festo is an international, independent, family-owned company founded in Germany in 1925. Since that time, the company has been managed by three generations of the family. Festo is a world leader in industrial automation solutions and technical training and education, maintaining stability and reliability.
Festo was launched 30 years ago in Lithuania in 1992. The company, based in Kaunas, Lithuania, currently has almost 600 employees. Thanks to the quality of its services (IT, engineering, sales, finance and business assistance), Festo Lithuania is known and valued for its high level of efficiency and effectiveness, as well as its reliability and strong client orientation. The Lithuanian company has a growing number of complex operations that require proactive and responsible employees who are willing to work in an international environment. Working in global teams, employees can create and suggest solutions that influence the future of the entire Festo organisation.
The average Festo Lithuania employee is 31. That means that the company employs many young people. As a result, they require a different leadership approach. For that reason, Festo Lithuania’s managers work according to the principles of coaching culture, with a high priority given to a dialogue of partnership between the employee and the manager.
To be sure that we are hiring the right people, we follow this guiding principle: skill and knowledge can be learned on the job, but attitude is crucial. With the right attitude, people can grow and improve. It is also really important that the management environment supports this development.
Looking back at 2013, we started our journey by building up the Leadership Culture in the organisation. The goal was to move from traditional management to an approach based on coaching. We wanted to create a positive learning environment in which our Festo Values thrive and people feel that they are continuously developing based on a simple principle:
“I never lose: I often win but I always learn” (I never lose. Either I win or learn. Nelson Mandela).
Working together with our managers, we highlighted the main components of Leadership Culture in our organisation and created guidelines designed to help our managers work and maintain a dialogue with employees about their performance. The main aim was (and remains) to combine components into a system that influences our company culture (see picture below):
Picture: Leadership Culture as a System
- Trust – to create an efficient working environment. We build relationships by being trustworthy, fair, transparent and treating people equally. We trust people in advance to initiate their actions.
- Communication – effective communication is the key to effective leadership. Asking questions and active listening helps build relationships, solve problems and ensure mutual understanding. We encourage open discussions to consider different views and opinions.
- Role modelling – change starts with us. Role models are not perfect, they also make mistakes and it is crucial to be accountable and learn from them. They inspire others to strive and develop through their behaviour and achievements.
- Development – continuous learning is essential to surviving in a changing environment. Self-awareness and a commitment to development are crucial for personal growth. By stepping out of their comfort zone, a leader can grow in their role and help others to succeed. We help people grow by using the right tools for the right circumstances: coaching, feedback, training, mentoring, rewarding, etc.
By asking open-ended questions to engage people, we help them grow. The way we work together to achieve better results and create partnerships with customers is based on our attitudes, and commitment to lifelong learning and development.
Leading ourselves is often the most difficult challenge we face. As leaders we must build our character every day by examining our thinking, motives and actions. And coaching is not easy. It requires time, commitment and skills to be effective:
- As a manager, you may find that you need to re-assess your priorities and schedule more coaching time for your employees.
- As a leader, you will need to show interest in and commitment to the learning, development and growth of others.
- As a coach, you will need to employ a range of skills and tools to deliver coaching in a way that inspires your people to ensure our continued success.
Over the years, as we have worked to develop a Leadership Culture, it has become apparent that not every leader is able to fully understand the philosophy behind it or put the necessary leadership tools into practice in the right situation. It is always difficult to work with people in an atmosphere of strong emotions, high expectations and demands. Knowing how to ask questions, how to listen and hear, how to delegate and trust, and how not to blame are some of the toughest lessons every manager has to learn, not only in our company, but in life. Understanding the basic principles of human functioning and having a “road map” to accurately read other people, being able to “push” an employee, being good at listening and talking, initiating change and creating opportunities – these are things that not every manager can do. It takes time, involves making and learning from mistakes, and then persevering again, without giving up at the first sign of difficulty.
In the flow of routine work, it is not easy to identify situations, react in time and ask the right question that will set things in motion and make the impossible a reality.
Benefits for the organisation and employees
During some workshops we asked our employees about the benefits they see from our company’s investment of time and effort into the development of its Leadership Culture. They mentioned: easier communication, less stress, good environment, openness to sharing ideas, no sharp divisions between managers and employees, trust, honest feedback, feeling respected, etc.
So, we believe our approach:
- Helps increase employee engagement and unleashes their potential.
- Develops professional and future leadership skills.
- Helps to increase efficiency and productivity.
- Assists in identifying opportunities for organizational growth.
- Helps to attract and retain employees.
- Enables easier adaptation to change.
- Creates a unique internal culture.
Culture is like DNA: it cannot be easily copied, so success depends mostly on our own engagement.
Toward the future
“The distance between today’s status quo and tomorrow’s coaching culture is defined by what we learn on our journey. The speed of our progress is defined by our activity. The more we do, the more we learn and the better we become.” (Gary Wyles, E3 Leadership Development Limited)
The New Normal/Home Office means that mentorship and coaching is even more relevant nowadays. We have defined a new stage in our journey (along with new initiatives in terms of management and leadership) and we call it – be prepared for 2025 – where leaders empower employees to work more independently and foster continuous improvement.