Engaging employees in a mutual commitment for growth and success.
There are not many companies that have experienced the type of robust growth that Berlin Packaging has for the past decade. During that time, this leading full-service supplier of plastic, glass, and metal containers and closures grew more than six times the market rate.
While multiple acquisitions contributed to the most recent expansion, Berlin Packaging’s leaders attribute the company’s long history of business success largely to its focus on employee engagement and a culture of shared commitment to “being Greater, Faster.” It’s a culture that was developed more than 20 years ago when the company adopted a set of values to govern the employer-employee relationship.
The values, outlined in a tool called the Berlin Values T-Chart, spell out a mutual obligation between the company and its employees. One side of the T-chart lists the practices and benefits that the company owes its employees to provide an opportunity for individual growth, such as leadership, coaching and training, a chance to grow, collegiality, job security and rewards. In return, employees contribute to the success of the company through behaviors such as a strong work ethic, productivity, innovation, teamwork, loyalty and profitability (which are listed on the other side of the T-chart).
Berlin Packaging’s T-chart provides a common framework for the daily interactions between managers and employees. Managers apply it in their communication with employees during the hiring process, coaching and feedback sessions, team meetings, performance reviews or when evaluating employee feedback, says Senior Manager of Business Development and Strategy Paul Mansour. “We use the T-chart in multiple touchpoints with employees to help us understand whether we, as managers representing the business, are living up to the obligations that we’ve set forth for our employees. In addition, as managers and employees, it guides us in our behavior as we focus on the other side of the T-chart. We continually ask ourselves: Are we providing high levels of productivity and a strong work ethic? Are we innovative; are we thinking outside the box? Are we doing work that is profitable? Are we loyal to the organization?”
The values create a mutuality of commitment that keeps the company strong throughout tough economic times, Mansour says, adding that the alignment of loyalty and job security is a key factor, and one that he is most proud of. “Even during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, when so many world-class organizations were downsizing and laying off their employees, we did not. We actually grew our salesforce by 25% through our first Wolfpack class—a group of newly hired sales professionals that go through rigorous training. That was something that was very special about our company, and the Berlin Values helped guide us to do that,” he says.
Rapid Scaling Tests the Culture
While Berlin Packaging’s values kept it strong throughout the economic slump, post-recession growth created new challenges that put the company’s values and culture to the test. From 2010 through 2012, Berlin Packaging acquired four additional companies, doubling its employee base from 250 to 500.
The stream of new employees brought with them their own set of values, perspectives, practices and expectations from their previous companies. It was not unexpected, Mansour says. “We knew that when you acquire a business, employees would be coming in who may not be cut from the same DNA as we are.”
As company leaders focused on driving value from the synergies between the newly acquired companies, the gap between existing and new employees began to widen.
Berlin Packaging’s leadership team realized that they needed to better understand how employees felt about the business’ growth and new working environment, and get to the root of the frustrations that typically surface when blending new and established staff.
The company had recently begun using the Net Promoter methodology to collect feedback on customer engagement. Leaders decided to take a similar approach with employees.
To gauge the current level of engagement across the larger organization, Berlin surveyed employees, asking: “How likely are you to recommend working at Berlin Packaging to a well-qualified acquaintance (to a friend or someone you know)?”
To allow for a deeper dive into the reasons for the employee’s rating and to identify opportunities for action, the survey included four additional questions:
- What keeps you at Berlin Packaging?
- Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should start doing?
- Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should stop doing?
- Is there something important that Berlin Packaging should continue doing with more gusto?
The Berlin Values T-Chart provided employees with a frame of reference for their responses, Mansour explains. “Employees focus on the elements listed on the left side of the T-chart—what Berlin owes its employees—when considering what they think the company should start doing more of, should stop doing or should continue doing with more rigor.”
The first employee engagement survey was conducted in 2011, in the midst of the acquisitions and an unstable economy. The employee NPS score was 27%, with a 64% participation rate. “It was not what we expected, but we realized that our workforce was doubling,” Mansour recalls, admitting that: “We had all of these new employees coming in, and we may not have been focused on listening and communicating with our existing employees.”
