This portrait interview was first published in Bluestar Communication in September 2016.
In Elkem, HR performs as an active growth-enabler
For Katja Lehland, CHRO, Chief Human Resources Officer for the Elkem Group it has been a mission of transforming the HR-function from a traditional administrative function to an active growth-enabler, working closely with the business units to strengthen the competitiveness of the company globally.
-Also in HR, we have to understand how value is created in Elkem. HR must continuously look for the organisational implications of the direction in which the company is heading. HR must understand the qualities required for the company to continue to have success, in order to truly support the business owners (divisions) in their strategy implementation, Lehland emphasises.
-People implement strategies. Elkem needs competent, empowered and motivated people at all levels in order to deliver as expected. It is the responsibility of the leader to develop, coach and challenge his or her people, and HR is there to provide support.
-Our HR professionals need to understand the business they are supporting, and how HR can add value. I have worked systematically with my people to transform the HR function from an administrative service-provider to an integrated part of the leadership teams in all our units and plants worldwide.
Prior to joining Elkem ten years ago, Katja Lehland has been in charge of HR in several large multinational corporations. She has worked and lived in several countries, and is of the opinion that good business understanding and international experience are absolutely necessary in her position.
– I have always truly enjoyed working with people and organisational development, understanding that we need the right people in the right places, and at the right time in order to succeed. An organisation is the consequence of what you are trying to achieve. It must be agile - and thus the task of organisational development is a never-ending story in our world of continuous change. I always tell our people not to be afraid of change, but rather, the absence of change. Change and continuous improvement are our tickets to the future.
Elkem Business System (EBS) is the foundation of everything in Elkem. It is the way Elkem people conduct their daily tasks as part of the integrated value chain, which results in “world-class quality products provided by world-class performers”, as described in EBS. The principles of EBS are: make to use, empowered people, eliminate waste and processes in control.
-For Elkem, a global and diversified organisation, EBS provides the common ground. The company has vast geographical, cultural and functional distances within its’ organisation. EBS allows all employees to connect and speak the same language.
-EBS is a true common denominator for us in Elkem, says Lehland. –It is a key target for me to ensure that all our leaders truly understand and buy-in to EBS. The leaders must walk the talk and act as coaches for their teams.
During her years in Elkem, Katja Lehland has experienced that her own leadership philosophy goes hand in hand with EBS and Elkem’s values: involvement, respect, precision and continuous improvement. She adds that high personal integrity is very important to her.
Lehland elaborates by showing the example of the Elkem - Bluestar Silicones International (BSI) integration, on how the Elkem Business System works in the company. Elkem and BSI became one company the summer of 2015, and has since been working on the integration. Mutual respect and involvement have been the key to the integration, which was approached by creating arenas to share and work together at all levels in the organisation.
- We have a lot we can learn from each other. Therefore, we didn’t approach the integration by Elkem telling BSI what is right and what is wrong. I, and many with me, have learned a lot from BSI during the past year. BSI has a high level of customer orientation and marketing competence. Elkem can also learn from BSI’s processes for developing and launching new products. On the other hand, Elkem has traditionally been operations-focused, and can by implementing EBS contribute to further development of the operational processes within BSI.
EBS is practised in all the functions within Elkem. All functions are connected as “customers” and “suppliers” – also internally. The main customers of HR are our leaders and their teams. Today, all Elkem management teams, both at plant and divisional levels, have HR represented at the decision table. The company’s success is dependent upon empowered and competent HR-professionals who are closely involved in continuous improvement work on a daily basis. Lehland is pleased with the development of the HR function, which today is actively and daily working with organisation development according to EBS at all levels.
-It is our leaders’ responsibility to develop their teams and the future leaders of the company, Lehland underlines. – Competence development in Elkem is based on 70% on-the-job training and daily active participation in improvement work, 10% on pure class-room type training activities and 20% on encouraging and enabling our people to take on new challenges and step out of their comfort zones. This way they are offered opportunities to take huge leaps in their personal development.
Broaden the view of sustainability
Viewed by the outside world, Elkem might still, at times, seem like a traditional manufacturing organisation. But from the inside, Lehland is very proud to know that Elkem is a high-competence, future-oriented company. Elkem has a proud history of survival in tough international competition and shows strong development through demanding periods. Today, Elkem continues to be a pioneer in many areas, and Lehland is excited to be part of implementing the ambitious growth plans of Elkem.
- Elkem has a strong focus on sustainability. For HR, the next goal is to understand how the organisation and our people can best contribute to reaching the target of zero impact on the environment. This will require the company to have a sustainable approach to critical competencies, in addition to organisational agility and capacity. People around the world today expect that their employers’ values and visions match their own. They expect to be able to develop themselves in their daily work. Elkem’s commitment to contributing to a sustainable future must be something that our employees identify with and work on - every day, Lehland finishes.