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Insights / Inside AOE

Finding the Soul of AOE

December 11, 2020
About the author Joern BockJoern Bock
COO

Mission, mission statement, and purpose: Companies take a variety of approaches when describing the core of their being and their raison d’être, crafting their identity and orientation, and deriving their goals and visions for the future. Changes can trigger such identification processes, and these processes frequently have one thing in common: Employees are not sufficiently involved in them – mere lip-service is given when it comes to involving employees. AOE does things differently. For us, a fantasy world created by management and consultant buzzwords won’t do the trick. We know that these processes can only succeed if we work together, bottom-up, authentically, and with everyone’s participation. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we started our internal initiative “Finding the Soul.” During the crisis, it has become clear that this is more important than ever before. Where are we on our journey to the center of the AOE soul and how can this journey strengthen our sense of “we”? Here’s an initial progress report.

Collaboration and mutual support are critical elements of AOE’s DNA. Thus it is no wonder that we have been asking ourselves for a long time now how we can maintain and reinforce team spirit and our connections to one another. However, team spirit and connections also mean having a common direction, pursuing one goal, all of us pulling together. At many companies, this perspective is dictated by the management. Even if the cool wording of the purpose is found on the website or the stylish mission statement is emblazoned on the office wall, this does not mean that employees actually identify with them. Who are we and what makes us special? The people who know this best are the ones who experience it every day. Where do we want to go and how can we improve ourselves? The answers to these questions are easy if the core of the corporate culture is clear. The key to this is bringing everything that is already part of the corporate culture to the surface and formulating it in a common language.

Stories, patterns, values – the future

Our goal was to initiate a process that optimally includes our employees or, even better, puts them in the driver’s seat. Last year, we asked Soul.com  to help us. This Dutch consulting company proposed an unusual workshop concept called “Finding the Soul” (FTS), which quickly won us over. The first step of FTS involves having employees gather personal stories that they associate with AOE. Repeating patterns and commonalities emerge from these anecdotes, and in the end, these reveal the core values – the soul – of AOE. This creates a sound basis for making transparent and comprehensible decisions in the future.

In the beginning, Soul.com trained a small group of interested AOE employees as “facilitators” – because ultimately an essential part of the process is developing the company’s own internal capacities. They were the first to take the FTS ideas to the company. Then the coronavirus hit. The large-scale real-life experiment with its shutdowns and restricted meetings, remote work and an economic downswing has hit many sectors of our society very hard. People and companies are stressed out, including AOE and all of its employees. Getting through the crisis together so that we can emerge stronger: That was our goal at the start of the pandemic, in the spring. Even though we had to take a brief break from our FTS initiative, we noticed right away how important it is for strengthening our sense of “we” and how much we value the positive impetus that it provides. That is why we looked for new ways to continue “Finding the Soul” while we were working remotely – and we succeeded.

Where are we now?

We have completed the first major workshop sessions. Soul.com is helping us down the road, but many of our colleagues are working on it largely independently as well. More than 80 of them have participated so far, telling their AOE stories in breakout sessions. In the process, we have collected 200 stories, some of which are very moving, and consolidated these. The first repeating patterns are emerging.

We can already see that the concept has been well-received. During the workshop sessions, employees enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and discovered that they are all speaking the same language. We are witnessing how this thought process is bringing us closer together and making us stronger during the coronavirus crisis. The feedback from the team and the impressive interim results confirm this. In the next step, we will continue working on the patterns that distinguish AOE and make it special.

I am very excited to see how our employees will formulate our core values. Stay tuned! We look forward to sharing the next steps of this journey with you.