AXA guest lecture: How structures shape employee behavior

All News, Faculty, Inside CBS   -  22. March 2019

“New Way of Working” is an essential component of the AXA Group’s cultural change. Christin Clodius, Head of Executive Office at AXA, is one of the people who actively support this implementation. In her lecture “Structure shapes behavior – New Way of Working” she presented the basics of the new working world at AXA to the business psychology students in the seminar “Applied Business Psychology” of Prof Dr Stefan Schwarz, Chair of Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

“Demographic change or technological progress are just two of the challenges we face as an insurance group today. At AXA we quickly realized that we had to critically question and adapt our existing structures. In addition to simplifying products, deepening our customer relationship and increasing agility and efficiency within the company, this also involves a new form of cooperation in order to implement this strategy. “New Way of Working (NWoW)” with the three pillars “Bricks”, “Bytes” and “Behavior” is an essential prerequisite for the cultural transformation at AXA”, explains Christin Clodius.

  1. Bricks: Flexibility instead of rigid structures

An important factor influencing employee motivation is the external environment. “Like many companies, for a long time we had a rather traditional working environment at our headquarters in Cologne and at our other locations throughout Germany, with both open-plan and many individual offices, standardized office furniture and only a few color accents,” describes Christin Clodius. In order to support cultural transformation, the NWoW project abolished these old structures and created new, modern work areas within the company, which now offer more opportunities for open exchange, creative inspiration but also concentrated individual work or individual recreation due to the interior design.  AXA would no longer have permanent workplaces.

“Today we also have top managers sitting next to trainees, which is great because it promotes personal exchange and the speed of coordination among employees,” says Christin Clodius. In addition, the agreement applies: two days home office per week for everyone who wants to take advantage of this.

  1. Bytes: Digital instead of analogue

Flexible workplace regulations also require flexible office equipment. At AXA, this was solved with laptops for all employees. They are either stored in lockers or taken home. “Our goal is a paperless office as far as possible. In the past we have printed and filed most documents. But this costs time and takes up a lot of space due to the archive rooms for the files. Today, we have made considerable progress and are securing our documents digitally,” explains Christin Clodius. In the course of the building conversions, all conference rooms were equipped with state-of-the-art presentation technology.

  1. Behavior: Cross-functional instead of hierarchical

Probably the greatest challenge for the transformation process lies in changing employees’ mindset and habits. Accompanied by change workshops and training sessions, managers are prepared to successively implement the changes within the teams. “We are often greater creatures of habit than we think we are. In the beginning I sometimes missed my individual office. All in all, it is a clear improvement for me because I can now choose the right environment for my tasks – depending on whether I’m brainstorming with colleagues, conducting a confidential interview or want to concentrate on working on a presentation,” says Christin Clodius.

For many employees, this new form of collaboration across hierarchical boundaries and the now group-wide address on the first-name-basis was new territory, as Christin Clodius explains: “From my own experience, I can only recommend to every manager: Changes never happen overnight. But if you discuss such changes in your team and give the team the opportunity to actively participate in shaping the change, you will find good solutions together”.

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