Q You’ve been at LEGO for about seven years. What do you love about working here?
What I love most about the company is really making a difference in the world. We’re focused on developing children’s ability to learn and imagine, and this is a very fulfilling ambition. The company has been owned by a responsible family in Denmark for four generations now, who don’t measure success by profits, but by the number of children they are able to postively influence.
Q How would you define the firm’s culture?
We believe the company culture is unique, and it is something that we are all very proud of. It’s a fun culture, but it’s based on a couple of values. Firstly, we see children as our role models. They are creative, curious and are able to look at life through play.
That’s what we look at when developing people. We want people who can be a bit child-like, love to explore and experiment, be creative, have fun and go through life playing.
Q In light of this, what is the company’s mission?
Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow and the company’s ambition to develop children’s ability to learn. Our product helps children with systematic thinking, complex problem-solving skills, creativity and some of the most important competencies they will need while growing up – staying agile with all the change we’re experiencing. That’s probably also where we take an HR approach to it, as we will need employees who can stay agile, who can develop and be adaptable.
My first task here is to nurture and protect the culture. If I succeed at that, I will succeed with many other things.
Q What HR strategies do you have in place to support this culture?
My first task here is to nurture and protect the culture. If I succeed at that, I will succeed with many other things. If I succeed with recruitment, but not with culture, then I would have failed.
Embedding the culture starts with hiring people. It’s a cliché in recruitment to say that we hire for a culture fit, but we truly prioritise it. That means, if someone has the functional skills, but not the cultural fit, we won’t hire them. As a growing company, we have the opportunity to grow the workforce quite substantially, so hiring the right people is very important.
Q How do you know if these people have the right cultural fit?
We have psychometric tests, aptitude tests, behaviour-based interviews, and such. Our hiring panel consists of people who are very familiar with the culture. Sometimes, it can be subjective, and not based on set criteria. If a number of leaders, who have been around for a while, say that they don’t think the person is the right cultural fit, then we wouldn’t hire.
Q Do you have any induction sessions for new hires?
When you have a unique culture and are growing a lot, you need a solid onboarding programme. The two-day induction programme for new hires is a playful experience, with an introduction to the LEGO brand framework, which explains our culture, stakeholders and what we do. A four-hour hands-on workshop gets them to experience the brand’s framework.
This is not something HR invented. It’s something from our business of learning from children. We know that if you build something, you will also be mentally engaged with it. So we build different things with our new employees, and this framework helps them get a better understanding of our culture and they get to explore, wonder and reflect on it.
We know that if you build something, you will also be mentally engaged with it.
Q Despite the tough economic times, LEGO is expanding rather aggressively globally. How does HR support this expansion?
The top four layers of leadership are supported by HR business partners, who are full members of the leadership teams, rather than invited on an ad hoc basis. That means, we are very close to the business, and we can influence strategies.
While we have scaled up the HR organisation, we also need to make sure we have proximity to the different businesses. So the HR organisation has undergone a journey in the past five years to become much more diverse, being based all around the world and having many more nationalities within it.
What has also helped us is the level of standardisation in our core HR processes, such as those for performance management, talent assessment, and people management and development.
An area where I think HR has excelled is succession planning.
We have identified, developed, and flown talent to different parts of the world for new roles, and that’s where the standardisation gives us an advantage. We can move a leader from Singapore to Mexico and she’ll still be able to operate within the LEGO context, knowing all the processes.
Q When it comes to recruiting locally, have the recent policy shifts in Singapore impacted LEGO?
The policies have not impacted our business. Even before the government policy was implemented, we were hiring locals in the Singapore hub. We have about 22 nationalities, but the majority are Singaporeans so the government policy matches our ambition.
Q Do you have any interesting leadership development policies?
The leadership role is such an enabler of our culture that we are very careful in appointing leaders. We are thorough and try not to appoint the functional specialists who haven’t been able to demonstrate leadership potential. If you really have a passion for people leadership, but also do great in your functional areas, then you would be great for our company.
We have about 22 nationalities, but the majority are Singaporeans so the government policy matches our ambition.
Q You mentioned lateral moves, how do you get those running?
We are a one-brand company – compared to other firms in the consumer goods industry – and that’s a huge opportunity for us. We are organised around one brand, one value chain, and we’re relying on each other – we can’t do anything in isolation. You need to know the value chain. We do that by lateral moves or cross-functional moves.
It’s not just about fulfilling employee expectations and desires. We also encourage people to move across functions because that integrates the organisation. For example, when someone moves from marketing to sales, then the sales team gets more insights into the marketing function.
