HomeEmployee ExperienceCultureLeading with Purpose: Yara International’s Future-Focused Transformation

Leading with Purpose: Yara International's Future-Focused Transformation

  • 10 Min Read

HRD Connect sat down with Lene Trollnes, EVP People & Global Functions, Yara International to find out how the chemical giant intends to change the world, both in and outside of business, with their mission, vision and values.

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How can one of the biggest organisations in agriculture transform to become the future of an entire industry? Lene Trollnes, EVP People & Global Functions, Yara International, sat down with HRD Connect to discuss Yara International’s purpose-driven transformation, and how they intend to change the world, both in and outside of business, with their mission, vision and values.

What were Yara’s mission, vision and values and how you have anchored them on all levels of the organization?

Yara’s mission defines what we do and how we do it – it frames both our purpose and our role in the world. Our vision is to realize an expanded community of collaboration that works toward protecting our planet and supporting farmers.  This collaborative community has the collective power to overcome cultural, environmental and economic barriers to create solutions that lead to a world without hunger. We want to create a collaborative society, and our values of ambition, curiosity, collaboration, and accountability, guide our behaviour in doing so.

Our mission, vision and values were first developed by our employees and launched at Yara’s Leadership Summit in 2016, where 250 of our top leaders actively engaged in workshops on how to better define and implement them throughout all of Yara. When leaving the summit, they were provided with films, workshop material to utilize in their own organizations and a signed book outlining our purpose, called ‘What we do and why we do it’. Our dedicated and engaged CEO signed every book they, and the rest of the employees in the company, received – 17,000 books in all.  All levels in the organization ran workshops utilizing the same material and posted their reflections and outcome on our internal intranet.

Subsequently, the values were incorporated into all relevant core global processes, such as recruitment and performance management. In addition, we have adapted the Yara Awards to follow our values, instead of commercial or innovation-related objectives to truly reflect our commitment to these core behaviours throughout our entire organization.

Our values are also integrated into our leadership programs, performance management processes, and our reward and evaluation system to ensure that our values and purpose live in every fibre of the company.

Why is Yara International looking beyond profit in redefining its mission?

At Yara, we strongly believe that better business and a better world go hand-in-hand. Our mission of responsibly feeding the world and protecting the planet aligns precisely to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, the nature of the business we conduct also goes hand in hand with the SDGs. For example, SDG number 5, gender equality, aligns with Yara´s strategic target of having a minimum 25% females at all levels in the organization by 2025. We look at all aspects of diversity and inclusion, to the extent that I now personally participate in the world’s first certification program in diversity management, which will become an international standard like we have for other ISO processes.

Another example is SDG number 13, regarding climate action. The emissions from our plants have been reduced by more than 50% through the catalyst technology invented in Porsgrunn. Reducing energy consumption is a constant focus of our company and one of our primary strategic targets is to further reduce emission of 10% towards 2025.

Furthermore, our nearly 1000 agronomists support the farmers with knowledge to ensure that they can add the nutrients their crops need, while ensuring higher nitrogen use efficiency through precision farming.  And, as mentioned above we actively collaborate with other partners to work towards finding ways of producing carbon free hydrogen for our fertilizer production – as evident in our Norwegian plant in Porsgrunn with Nel. This is true innovation, where Yara wants to play a global role in delivering solutions to safeguard our planet.

How has defining your purpose as an organization improved employee engagement?

Our employee engagement index was 81% following the launch of our MV&V in 2016.  According to external research benchmarks, this was far above the top quartile companies, and our continued ambition is be above 80% in 2025.

What has driven this high engagement level?

What we hear from our employees is that our MV&V are truly embedded in our way of working and our DNA. It is something that everyone recognises as being present in Yara.  People feel they are part of a company doing business with a purpose.

When analyzing our recruitment efforts, we found that our company has improved its attractiveness, while simultaneously being able to express clearly what we do and why we do it.  Young people today want to join a company where they feel they can participate in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges (such as the UN SDGs). Of course, it means that we need to constantly follow-up and make sure that we conduct business accordingly and that our values guide our behaviours in everything we do.

To strengthen the focus on engagement, we have defined two of our unique strengths in Yara as ‘responsible business’ and ‘passionate employees’. We recognise that looking after our employees and making sure they are safe and secure is priority number one. This is supported at all levels of the organization, by conducting business in a responsible way with partners, suppliers and customers to create a trusted advantage for our company.

