Interview at Schenker

How much contact to other cultures does your area of expertise require? Which cultural differences do you perceive in your daily contact with managers from other countries? What are your personal experiences with intercultural environments?

Melanie Tönsmann: Schenker Germany AG is internationally oriented. We maintain constant contact with our subsidiaries in other countries and therefore are very aware of the intercultural context. For example we have a cross-national trainee program spanning the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxemburg. Where international exchange activities beyond trainee programs are concerned, the human resources departments coordinate very closely. Through this I experience cultural differences firsthand, starting with addressing each other with first names during meetings on an international level.

Daniela Naeve: Right now we're starting a new international program named „SCHENKERimpact". It's a global exchange program enabling employees to go abroad for three to six months while keeping their current jobs. Thus they're able to gain intercultural and professional experience and still know that they can return to their job when they get home. This program is especially designed for employees who already have contact to other nations and other cultures as part of their jobs. We focus especially on sites in Asia, like Hong Kong or China. Of course at Schenker we've always had the opportunity to go abroad, and we want to usefully complement these assignments abroad. Ideally we'll achieve one-on-one exchange, so that the employee can gain useful experience abroad and we can also bring the international side to Germany. Feedback from Schenker employees who were able to gain experience in another country is very positive.

How are these intercultural experiences shared in your company? Do you provide special training to prepare employees for their assignments abroad?

Daniela Naeve:
Schenker's in-company training program has a wide base and a grand scope; it aims to teach specific knowledge and competences, but also to enhance social skills. A new aspect of training is our intercultural management program, in which we create sensibility and understanding of cultural differences and highlight possible stumbling blocks. The message is: "Togetherness through mutual understanding, open-mindedness and curiosity." What's interesting is that even managers with years of experience in intercultural matters, like for example trade lane managers who could almost hold these seminars, come to us and want to participate because they're still interested in learning something new. The substance of these trainings is the intercultural preparation for assignments abroad or business trips to a specific country, with emphasis on the Asian sector, dealing for example with different thought and behavioral patterns, and identification and avoidance of possible sources of conflict.

Melanie Tönsmann:
Schenker offers an international executive development program. Participants from many different countries come together for a few days and receive training, get to know each other. Everybody profits from that, and it shows especially in smoother dealing with problems after these events; afterwards many things suddenly run easier and faster.

What languages do you use to communicate at Schenker?

Daniela Naeve: The company language at Schenker is English. Our employees speak every major language. Other than that, it depends on who one is dealing with. If for example a truck driver is on location in a country whose native language he doesn't understand, he'll communicate using body language. This works because the subject is clear and everybody knows what needs to be said.

You mentioned positive feedback from employees concerning the cultural exchange programs. I can imagine this to be motivational. How do you motivate your employees?

Melanie Tönsmann: It's a fact that most Schenker employees are motivated from the get-go. Many of our employees have been in the company for 30 or 40 years. Celebrating your 40th anniversary of working for the company isn't rare. Schenker offers so many different jobs that one can be in the company for 40 years and can look back on many different assignments in many different countries. Additional to that Schenker is organized decentrally, which requires a high level of responsibility on all levels, but it also means that decisions are made faster and every employee can actively shape the company, which is very motivating. The idea behind it all is to challenge and support the employees. Managers have an important role in this, of course, that's why we place emphasis on executive development. Appraisal interviews are an important management tool. We offer managers trainings focusing among other things on the subject, "How to lead an appraisal interview, what do I need to pay attention to".

Daniela Naeve: Employees appreciate the fact that they're encouraged to evolve. Schenker offers many employee development programs for many different target audiences, for example "Youngster Professional" subsequent to professional education, or "Schenker MbA", a course held in cooperation with the management and business academy, with which we've had very positive experiences, or the "Task Force", a preparatory program for future top-level executives. This involves active participation in projects; meaning important skills are acquired through practice. At Schenker I can develop from professional education to top-level management. Our new member of the managing board for systems development started many years ago as employee in the controlling sector, then took on more and more responsibility and participated in the '"Task Force" program, then this May he was appointed to the managing board. If you want to evolve at Schenker, you're given the opportunity.

