We spoke with Agata Kaczmarska, CPO PL and CEE dentsu

Agata, over the last year you have introduced a very interesting benefit program for your employees related to health on the market. It seems to be the beginning of a long-term trend in HR. How did you come to this?

From the perspective of the HR department, the pandemic had a very positive impact on jump-starting the serious discussion about the mental health of employees. Until the pandemic, mental health was a taboo, which led to negative consequences for incumbents and businesses. For example, it had often led to stigma against the affected. Today we are talking about providing mental care as much as we are talking about healthcare. It is simply another very important benefit for employees.

During the pandemic it turned out that many people suffered in isolation. Our reaction as companies was only: "manager, your job is to take care of your people." In fact, we have shifted this burden onto them. This was a big challenge for many leaders, who did not know how to help their employees; they didn't even want to ask questions to employees about their well-being, because they lacked the knowledge on how to react to  these answers.

It turned out that organizations are not completely prepared for this and the level of education in these areas is very low.

Have you found a way to help them?

Yes, maybe not solve the issues but relieve them.

We have created an educational program for managers - Mental Health First Aiders, which trains and prepares for psychological first aid. It is a global program.

We entered into cooperation with several organizations but we were primarily looking for a systemic support. Our partners in this project made selections and out of 100 people (of 800 employees in the company) who applied for the program, 20 were selected, trained, and certified.

These people are in the first line of  help. They do not so much solve problems, but rather show our people where/how to find professional help.

How did your employees react to this?

Very well indeed. Though, as might be expected, not everyone utilizes the program to the same extent. However, the representation is so large that it also gives an insight into general and cultural problems within the company. We have an additional benefit in the form of identifying watchouts. We have also introduced 3 additional days off for psychological well-being.

Surely you are at the forefront of this change in the market, aren’t you?

Fortunately, our global CEO Wendy Clark attaches great importance to well-being, hence we have her support in this matter. Companies are beginning to expand the range of options for taking care of mental health. When it comes to the availability of psychological or psychiatric care, the statistics, especially in our part of Europe, are alarming. That is why such help must be developed. This is obviously an additional burden for companies, yet the trend is right and there is probably no turning back.

You say the topic was caused by a pandemic, but could it also have anything to do with other aspects of our lives?

Of course, with the whole geopolitical situation and lack of stability and predictability, etc. Additionally, the "snowflakes" generation is growing. They are extremely sensitive, emotional people who are not prepared for what they are about to find in the outside world.  Then, what is a strong point may turn out to be a weakness and vice versa. Disagreeing on certain things in the company’s space is  young people’s forte, however, the pandemic seems to have hit them very hard.

You say that the issue of employee benefits is changing. What other trends are you following?

Taking care of one’s career and competences of the future. Still few organizations deal with career counselling and re-skilling. This will be a very important change due to the rapid development of AI and digitization. We know that some professions will disappear,  although, we cannot predict when it will happen. We are not yet faced with this challenge, but it may surprise us very quickly. It is necessary to do an in-depth analysis of what will disappear, what will appear, whether we have education in specific areas, or whether we can search for talents in other countries. Thus, it will certainly be another challenge that companies, especially HR departments, will face.

We spoke with Marcin Majchrzak, General Manager Haier Group Poland, Baltics & Ukraine.

Congratulations on your promotion, please tell us how the company's business in Poland has been so far and what have you changed?

Thank you very much. Of course, it was a big change both for me and for our two companies in Poland at this time.

I am afraid, I won’t say anything revolutionary: always in such a situation, the first task is to build a team. Experience, knowledge and belief tell me that if you have a good team, you can achieve any goal. The beginning was not easy. Relatively quickly I found people with great potential and knowledge, but also with an appropriate value system. The challenges were in all possible areas, from relations with business partners, through improperly selected products, lack of communication with consumers, to the profitability of both companies.

Together, we defined who we want to be and what we want to achieve. We developed a new business model and then the perfect execution of the plan became the key to success.

