How the company’s strategy “left the office”. Interview with the Management Board of GPEC Group: Marcin Lewandowski and Anna Jakób
Some time ago I read an article stating that you started building apartments and terraced houses. Quite an unusual project for a heating company…
ML: I wouldn’t say it’s unusual. The heating industry has limited opportunities for development. The future of this sector needs to be redefined. Today a company like ours can’t just provide heat, but comprehensive comfort. In this context, addressing the construction of houses and apartments is a natural step in the development of GPEC. Even though it requires adaptation of our business model.
So now every heating company should find some side businesses?
ML: In my opinion companies in the sector need to experiment more to diversify their business. Sometimes it comes with the risk of going against the tide, sometimes it involves using market trends. The success of GPEC Group is not just its constantly developed heating network. We examine the needs of the environment and analyze how we can combine them with the classic heating industry service.
AJ: The BMS (building management system) that we implement can serve as an example. These solutions enable the analysis of energy consumption in buildings and its optimization with the use of carefully collected data. This applies to electricity, heat, but also water. On the one hand, the clients use less energy, so they pay less for it, on the other, they contribute to the preservation of the environment.
But to carry out such a “side business” you need some human potential…
AJ: That’s true. In GPEC Group we have experienced experts with immense knowledge about the energy sector as well as young employees who see reality in innovative and creative ways. This mix provides a huge advantage on the market. This is what enabled us to enter into cooperation with large entities on the Tri-City market: Olivia Business Center or University Clinical Center. We provide them not only with heat, but also additional services, such as technological real estate management or the mentioned BMS solutions.
When I think of a “heating company” I see an organization with a solid organizational structure and a long-term strategy. But you are describing a company that changes dynamically in sync with the environment. Aren’t these two images contradictory?
ML: Yes, but this results from the myth of a stagnant “heating company”. For us the only thing that is permanent is continuous work dynamics. In this context we are much closer to start-ups than to other companies from the industry. I call it the start-up gene, which is revealed in our pace of action, style of work, curiosity about the world, and looking for sideways solutions. This approach can also be seen in our strategy. It is not a thick book prepared for the next 5 years. We manage our strategy in our own way, developed on the basis of various experiences. We work in 4 blocks of initiatives that define our business. The first three: infrastructure and processes, development, and people – describe the scope of business activities of GPEC Group, the fourth block – business model – defines how these activities are implemented.
AJ: Many years ago we had a five-year strategy, which would become obsolete after half a year because of the changing reality. Now we work based on strategic projects, a bit like Wikipedia: dynamically, correcting and complementing one another. We try to create a kind of strategic community in the company. In each area, together with the employees, we develop initiatives within which different actions are carried out. There are links, definitions, additions – created by everyone. The community is involved in co-creating the strategy – it lets us know that a given initiative is no longer working, or makes no sense, or that the market requires something completely different. We sometimes joke that we didn’t even notice when our strategy got off the shelves, left our office, and went out to simply talk to people.
And how often does the strategy change thanks to these conversations with people?
AJ: Three times in the last year, but these were facelifts, not strategic revolutions. We decided that our strategy wasn’t keeping up with the market. We gathered a group of experts on these market changes and the interested parties, organized a meeting, talked about the challenges, and improved certain elements. In our traditional work on a strategy, we would probably wait with these thoughts a few years for the compilation of a next document. In the meantime, our ideas would lose their relevance.
And the people? Do they keep up with such a fast pace of work?
ML: The market of the last few years clearly shows that employees are starting to look for new stimuli that help them identify with their employer. Some time ago bonuses, benefits, and interesting office spaces were enough. Currently the focus is the company’s philosophy. The values visible in business activity are derived from the identity of the company, its DNA. People – employees, customers – will either accept this DNA, because it is consistent with their own, or not. There is no room for pretending, but there is for co-creating reality. This was the case with the values that were not created by the management board or the HR director, but developed by the employees themselves, who consulted with one another and decided on the values of GPEC Group.
AJ: We noticed, however, that people need constant stimulation. For this purpose our company utilizes gamification and development programs for management staff. We want our people, at different levels in the organization, to be open. Gamification, especially in teams, is one of the better tools invented for this purpose. The game needs to be a means to an end, not an end in itself.
And how do you use this gamification?
ML: Initially the game was just for fun, a way to integrate teams and get people to work together outside of work. But increasingly often we use gamification as a method of work. For example, we gamified the last management staff training. Teams of managers, selected according to their competences and personal characteristics, were given the task of optimizing various areas of the company and develop specific solutions, which we then gradually implemented. The teams develop by competing for a symbolic trophy, and the program is run by an anonymous character whose identity is an open secret. All this makes work more efficient. It allows people to free up much more creativity and helps them identify with ongoing projects.
Gamification, unusual management, co-creation of strategies together with employees… sounds like a lot of fun … AJ: Because having fun strengthens people’s motivation. Of course, the team can’t become a country club. But we have learned to control these new tools so that our business goal is always taken into account. And this is what it’s all about.
And everyone is comfortable with this?
ML: Most people are. Of course, there are also some who are by nature not fond of gamification, the dynamically and constantly changing strategy, or the “testing and calibration” attitude. But they try, they get involved, they experience. I believe that this approach ensures employee development and attracts new independent, ambitious, and aware people who will be satisfied with what they do at various levels.