Topic: Cooperation and culture change in sales
Client: Haufe Lexware Service GmbH & Co. KG
Industry: Media and software (digital media group)
Size: over 1 million customers
Sales Culture next level
at Haufe-Lexware Service GmbH & Co. KG
Late 2014 – the sales departments at Haufe-Lexware are on track for success, the figures look good and 90 people are now employed in the growing sales organization – yet CEO Mirza Hayit has the strange feeling that something is missing. His intuition tells him that something else will be needed to make the leap to the next level of development.
The organization is currently too dependent on him. He contributes the fresh ideas and management impulses, and the organization carries them out. Managers and employees focus primarily on achieving individual goals and less on matters of concern to the company as a whole. He views this kind of cooperation as a limitation and wonders what his team needs in order to assume responsibility for itself, contribute ideas actively, encourage mutual support, challenge itself and take effective action. He turned to Coverdale once again with that question. The consulting partner on whom he has relied since 2001 – then the Managing Director of the WRS Verlag – participated himself in a company-wide Coverdale team training program on the subject of team-oriented cooperation.
Since taking over as Sales Director at the Haufe Group, he systematically built the sales unit into a professional team and achieved a good position in the market. The expectations, the per-formance KPIs and the sales approach were firmly established. The massive changes and market requirements faced by the evolving Haufe Group were successfully mastered, and the sales staff grew substantially. Every member of the professionalized team knew what he needed to do to make things work.
Yet in order to reach the next level – the “leap to the Champions League,” every individual would have to demonstrate more creative drive and take on a greater share of the overall responsibility. The challenge was to promote recognition of the intrinsic necessity and the desire of managers and employees to achieve the planned cultural transformation – without appreciable pressure from outside. The goal of the transformation process was to achieve much better results by promoting more facility and fun as well as respectful, authentic interpersonal relationships and a climate of collective willingness to assume responsibility.
The first 24-hour workshop for all managers took place in January 2015. The purpose was to familiarize the team with Mirza Hayit's thoughts and initiate a discussion of values.
What kind of a culture do we have? What is the attractive goal we envision? A task group compiled the results, which were then worked out in greater detail in a second workshop.
The ten guiding principles were discussed with all employees in the form of world café in the subsequent summer workshop. Twelve guiding principles subsequently derived on the basis of the processed feedback and listed on a poster were discussed continually in team meetings. At the same time, the organization underwent a 360-degree feedback process to determine the extent to which these guiding principles were actually being put into practice. A culture of mutual trust emerged from the 24-hour workshops moderated by Coverdale, and difficult issues were addressed and resolved in the resulting climate of open discussion.
The guiding sales principles were discussed by managers and employees throughout the course of the year, and a total feedback process involving all 80 core and field sales representatives took place during the next summer workshop. Participants provided feedback to each other regarding individual performance, overall performance and application of the guiding principles. The “Sales Culture” project was successfully concluded. Managers and teams assumed responsibility for designing the living culture as a continuous feedback process within the framework of their day-to-day business activities.
The firmly established ritual of the summer workshop is an essential success factor in the process of developing, strengthening and stabilizing the sales team. Held in collaboration with Coverdale every year since 2008, the event is a mixture of an annual review, a celebration of past successes, discussion devoted to critical issues and adventure-oriented (outdoor) exercises – all of which serve consistently to promote and enhance cooperation.
The often creative and challenging exercises have been conducted in cooperation with a consulting partner, and there
was naturally a lot of feedback from the trainer and among the participants. This continuity helped fuel the growth of a culture of trust in which highly respectful and appreciative feedback is possible, in which performance – both individual and group – is honored and in which it is much easier to talk about difficult issues. A strong sense of solidarity is generated in the process. In addition to the professionalization of sales operations, the development of a sales culture and the increase in the number of sales representatives, sales revenue doubled as well.
Starting in 2017, Haufe-Lexware has been working without outside support and with a format of its own on “Sales culture – the next level”. Thus cooperation and client development have been a success story for Coverdale as well, from close involvement at the outset to complete client autonomy at the end – enabling people to succeed together.
„I don’t believe that employees want to work in purely hierarchy-centered organizations. That has long since outlived its usefulness. Individuals can no longer kick-start a business. There is added value in sum of the skills of all employees. Being able to bundle the capabilities of all of my 120 people is the crucial factor. My job and our challenge is to harness that potential and promote a climate of cooperation in order to achieve success in the market.”
After graduating from college with a degree in communications, Mirza Hayit spent 17 years as an independent businessman and co-founder of the Hayit Publishing Group. He then moved over to the field of media business management. He has served as Managing Director, Direct Sales, Channel Sales and Media Sales for the Haufe Group since 2010. In addition to his many years of management experience in mid-sized enterprises, Mirza Hayit acquired methodological competence in major organizational projects during a three-year training course in process consulting and three years of training as a consulting transactional analyst.
Questions for Mirza Hayit
Managing Director at Haufe Lexware Service GmbH & Co. KG
You got to know Coverdale in connection with a training program in cooperation. What prompted you to contact them in 2014?
