ifm efector – along with its parent company, ifm electronic – is a premier technology partner for sensors and controls. As one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing manufacturers of sensors and controls products, ifm produces more than 8 million sensors annually.
With its global headquarters in Essen, Germany, ifm has more than 70 subsidiaries located in all major countries. Its international network of more than 4,300 employees serves more than 100,000 customers. ifm products include proximity sensors, photoelectric sensors, vision sensors, machine-condition monitors, pressure sensors, flow sensors, temperature sensors, level sensors, AS-i networking, and mobile controls.
With more than 290 employees throughout North America, its regional headquarters is located near Philadelphia in Malvern, PA.
Under the supervision of Human Resources Manager – North America Mike McCarthy, ifm has woven the Caliper Profile into the organization’s selection practices. A client for several years, ifm utilizes Caliper’s assessment services to provide a more complete picture of personality dynamics. Recently, Caliper and ifm collaborated on an Organizational Development endeavor to improve the cohesiveness and overall functioning of five teams that must work in harmony in order to meet business goals.
The Business Challenge
ifm’s Sales Department, which consists of Sales Engineers, a Direct Marketing group, and Customer Service Representatives, operates in a call-center type of environment. Recently, difficulties began emerging between the Sales, Order Processing, and Accounts Receivable departments, often related to managing resources and time, as well as miscommunication about scheduling conflicts. Despite the organization’s success from a financial standpoint, struggles began impacting the overall functioning of its teams. ifm knew it needed to take positive steps to improve, as staffing difficulties and communication breakdowns were starting to chip away at the service-oriented and collaborative culture it champions.
“They seemed to be at a crossroads,” according to ifm’s Caliper consultant.
The Strategic Solution
To integrate three ifm departments that have different responsibilities but which all serve the customer and need to work together seamlessly – Sales, Order Processing, and Accounts Receivable – Caliper recommended using the Organizational Development arm of its workforce.
Caliper and ifm set out to hold workshops on “Enhancing Team Effectiveness” throughout 2015. In total, five teams were spotlighted during the endeavor, three from the Sales Department as well as the Order Processing and Accounts Receivable Departments. One manager, John Isabell, oversaw three of those teams.
Due to ifm efector’s consistent use of the Caliper Profile assessment, Caliper had the benefit of understanding certain personality dynamics even before the engagement began. To start, a Talent Audit was prepared; this deliverable offered colorful visual representations of employees’ unique strengths, along with trends, similarities, and differences, as well as areas on which to focus. Eventually, Mr. Isabell’s Profile was added as well, to see how the personalities and communications style intersected.
Furthermore, since Caliper had ifm data across various teams, it had the ability to see how different personalities meshed and where potential conflicts could arise. Using Caliper’s Team Roles Report, ifm was able to learn about and visualize groups of individuals. The report plots each employee against a four-square framework of different behavioral styles, based on a person’s tendency to be a divergent or convergent thinker as well as a people-oriented or task-focused worker. Ideal groups have representation from all four quadrants.
ifm could now see a snapshot of a group and examine how a team’s makeup of personalities supported business objectives in certain areas and hindered progress in others. Caliper also observed groups as they conducted daily business, and from all input gathered, it came up with topic choices and activities.
Compounding the inherent difficulties of the engagement, however, Caliper had to get information to various teams without disrupting workflow. If all teams were off the floor at the same time, the company would come to a “screeching halt,” said Mr. Isabell.
Adjusting based on the client’s unique business demands, Caliper devised a seven-session program that would be repeated over the course of a workday and could accommodate a cross-section of teams. Again using the Team Roles Report, the groups that were devised had even distributions of personality dynamics.
In the middle of the initiative, Mr. McCarthy enrolled in Caliper’s Certification program to become ifm’s in-house expert on the Caliper Profile. Toward the end of the engagement, Impact Work Teams tackled specific challenges, and coaching sessions centered on understanding team dynamics, building trust, communicating, managing time, and developing a Team Action Plan. Caliper then met with ifm managers and came up with the idea of creating a subgroup from among the participating teams to champion changes moving forward.
Though it is still early on, ifm has started to foster stronger, more collaborative work teams. An organization that embraces Six Sigma and other lean initiatives, it is harnessing the results of its engagement with Caliper to make key process improvements that remove any roadblocks to establishing trust and having constructive two-way dialogues.
Mr. Isabell said he has seen a change in himself and fellow managers, as well as in the participating teams. More people, he noted, are now able to take a step back and have the self-awareness to see a problem before it occurs and, thus, make the necessary course corrections.
“While I’d say the engagement is far from being a finished product, it’s a good example of how you can take one deliverable and have a number of positive chain reactions,” Mr. Isabell said.
Though he, too, admitted that changes are “still a work in progress,” Mr. McCarthy said he is “hearing a more optimistic and positive attitude that things could be different instead of a belief that things are never going to change.”
“Employees saw this work as an investment in talent,” he added. “We love working with Caliper because we value our employees. We want to give them the skills necessary to succeed.”