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What does cultural transformation look, sound, and taste like?! Insights by Juan Amat, GM JDE Coffee

Juan Ignacio Amat joined Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) as General Manager France a year ago, after earning his stripes during 14 years at Pepsico.  Amat was attracted to the vibrant coffee market, the rich heritage of the longstanding brands (L’Or, Jacques Vabre, Senseo…), and the opportunity to build a culture of empowerment in this new company formed by a merger in 2015.

Nathalie Rolland, the Communications Manager who has been with JDE since before the merger, joined us for the discussion.

Denise Dampierre (DD): Juan, as GM of JDE France, what three numbers keep you up at night?

Juan Ignacio Amat, General Manager France JDE CoffeeJuan Amat (JA):  Denise, I sleep well, even when I drink coffee!

Here are the key numbers I track:

  1. The growth of the coffee market with respect to the rest of the dry food business. We want to keep adding customer value.
  2. Financial performance figures such as top line, bottom line, and cash.
  3. Employee engagement.

DD: How do you measure employee engagement?

JA:  We launched our first annual employee engagement survey a year ago.  That gave us a baseline.  These surveys are especially relevant when compared over time. Our second annual survey is underway.

We also developed a tool to test the engagement temperature every month during the company Coffee Talk.   The entire company is invited to a one-hour business presentation, Q & A, and learning event.  At the close the Coffee Talks, we measure engagement by asking employees whether they would recommend JDE to their entourage.

We define “Team Spirit” (“Solidarité” en français) as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

We also put in place KPI’s for “Team Spirit” (“Solidarité” en français) which we define as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

DD: How does one begin a cultural transformation? 

JA: We began by listening.  Our first employee engagement survey revealed that employees ranked Team Spirit among the most important values yet the least present in our day-to-day operations.

We begin cultural transformation by listening.

We realized that building Team Spirit would first require a change in mindset which could then translate into a different way of doing business.  We sought a way to generate self-questioning without destabilizing.

Nathalie Rolland (NR): It’s not easy to convey the notion of Team Spirit, and we want the teams to both intellectually and emotionally grasp this sense of mutual reliance.    In one of our Coffee Talks, we turned off all the lights so that everyone was in pitch black.  People naturally reached out for others and talked to each other to find their way.  We used this activity to demonstrate the limitations of working individually and in silos and the need for transversal cooperation.

JA: I was inspired by the 70:20:10 model for learning and development.

Aside:  According to researchers Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo, “Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience.” They estimate that 70% of learning stems from experience, 20% from mentoring and personalized feedback, and 10% from formal courses and learning.

10-20-70 model Learning development

Back to Juan Ignacio Amat’s interview…

We wanted a culture that would develop Team Spirit through everyday exchanges, through the “70%.“

Most people, including JDE team members, think they are already performing well.  They don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others.  Instead, they rightly believe they are playing their part.  And they are proud of it.

Most people don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others!

Yet Team Spirit is about going the extra mile.  It’s about feeling such a sense of belonging that employees act as if they owned their business.  In fact, we call our employees “associates.”  Every JDE employee’s compensation is related to both financial performance and strength of human relations. At JDE, Team Spirit means investing the discretionary effort to exceed themselves and secure results.

To initiate the shift in mindset, we first invested in the “10%” through Strength-Based Management training for the Executive Committee, then the entire managerial level, and now every associate.

It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence.  Conventional management practices and the French education system focus on fixing what is wrong.  Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.  We used to seek out the numbers in red to scrutinize what’s behind them.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence. Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.

I appreciate the forward focus of strength-based management.  There is always room for progress. It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.  It’s incredibly more empowering and engaging than raising mediocre performance to satisfactory levels.

What you see is what you get
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer – photo from LoveThisPic.com

Training our workforce is a real investment.  We are quickly reaping the return on investment.  People come up to me saying, “Juan, I felt so appreciated when colleagues highlighted my strengths, some of which I did not realize I had!” “I am so encouraged in my job.”  These are the first indication of increased amiability and engagement at work.

DD:  How do you measure success?

JA:  That’s where we create a plan for the “70%.”  What will everyday business look like?  The real testing time comes during our moments of challenge, when we are tired, and the workload is heavy, or performance goals are not met.

I already notice a changed behavior.  In our difficult moments there is less defensiveness and accusation, less blaming and finger pointing.  Instead we observe increased accountability, responsibility, and teamwork.  Yes, even in moments of tension!  Cultural change is starting, and we aim for even more.

DD: Do associates really expose mistakes?