It was an eye-opener for company leaders. “During an acquisition, these are the things that can take a business down,” Mansour says. “We realized that we needed to do a better job listening and communicating what we were trying to accomplish—and to re-energize our employees.”
Listening to—and Acting on—Employee Feedback
Importantly, company leaders didn’t just listen to the employee feedback; they took immediate steps to identify opportunities for action.
Once again, the T-chart came into play. Berlin’s leadership team analyzed the survey results, focusing on the elements that Berlin owes its employees. Additional training was one such opportunity. The survey feedback indicated that sales staff wanted training to help them be more effective at serving and engaging their customers.
The company responded by rolling out an advanced training program, referred to internally as Elevate, an executive MBA-like sales training. The six-month program included courses on voice of the customer, proposal writing, customer retention techniques, company culture, customer-focused selling, customer needs analysis and value-added selling, among others. More than 120 sales employees participated in the training program.
To indoctrinate new employees into the culture, the company developed a mentoring program called IMPACT: Inspire, Motivate, Perform, Assimilate, Collaborate and Teach. Every new employee is assigned a management-level mentor who can offer a higher level of guidance based on his or her experience at Berlin. Mansour currently has two mentees. “What I offer my mentees is my personal perspective of how to get up to speed quickly in this culture and how to perform in a way that they’ll be successful,” he says. “Having that type of guidance helps new employees to digest the things around them as quickly as they can, and ensures that their behaviors are focused on the elements from the T-chart, such as innovation, productivity, a strong work ethic and being able to work in a team. Those are the things that we ask our employees to do.”
The two programs have been very effective in increasing employee engagement and helping to improve the overall customer experience at Berlin, Mansour adds.
Practical Pointer: While it’s critical to measure employee engagement scores to track improvement, Mansour points out that what’s more important than the score is the feedback that the employee provides, and making sure that you go back to employees with a specific action plan for improvement. “Tell employees what you’re doing, give them updates on your progress, and get their feedback,” he says. “It’s a mutual process for improvement. If you don’t follow-through on their feedback, the trust will be broken and you’ll run into trouble.”
Internal Social Network Improves Collegiality and Teamwork
As Berlin Packaging discovered, a massive staff increase can create a lot of confusion for new and existing employees. People are unsure of whom their co-workers are, what their roles are or whom they should be working with to get things done. New employees are unfamiliar with the company and turf wars often erupt. It’s difficult to maintain a collegial, team-based atmosphere.
In addition to coaching and training opportunities, the survey feedback revealed that employees wanted to learn more about the co-workers they were dealing with on the phone—for instance, what types of skills and expertise each person had, as well as learning about their interests and getting to know them on a more personal level. They also wanted to be able to put a face to the voices they spoke with regularly.
Social media provided a perfect model for communication and networking. The company developed a tool called myPeeps, which “is our own version of Facebook,” Mansour says. myPeeps provides employees across the organization with a way to connect and share with their teammates. It includes employee photos and bios and different types of content to help distant co-workers learn more about each other.
myPeeps is one of many tools available to employees on myBerlin, an internal portal, powered by Microsoft SharePoint, where employees can access numerous marketing, sales and training tools to help them get their work done. Also accessible through myBerlin is the Berlin Packaging University, which includes hundreds of training modules on internal systems, “Packaging 101,” and functional excellence.
High Employee Engagement Translates into Business Success
The payoff from Berlin Packaging’s employee engagement survey and improvement process was remarkable. The 27% net score in 2011 jumped to 48% in 2012, 64% in 2013, and 70% last December. The percentage of “highly engaged” employees at Berlin stands at 76%, more than two times the Gallup rate for all U.S. workers, Mansour points out. The company has continued to grow at a fast pace with strategic acquisitions and adding new customers across all lines of business. The firm’s valuation stands at $1.43 billion, a high watermark in the industry, he adds.
There is a clear correlation between the business’ success and increased employee NPS scores, Mansour says. “In 2014, our customer Net Promoter score was the highest in our history and in the industry,” he notes. “The high level of engagement with our employees is translating into high customer NPS, which is translating into more profitability, higher revenues. Our customers are winning and we are winning internally.”