Why has Yara International placed such focus on diversifying its leadership and creating an open and inclusive workplace?

Yara sells to more than 160 countries and has operations in over 60 more. We have millions of customers globally, yet we are serving them with only 17 000 employees.

Yara strongly believes, and research confirms, that D&I has a positive impact on engagement, profitability, innovation and overall job satisfaction. It is simply good business for us to leverage our collective capabilities and diverse workforce. We also believe that it is not enough to simply have a diverse workforce – diversity must be promoted and fostered through an open and inclusive culture. This means that we must improve how we listen to, and integrate, different views and perspectives through all aspects of our business. All companies want to recruit the best talent and, being recognized as an open and inclusive place to work, increases the attractiveness of Yara for new recruits.

How is Yara International securing that their mission, vision and values is embedded in their culture and DNA, and helping to develop the next generation of leaders?

Our mission, vision and values are integrated into our business strategy and reflected in our policies and processes. When we acquire new companies for instance, we spend time with the new organization to both explain to them where we come from as a company – our more than 110 years’ history – our purpose and way of working and we engage in a dialogue with them around the mission and the values and what that means for them.

At the same time, we recognize their strengths and work to extract best practices by establishing a two-way learning practice. Our values guide our behaviour and our leaders are evaluated accordingly. I would argue that when we remove a person from a position for not living according to our values – even if they are very strong commercially and it could potentially impact financial results – we, as a company, are clearly demonstrating that our values are truly embedded in our culture.

When it comes to the development of leaders, this was one of my first priorities when I joined Yara 3 years ago. My approach was to recognize the importance of leadership and culture and put this into a business context. This started with the mission, vision and values, and thereafter focused on what the values really mean in terms of leadership competencies. Then, we developed a common language and a framework throughout the organization.

I asked my executive management peers to join me in a leadership program to empower them to be co-responsible for developing the talent in the organization, as this is one of the most impactful priorities you can have as a business leader. Results happen through people, not in isolation.

The program itself consists of three modules over three days and is designed to help leaders become better versions of themselves – as one needs to start with oneself before being able to coach or lead others.  Openness and trust are two denominators throughout the program, and we encourage all leaders to be authentic and to openly bring issues important to their business or leadership situation to the program, to connect the session with business reality.

I participate myself throughout all modules and have one of my colleagues with me as a sponsor in each one. In this way, we demonstrate that this is important for top management and we can engage directly with our next level leaders. This has provided valuable insight for us as a company and the dialogue with the program participants has had a real impact on our strategy process.

To ensure that this is brought further out in the organization and reaches more people, we have developed a condensed version of the program called Yara Collaborative Culture.  Here, we have certified internal facilitators, and, to date, we have had several hundred participants from across the organization participating.

How have you gone about building a digital start-up a larger, more traditional business?

Digitalisation is such a big word for everyone today, however if I only go back 3-5 years in our company, this was something we talked about but did not really see as a business opportunity, given that the agricultural business has always been a bit conservative.

We focused on what the risks and opportunities might be for our industry if we did not take a more proactive approach to digitalisation. Without such an approach, we realized that we could only reach a fraction of the total population of farmers with nutrient solutions and knowledge, in order to help them to achieve higher yields and operate in a sustainable way.

Given this reality, we decided to build up a digital farming unit close to the business, so we could quickly scale our agronomic knowledge from tens of thousands to millions of farmers. After discussing whether to buy a larger company to get access to their digital competence quickly, or whether to build it from within to ensure our ag-competence was integrated into the digital unit, we quickly decided that we must build out from the competitive strength of our agronomic advantage.

In a couple of years, we have built up a digital farming unit with 230 highly qualified people. Today, digital competence is attractive for all companies, and, throughout the start-up phase, we have found that we have some advantages that other companies may lack.  Our recruitment strategies focus on D&I, our agility and willingness to take risks are just a few examples.

I can honestly say that the journey has not been without its bumps. It is challenging to build up an organization, while simultaneously managing resources tightly in other areas. The different and new perspectives that have emerged to capitalize on new opportunities have been, and continue to be, invaluable.

We must do this now in order to prevent competition coming in between Yara and our customers. It is a bet we are willing to make and one that we will deliver upon to realize our ambition to become the crop nutrition company for the future.

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