The trigger was the fact that my organization had grown extremely rapidly. We came from a highly hierarchical organizational structure. I wanted to replace that with agile, employee-centered principles of cooperation. My goal was to reform our operating system by shifting to an employee- and customer-oriented structure in which employees and teams had more responsibility. And I needed support and moderation to achieve it.
You have also acquired skills in the management of change processes yourself. So why work with Coverdale?
I’ve always liked Coverdale because their consultants and trainers represent a strong humanistic approach. Your employee image is characterized by personal responsibility and personal initiative and focused on making strengths visible, building upon them and enhancing them. That image and your image of organizations fit very well with my own entrepreneurial vision.
How did your people react to the first 24-hour workshops?
They were curious, in a positive sense. That is a basic attitude in our company anyway. I wasn’t the only person who saw the need for change. Our managers saw it as well. But as it turned out later on, there is a big difference between “Yes, we’re with you.” and “Yes, we’ll act accordingly."
Which interventions by Coverdale were the most effective?
After the kick-off, we repeated the workshops with Wolfgang Lundgreen for the management team and focused on a specific topic – such as feedback culture, performance and mutual respect – in each quarter. This continuous, structural development process over a period of 24 months was an important factor in our success. The second was the fact that we top managers figured out how we actually wanted to work with each other so as to develop a consistent picture. Only then did we involve the whole team. Our employees then went through the same process the managers had previously completed. But not top-down with the attitude that “the managers have come up with a great idea”. The employees were able to help shape the process and give feedback. We completed several rounds. Once we had adopted the basic rules in “We are Sales”, we went on in the second phase to define how we would make the principles measurable, how it would feel, how we would experience the process and where the important issues lay. This iterative, integrative approach was the most important factor.
How has your role as CEO changed?
I’ve become closely involved in the role of a moderator and coach. Actually, all I do now is ensure that the conditions that enable the team to work effectively are met. That includes fulfilling the financial requirements, making room for creativity and decision-making and – to the extent necessary – providing support for personnel and team development.
I now focus more on strategic orientation. I enjoy working with people who have skills I don’t possess myself. Skills that make us better. And that is where they should have the most creative freedom. No operational input is needed from me. Responsibility is now distributed over broad shoulders without making individuals feel as if they’re being asked for too much. It’s a nice effect and it feels just great.
Imagine that I plan to walk through your offices in Planegg tomorrow. What concrete signs of change would I recognize?
As a rule, you notice what’s up as soon as you walk through the door of a company. When you visit us, I would hope that you recognize by their attitudes, gestures and facial expressions that our employees enjoy working here. You would probably feel the positive energy in the rooms and sense that honest and open interaction and communication take place here.
If you took part in a meeting, you would also see and hear how we interact and communicate with each other. We still practice a feedback culture, for example. And we talk about it regularly: “What do I perceive, and what effect does it have on me?”
You will also be able to recognize the same things in our office-space concept. We will soon be changing our office configuration and switching to an open-plan format – in other words, one large room with communication and creative islands. We’re taking that step now because the existing office layout prevents us from communicating in keeping with the new approach. The external structures have to reflect the altered internal attitude and the new mode of cooperation – not the other way around.
You have invested a great deal of time and money in the process of developing your in-house cooperation. How has that benefitted your business and your relationships with customers?
Generally speaking, we have been on a growth course right along – without losses or setbacks. I attribute that to the fact that we are constantly working to develop and adapt our sales organization. Our customers expect more of us now. We have been able to respond to their heightened expectations because the changes we have undergone enable us to deploy the skills and potentials of our employees at the points at which they have the greatest impact on our customers. We check the Net Promotors Score (NPS) regularly, and that helps us measure the quality of our work. Our NPS has improved steadily – year after year.
What recommendations would you make to organizations facing the challenge of transforming their cultures and initiating such a process?
Put your heart and soul into it and take it seriously. Take your time. Don’t be dogmatic, and don’t think you know everything already. Have faith in your employees’ potential. Those would be the four key pieces of advice I’d give my colleagues. I’m firmly convinced that what helped us was the fact that the transformation of a culture isn’t something I generate with a kick-off event. You have to take time for a change like that. I took two years for the process. I was never interested in simply painting a few pretty pictures and a nice poster. What was important to me was that our new attitude, the changes in our cooperative behavior and the ways in which we act would be noticeable – in the eyes of employees, customers and the market – and that we would strengthen our self-image at the end of the day.
À propos strengthening your self-image – you have just returned from your annual summer workshop, the first one you have conducted without outside support. How did it go?
Super. The idea came from our managers, and the team welcomed the fact that we are now capable of organizing such events completely ourselves as a positive change.
Does that mean that the change process is completed?
One challenge that remains is that of designing our internal interfaces within the corporate group – the dynamic that emerges when such a strong sales team with its own principles of cooperation encounters others. We are also still growing, and our new employees – 20 or 30 by now – will have to find their places in the new culture. So we’ll never be finished. It’s a never-ending process.
And we mustn’t forget that the market and our customers are always changing, which means that we must change as well. It is not a rigid system. That is very important for us. It’s an open system that is oriented towards business challenges, the market and our customers and one that demands a high level of willingness to accept constant change and reform.