I can imagine that this makes your employees happy. But do you know exactly how the people in your company perceive the situation? Do you conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys?

Daniela Naeve: Among other things we apply the EFQM-model; of course this contains a clear reference to employee surveys. We at Schenker Germany have developed a questionnaire and have already set up several pilot projects. During the coming year we will expand the survey.

Melanie Tönsmann: The biggest challenge we're faced with on the subject of employee surveys is the implementation of resulting measures. The real work starts when the results of the survey are available. Here, too, we rely on our executives. If employees are under the impression that the results of the survey just vanish into a drawer, they'll never participate again. This is why we carefully prepare for the analysis of the survey. The results from the pilot branch offices, where the survey has already been conducted, help us very much with this.

Schenker provides many activities to enhance their employees' potential. On your homepage you mention emphasis on international career options and a potential assessment tool. What is your personal take on this?

Melanie Tönsmann: These two aspects are inseparable in my personal opinion. Potential analysis is important, for the employee who wants to evolve and for the company that needs to fill important jobs. We offer, for example, trainings on the subject of 'potential' in the sales department, aimed at employees who come from operations and want to develop towards sales. During the training strengths and development potentials are made transparent. After the training is complete, the employee is provided with a development plan according to his results. The plan can contain "on the job" measures like accompanying an experienced sales executive to the customer or participation in specific seminars.

„Customer Satisfaction is a key word at Schenker" is one of the statements found on your homepage. In your opinion, is customer orientation contradictory to employee orientation? How do you communicate to your employees that they are the key to success?

Melanie Tönsmann: Customer and employee orientation go hand in hand. Our potential are those of our employees who have direct contact with the customers. Schenker offers its customers innovative and tailor-made solutions. Our product is first and foremost service offered by each and every one of us. The question we ask ourselves again and again is, "How can we make our customer even more successful?" I'll give you one example: SCHENKERart specializes in any kind of high-value art transport. Works of art are highly sensitive and have to be especially protected for transport. What's the best way of doing that? One of our employees developed the idea of a clime box, which encloses and transports the work of art together with the local environment and air from the museum. Today, this is standard operating procedure.

Daniela Naeve: Our employees have fantastic ideas! This is why we instated our Innovation Day, on which our employees are called on to submit innovative ideas. The results always benefit our customers. We gauge customer satisfaction by asking after satisfaction with the quality we provide.

It's logical for a logistics company to leave known territory and go forth into uncharted waters. Which intercultural challenges arise through this and how do you deal with them? What markets do you perceive as an opportunity for Schenker?

Daniela Naeve: Of course still China and Eastern Europe, where we've had branch offices for 20 years and have double-digit growth rates. In China for example we already have 27 local branches with 37 offices and over 1.500 employees. This results in special demands on the human resources department. I myself worked in Shanghai for several years. We hired over 100 new employees every year, which is a great challenge, starting with personnel selections, interviews, integration and the building of identification with the company. HR did the preliminary qualification; the executives led the job interviews and made the final selection. Newcomer trainings were held monthly to group several newcomers together.

When you think of the subject of „employee satisfaction in an intercultural environment" at Schenker, what's your personal résumé? In your opinion, what's the most important aspect of this subject?

Melanie Tönsmann: At Schenker everybody has multiple opportunities one can, but doesn't have to seize. This includes personnel development measures, career planning and the chance to go abroad. Only, one has to move by oneself. One has to take initiative if one wants to take advantage of these offers.

Daniela Naeve: Yes, at Schenker, much is possible. The whole world is open to you. I was fortunate to experience this myself. This was and is a beautiful experience for me. We at Schenker are a big and global family.

„Man is the measure of all things."