Simultaneously, we were working on the changes in the structure and merger of the companies, developing new methods of operation on the consumer and client side. Today, we know a lot about our consumers, that enables us to communicate effectively with them. I gives me great satisfaction and joy that as a team we have created a friendly and stimulating workplace. We have a unique culture which translates into commitment, constant development and searching for new ideas how to develop a business.

You had the opportunity to work in various markets in previous organisations, now you have taken over the Baltic countries and Ukraine. It is a huge challenge how to approach it at all and the expectations. Is it hard to plan anything in advance?

In the current situation our action plan is twofold. First, Ukraine - our main task there is to evacuate our employees and ensure their safety. We are also in constant contact with our clients. Some of them are active and we help them whenever possible.

The Baltic countries, on the other hand, have some similarities and differences compared to the Polish market. Modern retail chains operate similarly to the best players in Poland. The preferences and expectations of consumers when it comes to household appliances are slightly different. At this stage, I cannot reveal too much, but we have an idea and we see great opportunities to develop our business in all three countries. We certainly have a lot to offer consumers as well as distributors.

What will you focus on, and pay special attention to, in the context of product development in the coming years - and why?

I think that today nobody has any doubts that the future belongs to modern digital solutions, thanks to which we simply live more comfortably. All our new devices can be connected to the hOn app and use functions that make our daily activities easier. Artificial intelligence makes our equipment quickly adapt to the consumer's lifestyle, making it easier to wash, cook and store food. At the same time, we put great emphasis on pro-ecological solutions. For instance, our washing machines are certified with the highest energy class at affordable prices. Candy RapidO offers comfortable and quick washing with very low energy consumption. Exactly what consumers expect today. To this you need to add aesthetics and design as household appliances have become an element of interior design today.

Our goal is to improve the quality of life of consumers. To make daily activities easier or even take them off customers’ hands. That is why we focus not only on modern solutions based on artificial intelligence, but also create an ecosystem together with various partners. As a result, we will provide consumers with a comprehensive solution in a modern way that makes life easier. Even today, using our wine cooler, you can easily check what we have in stock and order your favourite wine through the aforementioned hOn application.

How do you approach ESG? How do you bring this idea to life in your organisation?

This is a very good question, especially in the context of Haier's values. Since the day the company was established, its culture has been built on three pillars: entrepreneurship, close communication and cooperation with consumers, referred to in our company as Zero-Distance-To-Consumer, and the construction of the aforementioned ecosystem.

At Haier, we act as company owners. This is also the most sought-after feature in potential candidates for our team. I used to work in a company with a "highly corporate culture”, focused on internal goals. We always look at the reality around us through the eyes of the consumer. Therefore, when creating the ecosystem, we do it based on local partners. Thanks to this, we support the local community but also better respond to the needs of consumers.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing and key to its success?

This is a kind of logic puzzle. People are the most important. A properly built team with a wide range of experiences and skills is able to create and implement ambitious plans. Naturally, under the right conditions. My role is to build this team and create the right conditions. We promised each other two years ago that we would create together a workplace where we will be able to pursue not only corporate goals but also our own goals, especially those related to development. In order for the team to function efficiently, it must have the right conditions. The combination of these two elements gives you a chance for success.

We spoke with Laurence Pinget about Christmas in her home town of Strasbourg.

In the Rhenish Tradition, Christmas is one of the loveliest times of the year

The oldest Christmas market is known all over the world and we are happy and proud to have it back again this year! For four hundred years this famous market has been working its magic in the European capital, Strasbourg.

The festivities begin on Friday 26th of November with the illumination of the majestic Great Christmas Tree, with its kilometres of fairy lights, and the opening of the emblematic Christkindelsmärkt.

It is a festivity that delights children, and of course adults, every year.

This year I noticed over 300 wooden chalets, spread around different squares in the city - it really is a fairy-tale atmosphere - and during the next month I will enjoy strolling through the streets, or just enjoying a glass of mulled wine, vin chaud and some Christmas biscuits called breddle with my family and friends.

