Column | Financial Times | October 8, 2012

Henkel's Culture Shift

by Robert Simons

Abstract

This case descriibes a CEO-led organizational transformation driven by stretch goals, performance measurement, and accountability. When Kasper Rorsted became CEO of Henkel, a Germany-based producer of personal care, laundry, and adhesives products, in 2008, he was determined to transform a corporate culture of "good enough" into one singularly focused on winning in a competitive marketplace. Historically, Henkel was a comfortable, stable place to work. Many employees never received negative performance feedback. Seeking to overturn a pervasive attitude of complacency, Rorsted implemented a multi-step change initiative aimed at building a "winning culture." First, in November 2008, he announced a set of ambitious financial targets for 2012. As financial turmoil roiled the global economy, he reaffirmed his commitment to these targets, sending a clear signal to Henkel employees and external stakeholders that excuses were no longer acceptable. Rorsted next introduced a new set of five company values—replacing the previous list of 10 values, which few employees could recite by memory—the first of which emphasized a focus on customers. He also instituted a new, simplified performance management system, which rated managers' performance and advancement potential on a four-point scale. The system also included a forced ranking requirement, mandating that a defined percentage of employees (in each business unit and company-wide) be ranked as top, strong, moderate, or low performers. These ratings significantly impacted managers' bonus compensation. In late 2011—the time in which the case takes place—Henkel is well on its way to achieving its 2012 targets. Having shed nearly half its top management team, along with numerous product sites and brands, Henkel appears to be a leaner, more competitive, "winning" organization.

Keywords: strategy execution; culture; new CEO; Change; performance measures; accountability; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Corporate Accountability; Leading Change; Competitive Strategy; Organizational Culture; Performance Evaluation; Consumer Products Industry; Germany;

Citation:

Simons, Robert. "Henkel's Culture Shift." The Case Study. Financial Times (October 8, 2012).