Henkel: How a major multinational drives digital change across 53,000 staff

Jennifer Armstrong / August 2018

Whether pioneering the first laundry detergents or inventing the glue stick, Henkel has earned a reputation over 140 years for building business success on top of smart innovation. Today the German multinational is as forward-looking as ever, specializing in laundry and home care, beauty products and adhesive technologies. But with over 53,000 employees based all around the world, driving a digitalization strategy means striking a balance between global alignment and local work culture. We spoke to Henkel’s learning & development experts to find out why digital training is central to this traditional company’s new direction.

When Henkel introduced “Accelerate Digitalization” as one of its four strategic priorities in 2016, it presented the company with an ambitious challenge. With more than 53,000 employees in 75 countries, Henkel is a major multinational operating in distinct sectors across a range of workplaces. Accelerating digitalization is a matter of changing work culture, as much as technology, as Franziska Schatt at Henkel’s center of expertise development immediately recognized.

“Digitalization should be a cultural change that everybody understands,” says Franziska. “Only by collaborating with people who have a similar level of understanding, digital readiness and digital citizenship can we move forward across all the regions and functions in which we operate.”

Creating cultural change

Making that broad cultural shift happen meant planting the seeds of change across continents, different departments and diverse teams. As in many large organisations, staff at Henkel were accustomed to traditional training techniques, centered around off-site classroom training and away days. Henkel chose to catalyze change by combining elements of this approach with fresh, digital forms of learning that could easily integrate into the working day, for maximum penetration and minimal disruption.

“We decided to make the move toward lifelong learning through small nuggets of training, which the trainees themselves take ownership of” says Franziska. “Instead of the ‘push’ approach we had in the past, we want to encourage a ‘pull’ approach from employees, so they can learn on the go, at their own convenience.”

For Henkel, this is not just a practical, internal change, it’s part of a wider shift in attitudes toward work. “This type of learning is the future,” says Franziska. “We want to be in line with the new generation coming into our workforce, with their different ways of learning. Millennials are an increasing share of our populations, occupying already  leadership positions. To be relevant, we have to guarantee that they find at Henkel the same technology and user experience that they're used to seeing in their everyday lives.”

Branching out from a common issue

Henkel has long placed emphasis on maintaining a highly mobile workforce, encouraging staff to gain skills across multiple areas of the business, from management, to negotiation, intercultural communication and finance. “We cross-pollinate our whole employee portfolio with programmes that incentivize colleagues to have different experiences in different business units and countries,” explains Franziska. It’s an approach that means training at Henkel is rarely limited to a single, closed-off group of people. And by choosing an area of expertise relevant to teams across the board, Franziska and her team could optimize the reach of the new training, drawing attention to the potential of digitalization.

“We identified a clear training gap on digital marketing, for example” says Franziska. “It was the one area in which our business units had requested further training, so we began to look at learning offerings in that area to boost our marketing campaigns on social media channels.”

“Ultimately,” adds Franziska, “we are trying to teach our colleagues how to move from traditional, classroom-style education to a paradigm of lifelong learning, where they each take ownership of their own employability, readiness and future.”

- Franziska Schatt, Global Human Resources - Center of Expertise

Curating learning content to stay on point

Rather than focus on content creation and maintenance, Franziska and her colleagues see themselves as curators of learning solutions. Instead of buying in an educational package or creating it all themselves, Franziska and her team enable maximum flexibility and responsiveness by assembling portfolios of educational content from a number of providers.

“Training content is changing so quickly that an effective L&D department needs to be agile,” says Franziska. “Something we produce today may be out-of-date three months later, so it no longer makes sense for us to produce training content for our users. We have to reach out to providers who provide the latest content in an agile format, then work together to customize it and curate a solution that fits our needs.”

Henkel selects digital learning modules for its staff, from language-learning content to collaborations with major business schools, favouring bite-sized e-learning that makes it easy to adjust to the demands of different territories, embracing local environments and working cultures. That helps to integrate learning into the everyday lives of individual workers, encouraging radical new ways to think about learning.

“Ultimately,” adds Franziska, “we are trying to teach our colleagues how to move from traditional, classroom-style education to a paradigm of lifelong learning, where they each take ownership of their own employability, readiness and future.”

Henkel-people at work

Seeding the potential for wider change

Training in one field can lay the foundations for new ideas and understanding right across an organisation. Marie-Anne Caye is part of the team that leads content development and deployment at Henkel Adhesive Technologies, and after taking part in the Google Digital Academy’s 5-month virtual digital marketing leadership course Squared Online, Marie-Anne applied principles from the course to create her own learning tools. Building on concepts such as the See, Think, Do, Care customer-centric framework, Marie-Anne and her team work on transforming existing technical content into easy to digest, engaging pieces.

However, mass-participation has also change attitudes more widely among Henkel staff, as Marie-Anne explains. “The course improved our collective awareness of how digital channels and integrated analytics can help us achieve strategic goals. Everything can be seen as a component in the customer experience chain. That gives all of us a much more powerful way to present digital transformation concepts to leadership figures who might still see digital as a secondary priority.”

By picking a single training issue with high visibility and clear impact, Henkel is helping to create an environment in which digital transformation can take root.

“The course raised awareness of how digital can impact issues far beyond marketing. It’s a whole new approach, and it puts us on to the first stepping stones towards one of our big strategic objectives,” says Marie-Anne.

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