“Who is your best friend at work?” It’s not a question you might expect to be asked by the Head of HR at Maersk - but according to Ulf Hahnemann, friendship in the workplace is one of the best possible measures of business performance there is.
“We are all social animals and we crave a sense of belonging,” explains Hahnemann. “We thrive when we are part of something that we really enjoy, and as a result so too does the company.”
Just eight months into his new role, Hahnemann is bringing a fresh perspective to what makes our employees tick; and with it some big plans to shake up the way we approach employee engagement at Maersk – something he sees as being crucial for the future success of T&L.
“Every employee is important and makes a difference to our results – whether you are in Søren Skou’s team, in a Damco depot in Long Beach or in the Shanghai customer services team.
“As T&L Management Board (TLMB) we are finalising our People strategy and we want to create a new energy around engagement which focuses on a sense of belonging, care and ambition in every team, at every level across Maersk.”
In the future, this means adapting the annual employee engagement survey to get to the heart of what’s really important for employees - as well as tailoring the way we act on it. “We should be using the survey to improve the working environment in a way that’s relevant for each individual team, and that means asking the right questions.”
And as the new head of HR and the TLMB roll out their ambitious agenda, this is not the only change employees can look forward to
A company rooted in values
Hahnemann joined Maersk last year, following a 27-year career at Mars. He returns to Copenhagen after 25 years living outside of his native Denmark - first in Australia and then in the US – for the last 10 years in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was the emphasis on company values that ultimately attracted Hahnemann to the job. He saw many similarities with Mars which - contrary to the common perception of ruthless American corporations - is a strongly values-based organisation, consistently recognised as one of the best places in the world to work.
“What struck me most about Maersk was how strongly the business is rooted in the values of its founders, and its commitment to being extremely ethical in pursuing business goals. This is really unique. There are not many companies where such strong values exist, and even fewer that make an honest attempt at living by them.”
A new approach to leadership
Hahnemann brings many lessons from Mars to his new role, one of which is the “relentless focus on people.”
“Being a people leader entails huge responsibility - and it should be seen that way, not as a career step,” he says. “That means high expectations. The leader’s role is to foster an environment of engagement, trust and dialogue - to be an enabler of the team.”
“What I’ve learned is that building trust in an organisation is the core challenge. If there’s trust between employees and the company, problem-solving follows. People will use their intelligence as they feel supported, not judged. They are not worried about being shut down or intimidated so ideas can thrive.”