Accelerate Performance – Joerg Blunder, Coca-Cola European Partners

Securing a Competitive Advantage with Corporate Culture

Is your corporate culture a side show?
Is your corporate culture purely an HR topic?
Is your corporate culture simply what it is, and can therefore not be controlled?

“A long-term focus on your corporate culture is valuable in order to encourage your company to achieve its goals in the long run and thus secure a decisive competitive advantage.”

With these words, Joerg Blunder, Vice President Organizational Culture at Coca-Cola European Partners, appeals to his industry. His company has defined its corporate culture in accordance with its goals and relies on the company-wide establishment of 5 simple ways of working. The topic is handled not as a short-term project, but rather as a long-term “journey” that is supported and encouraged by the management board.

But how can a company initiate and steer a corporate cultural journey? Using a few fields of learning, Joerg Blunder will show you how Coca-Cola European Partners has defined and encouraged its corporate culture quite precisely. The corporate culture serves as the driver for the formulation of goals and is worthwhile for the profitable design of every company’s cultural journey.

Practical starting points for the improvement and design of corporate culture:

  1. Culture is business. Examine your corporate culture from the business rather than from the HR perspective. Your corporate culture supports the achievement of your company’s goals and it must therefore match them. With corporate culture, I mean not just your company’s values, which are so frequently printed on mugs or posters. I am referring to the ways of working, the employees’ ways of working and principles that are the prerequisite for achieving your goals. For this, you have to be clear about your company’s goals. Are you on a growth course or do you need to cut costs? In the next step, consider which of your employees’ ways of working and attitudes are necessary to achieve your company’s goals. To encourage achievement of its long-term growth goals, Coca-Cola European Partners defined its ways of working, among other things, as customer focused, listening, and attentive, with a passion for growth and empowering collective growth.
  2. Think long-term. When defining your corporate culture, take the long view. Establishing a corporate culture is a journey, not a short-term project. Therefore, the resources and employees working to shape your cultural journey must be made available for the long term.
  3. Think company-wide. A corporate culture must incorporate and address all employees and departments. Every employee counts. The focus of the cultural journey is not on changing or replacing local cultures. Each national company, each branch office, each department has its own culture that determines its decisions, actions, and behavior. Do not attack these local cultures. The focus here is on communicating an overarching corporate culture with which everybody can identify.
  4. Define your culture internally, top-down and bottom-up. In order to define a corporate culture that is palpable and with which your employees can identify, the specification of the ways of working must be done internally. Do not engage an external consultant for this. For the specific formulation, the top-down and bottom-up approaches proved useful at Coca-Cola European Partners: a position- and country-spanning group of executives defined the corporate strategy in a first step, and in a second step, this group specified the ways of working in a top-down format. The fine-tuning was done in a bottom-up format in a third step. This incorporation of the employees (comparable to a Kaizen approach) is necessary in order to ensure your employees’ strong identification with your company and a continuous improvement process. Here, Coca-Cola European Partners defined specific local culture masterminds, employees who were responsible for this fine-tuning. These employees volunteered to take on the appropriate responsibility.
  5. Speak your employees’ language. For the internal communication of corporate culture, the focus is not on the communication of a complex concept that only a few people understand, but rather on making this culture comprehensible for all employees. Everybody must receive the message. Your culture must be palpable.
  6. Obligate executives and engage the right multipliers. Here’s where your internal network comes into play. It’s essential to gain the commitment of management and have advocates for the corporate culture journey on all organizational levels. Employees in key functions who believe in this journey, promote it, and win over additional advocates for it are essential to establish company-wide ways of working.

A long-term focus on your corporate culture is valuable in order to encourage your company to achieve its goals in the long run and thus secure a decisive competitive advantage.

jörg blunder, vice president organizational culture bei coca-cola european partners
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