JA: We are a company of Dutch heritage in France.  We can be very direct in saying when things are not working.  Our cultural transformation changes how we express and respond to bad news.  We use factual language with quantitative metrics to describe the challenge.  This keeps us from veering off track towards accusations.  Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”  We aim to give our teams the means to say, “I need your help with A, B, & C resources.”

It’s not always easy.  Yet this is the spirit in which we aim to resolve conflicts.

Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”

NR: This is a major culture change and we have had to learn skills like active listening.  Beforehand, we heard from managers, “Why didn’t you make your numbers?!” Now, with a focus on strengths, managers also inquire about our successes. “What helped you reach your goals?  What are you especially proud of this year?”

With this different kind of listening, we are more willing to receive performance-improvement feedback.

DD: What concrete actions have you put in place to imbed the strength-based, solidarity mindset?

JA: We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

For example, none of the Executive Committee has his own office; we sit around a large table.  It facilitates exchange.  When one of us has a question, we simply look up to check if our colleague is available and talk the issue out.  It is a small change which makes a big difference.

Every week, I spend time one on one with each of my direct reports.  More formally, we meet as the Executive Committee every two weeks to keep abreast of our actions and to indicate where we need each other’s input.  We also try to connect personally to better understand our diverse perspectives.  This builds empathy.

We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

We also created a weekly breakfast for our forty second line managers.  These are not the functional directors but those reporting to them.  I meet with a small group every week which allows them to strengthen their cross-functional relationships and me to know what is on peoples’ minds.  We take out the mega-special coffee machine and discuss informally.  I might not be able to resolve an issue they bring up; I am informed.  These breakfasts help me address any gap between what leadership is saying and what actually happens.

Every month, the sales and marketing teams meet to share what is going well, where they see opportunities for improvement, and on what projects they request for help from each other.

DD: In this cultural shift, managers will invariably need redirection.  How do you handle course correction for a team member?

JA: Here is what I do.

I begin by managing my emotions. I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive. However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

I begin by managing my emotions.  I try not to be too euphoric nor angry. I select the situations to express my emotions.  I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive.  Let’s learn from what happened in order to avoid repeating the same mistake.  If an error recurs, it points to a lack of capability or attention. That is fixable.  I try to keep my tone of voice calm and understanding and to orient the discussion towards an action plan to bring performance back up to expectations.

However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.

The person that reveals a problem had the courage to speak up.  It can be tempting to kill the messenger, which is why I make a concerted effort to respect the bearer of bad news.  In that way, we keep finding out what’s happening within the company.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.  Maybe I should introduce more coffee breaks to bring down the temperature in the room!

NR: It comes back to Team Spirit.  If the leaders begin judging when times get tough, Team Spirit loses credibility.  We have greater solidarity and employee engagement precisely because, in those complex time, teams feel non-judgmental support from the Executive Committee.

DD: Where does the “20%” in the learning & development model come into play?

JA: Twice a year, every associate has an objective-setting discussion with his manager which includes providing the individual with an action plan to grow in technical skills and personal development.

Team members select their training from among our JDE global MOOC’s, the Learning & Development Café.  We also encourage people to shadow another associate to learn through their example or to meet up with colleagues in a different function to gain an understanding of their business.

DD: What other thought do you want share about transforming a culture and empowering teams?

JA: It’s always a fine line between delegation and control.  Finding that balance depends upon the business and one’s own self-awareness.  One extreme lies in micro-management which allows people off the hook.  “Too bad if we did not reach our goals.  I did my job.  I followed orders.”

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I have to stop myself from intervening and to consciously trust in my team,

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I am accountable for the results in France, thus I need a certain degree of control.  There are days when I have to stop myself from intervening, to consciously trust in my team, and to give them the autonomy to pursue the strategy they defined.  After all, they know the details, I don’t.

I want a team of associates that act like General Managers, each taking responsible for his business.  If I get too involved in the details, I curb their ability to take initiatives.

And now, I have a question for you!  Would YOU recommend JDE to your friends?

DD: YES!

Thank you

Thank you, Juan Ignacio Amat, for this insightful exchange and the challenge to each of us

  • To grow by building on strengths
  • To simultaneously hold high expectations and forgo making judgements
  • To translate corporate values into an action plan and habitual behaviors

What are your strengths?  What are the strengths of that-colleague-who-bothers-me-so? (They have at least one!)  How would your relationship with this person change if you were to recognize his/her contribution?

Let us know in the comments what happened when you tried it.

Cover photo by Nathan Dumlao