"It is more important to be the spark for our Culture Journey"
For years, Michael Ross has accompanied the company-wide Culture Journey at Herrmann Ultraschall as a so-called Sherpa. In this interview, he explains what this means to him personally and what tasks and challenges this special work carries with it.
Michael, you are accompanying our Culture Journey as a Sherpa - what exactly is your job in this position?
Michael Ross: Sherpa are people living in the Himalayas. Many Sherpa make their living by being hired by mountaineers as porters in the high mountains. They help the climbers to reach their goal. We use the term based on this. At Herrmann Ultraschall, we are a team of six Sherpa whose job it is to accompany our colleagues on our Culture Journey. The Sherpa know the way, the terrain, provide security and, if necessary, take the load off. Everyone has to walk the path themselves, but the Sherpa help ensure that everyone on the Herrmann team reaches the milestones of our Culture Journey.
As lead Sherpa, I also take care of the operational planning and implementation as well as the strategic development of the Culture Journey. As part of the establishment of further personnel development programs, I also provide support as a coach and trainer, particularly in leadership development.
What impact can you and your Sherpa colleagues make on our Culture Journey and its participants?
We can have a very big influence. We Sherpa are the guides who are directly involved in the action. In addition, the Sherpa are not external coaches, but also part of the Herrmann family. This is very valuable when it comes to having a better understanding of challenging situations within the organization or, the other way around, being accepted by the participants as a "colleague" and part of the team.
Being a Sherpa is not a typical career path of an engineer. Why did you decide to take on this job anyway?
That is easy to answer. Because I am really excited about it! At the beginning of the Sherpa job, it was an additional task to my actual job, which I accepted out of a fundamental interest in corporate culture and a large portion of curiosity. Very quickly, I realized that there was nothing comparable in my previous professional life where I felt such excitement. So, when it became clear that we needed a full-time Lead Sherpa to gain more momentum with the Culture Journey and the choice fell on me, I did not have to think twice about taking this step. To be a Sherpa, it is not important what professional background you have. It is more important to be the spark for our Culture Journey and to be able to let that spark jump over to the "journey participants" again and again.
A cultural change in a company with over 600 employees in 20 countries - how can such a major project actually work?
It is in the DNA of Herrmann Ultraschall that we are very passionate about implementing meaningful and important change projects as quickly as possible and preferably all at the same time. Unfortunately, in the past, this has often resulted in projects getting started, but from the implementation to a successful completion of the projects, it was not all that easy. This is both a blessing and a curse. In the meantime, we have made great progress in this area.
The same applies to the Culture Journey. It was clear to us right from the start that culture change is not a 100m sprint, but a marathon. We all have to give ourselves enough time for this change. Colleagues should have a deep understanding of where we want to go and then have the opportunity to identify the need for change in themselves and their own team and work on it. Our Culture Journey is a never-ending journey that takes place every day. We take extra time to deal with change in so-called team camps, where each team within the Herrmann organization retreats for two days to work on exactly that. With over 600 people in 20 countries, this is not an impossible task, but it does come with the expected organizational challenges.
You mentioned the team camps. What is a camp like?
Think of the team camps in our Culture Journey as a kind of pit stop in a car race. Each team retreats for two days at regular intervals to a neutral, beautiful location and uses the time to consciously work on itself to drive culture change. To achieve the goal of "creating customer excitement," it is essential that we evolve into a high-performance organization consisting of high-performance teams. This does not happen on its own, but we have to work consistently on team development, which is also an essential part of the Team Camps.
Do you remember a very special moment in our Culture Journey when you thought "Hey, it's working. We're on the right track?”
There are several moments, but one in particular has stayed in my memory, and when I think about it, I still get goose bumps. An older colleague who has worked at Herrmann Ultraschall for many years and has seen the company develop from a small business consisting of a few dozen people to what we are today was very skeptical and critical at the beginning of the Culture Journey. It took several conversations to get him to participate in what was then the first team camp. At the end of the team camp, he came to me, took me in his arms to say goodbye and said with tears in his eyes that what we were doing and planning here was not so bad after all. That deeply moved me and confirmed that we are on the right track.
Let's look to the future: Herrmann in 2025. What would the corporate culture ideally look like there?
Our WHY, BONDING – MORE THAN MATERIALS, will play an even more central role by then and will increasingly be the driving force behind our daily actions. A visible part of this will be the mutual excitement (internally and externally) that we generate with our actions.