Q We understand LEGO Group is consolidating its transactional finance and HR services into a global shared services function. How do you plan to manage the change?
What we’re establishing is a shared services centre – where from HR, we would have things like payroll, training, administration, master data for employees and so on. That gives us the opportunity to excel at both the HR and the services part. We are establishing three hubs – we call them business service operations (BSO) – in Mexico, Czech Republic and Singapore. This will give us critical mass, meaning that instead of having small teams spread around the world with few people, now we have big teams. That implies, you’re not the only payroll specialist, you’ll have a team of 10-15 around you, which will give you more career opportunities and functional sparring with domain experts – we believe that will bring great improvement to processes.
Obviously it is a change management challenge because establishing three BSOs means we’re going from more than 10 locations to three. We’ve had some redundancies and also succeeded in redeploying most employees. We’re trying very hard to offer jobs to the remaining employees who are affected by this.
Q What policies do you have to help employees cope with this change?
We have equipped HR and leaders to have the right dialogue around this to support their employees, and external consultants help both the employee and leader cope with the change. We have also put into place career counselling and outplacement services consultants which help employees significantly in finding new opportunities. When communicating change, we always do it in an organised and transparent way – sharing a lot and very early on.
We’re establishing a shared services centre – where from HR, we would have things like payroll, training, administration, and so on.
Q What people challenges do you think this centre might pose?
The natural challenge for a shared services centre is to support the markets without having proximity to them. The Singapore team will support APAC, but it will also be supporting the global hubs. We might run the payroll for Africa and the Middle East from here, and the lack of proximity will be a challenge we have to deal with. What I would like to emphasise is that many companies have implemented shared services for the common purpose of efficiency and saving costs, but that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it to improve effectiveness, to make sure we have solid processes in place so that it won’t be a bottleneck in our growth strategy. We know we will grow a lot in the next few years and we need to have solid processes to be able to support that.
Q Tell us more about our recently implemented activity based working.
We have a strategic ambition of globalising the LEGO company and the LEGO System in Play, and in that, we have formed a hub strategy. The hub strategy is about identifying four different hubs around the world, with Singapore being one of them, and the others in London, Shanghai and just outside of Boston. In the hubs we want global functions, regional functions, as well as local functions. We want diversity, not just in sales or production, but in functions, people, levels and leadership and so forth.It really needs to be a lively and vibrant environment, so that as an employee, you get the feeling you are representing the entire company.
We put in place activity based working to support this. It started out with the leadership team calling out the behaviours we wanted to embed. From that, we worked backwards to say that if these are the behaviours we want, how are we going to instil those? Then we tapped into the research on activity based working.
What we wanted to achieve is more collaboration, coherence and simplicity across the organisation, and all of that is to deliver scalability and adaptability. We came up with eight zones in the office that will give all employees an opportunity to work in a zone that fits the task or the activity they are doing, and their individual preference. We believe that it’s part of building a lively environment, and people are more productive and have more freedom in this environment.
When we made this decision as a leadership team, the first thing we decided was no exceptions, regardless of seniority. Now, no one has their own office or desk. You choose a desk that fits the activity or the mood you’re in today. At LEGO, we have the necessary levels of hierarchy, but we never use hierarchy in differentiating between employees and teams.
Q Have you seen any changes in engagement rates or communication?
Our old office was a classic office with teams sitting together. We realised that the physical layout was not an enabler of collaboration, but more of an enabler of silo thinking. We realised that using a different approach would be an enabler of collaboration. Four-and-a-half months into this, and our annual employee engagement survey has reflected a solid increase. We also know from frequent staff dialogues that it has had a positive impact.
We came up with eight office zones that will give employees an opportunity to work in a zone that fits the task they are doing.
Q How did you manage this behavioural shift?
The change programme started about a year ago, and the communication started six to seven months before we moved in. We decided to communicate it early because we thought it was a significant change, and not just a facility or a structural change. This is a change that would disrupt their behaviours, common patterns and habits. We were met with excitement and resistance, which was not a surprise to us. We did some workshops where we role modelled the behaviours.
From a leadership point of view we shared our own stories. In a transparent way, we shared our concerns about this. We also had games using a mock-up of the office, with scenarios such as “now you need to call an employee in Japan, where should you be” and got them to move the pieces into the various zones. From the resistance phase, we moved to somewhat of an acceptance with people starting to be proud of what we were doing – being frontrunners in this concept.
What is important in managing behavourial change is that it needs to be sustained. If we don’t sustain it through regular interventions, people will just move back to their old habits.
Art direction: Shahrom Kamarulzaman; Photography: Stefanus Elliot Lee using Nikon D810 – www.elliotly.com