I can't really adequately describe the warm, cosy atmosphere, with the delicate aromas of cinnamon and spices, truly sublime decorations and illuminations that come together to create this special atmosphere that takes over not only in Strasbourg but overall in Alsace!

Perhaps we should have a Friisberg Conference here one year!

Laurence Pinget
Paris, France

We spoke with our Polish team about their holiday plans.

On Christmas Eve in Poland, many families share oplatek (an unleavened religious wafer), each person breaking off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas.

Similarly, at Easter we share boiled eggs that are sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

It used to be that Wigilia (Christmas Eve) dinner could not begin until the first star appeared in the night sky, but now in many in cities we can't see many stars! Traditionally, an extra setting is still left at the table - just in case someone shows up uninvited.

There is also a tradition to put a handful of hay under the tablecloth to commemorate the fact that Jesus was born in a stable.

How do people in Poland usually spend the holidays? 

Many people visit their families. We Poles ski a lot, so many people go skiing during the Christmas holidays in Poland, but also in the Alps.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition? 

Well, most kids (and some adults!) would say getting presents! There is a lovely tradition of organising kolędowanie (singing carols). Many families throw a big party just for singing carols all evening (if you don’t sing, you don’t get a dessert!). In Poland, people spend Christmas holidays with their family, but our kolędowanie tradition enables us to also celebrate Christmas with friends.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year?

Our unemployment rate is the lowest in the past 30 years. The mean salary also increased in 2021. For the 2020/2021 academic year there are 1.2 million students in Poland - so it seems that, against all odds, 2021 was a good year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2022? 

That the pandemic will stop and everything will go back to normal.

We are delighted to welcome Łukasz Dominiak to our office in Warsaw.

Łukasz has over 12 years of experience in recruiting for pharmaceutical industry most recently as a Talent Acquisition Partner for a leading Polish Pharma company.

He started his career in the Polish pharmaceutical company Blaufarma, where his responsibilities included internal recruitment and assistance to the Board. Subsequently he spent 6 years working for international HR consulting company, where he managed a team delivering recruitment projects to fill in management and board roles in Life Sciences, before moving to be Business Development Manager in another HR consulting company, where he generated and delivered Life Science projects.

Over the years he has gained broad experience in recruiting for different Life Science departments, especially R&D, Marketing, Sales, Medical, Market Access and Public Affairs.

His client portfolio includes Abbvie, Astra Zeneca, BMS, Biogen, Selvita, USP Zdrowie, Pelion, Celon Pharma, 3M, Eli Lilly, Bausch, Boehringer Ingelheim and many others.

We are delighted to welcome Leszek Porembski to our Warsaw office as a Senior Consultant.

Leszek  joined Friisberg in July 2021 and focuses on Executive Search and HR executive advisory services.

Having graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Catholic University of Lublin with a MBA degree from Kozminski Academy and Bradford University, since 1994 Leszek has been professionally dedicated to HR management gaining his experience in different industry sectors including aerospace, petrochemical, pharma, food and hospitality. This gives him an impressive strategic and hand- on perspective over a number of organization and business situations.

Leszek has previously managed HR departments in large and mid-size companies and is convinced that a well-chosen and integrated team can make miracles happen within organisations. His experience spans leading projects in the field of change management, talent and performance management, reorganization, social relations, diversity and digitalization.

Dorota Serwinska, Partner in our Warsaw office, also extended her welcome, “We are delighted to have Leszek  joining our team and our ability to provide our community with world-class talent advisory, leadership and coaching.".

Fluent in English and French and Spanish, in his spare time he is passionate about mountain ultra trails and open water swimming. He loves discovering new cultures, places and people.

Leszek is thrilled to be joining Friisberg & Partners International in these exciting times and is looking forward to working closely with the firm’s clients and Partners in Poland and across the globe.

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