Can an organization grow profitable on a long-term perspective and provide value to customers over and over again, by bringing out the full potential of every employee?
In the following I am sharing a case study of how inspiring work can be. I am going to take a close look at what a culture of collaboration and support, combined with individual drive and an organizational design that puts the employee into the center of all activities can accomplish.
In order to have a frame of reference the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) is used. It defines success principles for the sustainable development of a complex social system, which could be an organization. In such a system, employees do not face systematical barriers to health, competence, influence, impartiality and meaning making. Let’s see how OSCAR is handling this and how it actively encourages each of the aspects.
What is OSCAR?
OSCAR GmbH – Young Management Consultants is a German management consultancy that offers their clients individualized, innovative solutions through up-to-date knowledge from students and graduates. 23 of the 30 DAX companies have been consulted by OSCAR and more than 1200 projects have been realized in twenty-five years of existence. OSCAR is operating from Cologne and since 2009 also from Stuttgart.
What is OSCAR providing for its employees?
Fresh fruits and table soccer
Probably the most obvious access to health is provided by offering free fruits and a discounted gym membership for physical health.
More importantly, since most of the work done at OSCAR is complex and related to knowledge creation and sharing, it offers a foosball table to get a break from thinking. But the foosball table is not just simply standing there; its use is actively encouraged by having tournaments after the core working hours which are from 9 to 5. Thereby, a balance is created to support mental health.
So now that we got all the stereotypes about consultancies and Millennials from the table, let us have a more in-depth examination.
OSCAR employs only students or recent graduates to provide them the opportunity to get first work experiences in the consulting industry. Therefore, they only pay the required German minimum wage, which equals 8.84 € per hour. That gives OSCAR the opportunity to have a price advantage for clients compared to other competitors. With a 40 hours work week the salary amounts to 1,532 €, which is a decent amount for a student or graduate to finance their living costs, even in a bigger and more costly city like Cologne (speaking from experience).
The salary is, however, compensated with the organization of social events. For example soccer fields or basketball courts are rented that can be used by employees. Lunches with the whole office are not uncommon. Parties to celebrate the success of projects or the time at OSCAR are organized regularly. These events foster social connectedness and a sense of belonging.
The result is that employees are not only healthy, but they know their colleagues and even do activities together that are not work related and happen outside the office.
The selection process of OSCAR consists of an assessment center. This not only identifies the best candidate suitable for upcoming projects, but it also test applicants on tasks that are relevant in their day-to-day activities as a consultant, like presentation or negotiation skills. The aim is to match the personal competence and background from applicants with the demanded requirements of projects to ensure a high probability of success. In that way employees can work on their strengths and with topics they are familiar with on a daily basis.
Moreover, the focus in the hiring process is on diversity, which often results in mixed teams for a project. Mixed teams not only refer to gender, but also to different study backgrounds. It is not uncommon to have a two person team with a background in business and psychology for example. In that way the team members benefit from seeing things from new perspective, which also increases the chances to provide value for the clients.
In case a project team is stuck or does not know how to proceed, there is the possibility to ask other teams with relevant backgrounds for constructive feedback or bringing in new ideas in brainstorming sessions.
In addition, all projects are documented in a global database. Since project teams are on average only three months part of OSCAR, it ensures that the competence and learnings from past projects stays within the organization, thereby enabling future project teams to learn from previous successes and failures. Obviously the same labeling and file system is used for all projects, so that information could be found intuitively.
Transparency and direct feedback
In order to be able to make an influence it is required to have access to the relevant information. That is why project status of teams and overall performance of the organization are made transparent to all employees.
Some teams are required to work at the client site throughout the week, whereas other teams can do research and plan next steps from the OSCAR offices. Nevertheless, on one day during the week, normally on Friday, all project teams come together to have breakfast together. During these meetings one team presents their project to keep the others updated and informed. Afterwards feedback could be provided or ideas from others could be heard. The same procedure takes place for the different departments.
There are also presentations of the overall organizational performance, where everyone is invited to actively participate in the future development of the organization by providing new perspectives, ideas or taking over responsibility for a topic of own choice and interest.
The project teams are empowered to realize the project autonomously, in accordance to the scope of project requirements discussed with client and supervisor. The low organizational distance allows the project team to talk to clients directly and develop the next steps mutually.
OSCAR offers the same rights and opportunities to everyone. Everyone has to pass the same application process for example. Additionally, OSCAR is also DIN EN ISO 9001:2015 certified, which means that quality management standards have to be fulfilled.
The departments have fixed offices and desks, whereas for the project teams a clean desk policy exists. That means anyone can sit at an available desk and has to leave it as they have found it, ideally neat and clean.
Every employee has access to the same resources, like the already mentioned database or car sharing options for client visits.
Clear communicated purpose
OSCAR is designed as a learning experience for graduates to get insights into the consulting industry, make contacts with decision makers and to strengthen their own abilities. The whole purpose of the organization is focusing on the individual employees to bring out their best work, so that the client is satisfied with the result, which ensures the reputation and success of the whole organization.
Everything the individual employees do or bring into the project is to their own benefit. The employee is in the center of all activities, which is not only clearly communicated beforehand but is also executed every single day through the described processes in place.
Transparency of progress of other teams and overall organizational performance provides insights into what colleagues are doing and how that contributes to the bigger picture.
Hard work is for own benefit
Having the responsibility for a successful project in their own hands challenges the employees to deliver their best possible work, knowing that there is a trusted community behind them to back them up in case of questions.
Working directly with clients not only makes the result and input of daily work visible, but encourages and commits everyone to give their best to not let the customer, team members, or probably more importantly oneself, down.
Everything at OSCAR GmbH – Young Management Consultants is designed to guide individual teams to a successful project for themselves, the client and the whole organization, simply by starting to lay the responsibility into the hands of the individual and creating a supportive environment to back them up if needed.
With providing no barriers to health, competence, influence, impartiality and meaning making, all aspects for a sustainable development of a complex social system are ensured and so the long-term sustainable growth is not surprising. OSCAR is operating for more than 25 years, the number of projects and thus profits are increasing from year to year. Perhaps the most important aspect, however, is that more than 3000 students and graduates were given a trustworthy and diverse environment with the chance to work on their strengths, autonomously and with a clear purpose.
Would you like to work in such an environment?
In the end of 2013 I had the opportunity to experience the unique working culture and organizational structure of OSCAR myself. For three months I was part of the organization. Together with my team member we worked on a project for a worldwide recognized food company regarding restructuring their Intranet to strengthen employer branding and encourage employee engagement.