The BASF approach to improve work culture
An example of how a manufacturing site improve their work culture:
Improve work culture – The BASF way
“So what makes us press the green or red button?” After Christophe de Monie launched the question there was silence in the room. It took a while for the employees at BASF to open up and start talking about how to improve their work culture.
But let’s go back 3 years to when Christophe, Site Manager at BASF based in Ham, started to improve their work culture and safety:
Changing the mentality at work
How would employees describe your company culture?
“Our work culture is very influenced by the historically grown attitude”, says Christophe as he walks around on the Belgian factory floor.
“Many employees have been with us for a long time and we used to have an old management style. So we’re focusing on adapting. We had a culture where employees felt that it’s up to the manager to decide everything.”
The management team at BASF is busy trying to change this mentality:
“I believe YOU are also responsible to improve your situation and you CAN influence the situation”, the site manager explains enthusiastically.
“We have different elements that help us measure where we are as a company. Where are our employees today? How is the mentality? Have we moved? Am I performing because I was told to, or are people performing, taking care of themselves and taking more initiative?”
The union is with us and wants to improve our work culture
As one of the world’s leading chemical companies, the BASF corporation combines economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility:
“We installed a Celpax device as we’re a people company. We have to know what’s going on with our employees. New laws and BASF guidelines also mean we are rightfully spending more attention to the well-being of our employees.”
The BASF management wanted employees to feel part of the initiative and not feel like it was a threat.
The HR Director, Dirk Tack gave him a hand.
“Dirk was very helpful and came when we met with our union. We have a very good collaboration, they appreciate that we are trying to change. So we involved the union during the setup.”
BASF sent out a presentation to all their employees:
“We explained WHY we’re doing this. This tool really is for them! It’s for all of us together to come up with solutions for improvements”, says Christophe.
“I’m not here to fight. I just want to improve”
“The first months the number of employees that participated fluctuated a lot. Some were pressing 3 or 4 times to see how the green lights would change… but that quickly stopped,” he says.
Then it was time to start talking to people. The start wasn’t quite what Christophe had expected:
“There’s always a group of people with arguments like I’m pretty sure there is a camera or finger recognition, so you will know who pressed what.”
Christophe smiles as he remembers:
“My jaw literally fell down as I heard this. I told them if you were in my position, why bother..? I’m not here to fight. I just want things to improve for everyone.”
Management resistance to change – It takes time!
At first, there was silence when Christophe sat down and opened up the conversation around “why we have been pressing green or red”.
“It took time to get the first person to give feedback. You really touch the base mentality of people – it takes time to turn them around. Same goes for the BASF management!”
“When people do open up and tell you things, it’s important to encourage and take it seriously. You need a couple of people that start moving towards the new direction. That’s the critical point. The bigger that group grows, the more people will adhere to it.“
“If we don’t follow up or take action and show that pressing brings results, then people will get fed up and not use the tool.“
“And the system is so easy. You just press a button!”
What makes BASF (Ham) press the red button?
Ten months after installing, Christophe says they’ve seen improvements in their conversations around how they feel at work.
People start to talk more openly now. They come and approach the site manager to talk.
Or they seek out a colleague or any person they trust in the company.
“You also have to be realistic, many people take their own problems to work but what we improve is the situation here, not at home.”
“We found out that our employees felt that certain situations were not taken care of. People felt they weren’t being heard. And our response time to people’s concerns made people press red. It helped our management understand that we need to talk more with our employees about the changes we’re implementing.“
“So now we’re more reactive in sharing information on what we’re doing to improve the situations that worry people”, says Christophe with a thoughtful look.
“You have to explain that if you can’t change something now, what’s the long term plan? Perhaps you need to ask for a higher budget, or you need more time, plan better, etc.”
When people press red because of colleagues
Christophe has also found that sometimes it’s hard for employees to share why they pressed red, simply because people don’t get along:
“I can get feedback like that one pressed red because he doesn’t like the other person. I try to keep it factual. You need to address it of course but you need to be careful”, he clarifies.
If you see a problem… why don’t you mention it?
Sometimes structural problems come up:
“2-3 weeks ago we had a very good employee mood and then we suddenly had two dips: people weren’t happy with the maintenance,” he says and points to a machine.
So Christophe asked why they thought the maintenance was bad.
“The rubber band should be changed more often as the machine is a bit old, they said.”
“My reply was Well, then mention this to the maintenance team! If you see something, bring it up.”
“Many times people come to talk because they’re disappointed about some small issue that is part of a bigger picture. Like the coffee capsules that run out… just go to the room next door and take a new box. It’s not enjoyable when this doesn’t happen right? It makes you a bit tired when the answer is “Can someone be appointed to do this for me?”
Christophe can feel and see it in the data that they are turning their culture around.
“But we’re not there just yet, same goes for safety. We’ve improved our walkarounds and always have different participants so they get used to the process.”
“So… if you see a safety problem, why aren’t you mentioning it? There are still people where we have to get the words out of their mouth; we have to challenge them. We’re still in a learning curve. How can we get people to talk more?”
Employees are happier
“Everything is interlinked in the workplace,” says Christophe as he continues into the BASF corporations’ chemical laboratory.
“All your processes, your effectiveness, it all depends on your mood. There’s a big correlation between not following safety regulations and not caring about other employees at work.”
“With people that are engaged, you wouldn’t have safety problems. They put on the gear. And they would normally press green. If our kitchen is dirty, they will clean it up.”
“We haven’t made any fundamental changes but people are happier lately. And you can see the impact on the mood when it’s bonus time for example”, he says laughing.
“But even today still half of the people will feel that safety is purely a BASF management thing”.
If the mood is good productivity is better
“Nowadays employees give feedback like I have a feeling we have red because we had a problem with a packaging machine. So the line manager walks up to the others and they can then discuss this.”
“During stress situations, our mood is relatively bad; we’re not the only company experiencing this. The question is: Do employees enter work and create a stressful situation, or is it the situation that creates the stress?”
“Having the Celpax tool helps us, because we know that when the mood is good the productivity is better. The Celpax gives us a reason to go out on the floor. It’s not about pointing the finger; it’s about having a discussion.”
“I go out and say Hey, I heard from my line manager that the machine broke down twice last week”.
“And I simply ask: how do you see improvement possible?”
“We’re simply all better at communicating now”, Christophe concludes.
If you like BASF management’s approach to improve their work culture, get started with a Celpax device.