Self-Organization with 3000 employees | Joachim Schledt, HR Development, Alnatura

#OrganizationalChange — Humans Of New Work

Since 2008, Joachim Schledt has dedicated himself completely to Alnatura’s employee development instead of employee retention — a term he’s has removed from his vocabulary entirely. Today, the organic food retailer founded in 1984 has made moves towards becoming a social, organic company.

It is Joachim’s belief that when it comes to shared vision and culture, Alnatura is building on sturdy, philosophical base. Handling the day-to-day like, “Who decides what a product costs and where in a store it’s placed?” is slightly different.

“It’s like on a soccer field when the ground is bumpy, and the floodlights are missing. When basic conditions aren’t met neither players nor employees will be able to reach their full potentials, regardless if they feel strongly connected to what they’re doing. To address this, we’re working to organize ourselves in a way that jumpstarts self-responsibility. If there’s one thing that people connect with it is freedom.”

For this employee development guru, freedom is a recurring theme. He recalls when he was young how his father would respond when asked when he should come home from a party. “You will certainly know when it’s time to come home.” To this day, he recognizes that moment as one of trust.

With a knack for self-determination and an interest in people, early on Joachim decided against his tutor’s recommendation that he studied mechanical engineering. Instead, he chose education theory. After working on a few prevention projects, Joachim took steps to further his education with distance learning focused on personnel development. He worked his way up to become a human resources manager before landing his job at Alnatura on his second application attempt. The company had only 35 stores and 850 employees then. Today, the company boasts 3000 employees and is facing the all too common challenge of shifting from a grassroots organization to one of holistic change.

“It’s our goal not to break up hierarchies, but to make them more flexible. For example, in one store we’ve started a pilot project where a manager got rid of her role and put her team completely in charge. That’s how a new team structure was developing by itself. Our goal is to turn over power and skills to each store, so that decision-making is directly connected to clientele. To make a change, we need to see the change has a significantly positive impact on clients — meaning whether the customer’s purchase behavior is positively affected or not. In the same vein, the expectations of headquarter leadership will also change. However, we’re still at the start of our journey, or to put it slightly differently, we’ve packed our bags and have just started walking.”

The biggest challenge is still an individual’s willingness to adopt change that might be outside their comfort zone, Joachim points out.

“The higher I get in the hierarchy, the more difficult it is to pass on responsibility. A more autonomous employee begs the question, ‘What does that mean for everyone’s income?’ ‘Do colleagues with more self-responsibility need a different form of compensation?’ ‘Can this only happen at the expense of the leader?’”

There is still a long way to go, but for Joachim, the journey is just as much the reward. In the coming years, he hopes to bring society closer to understanding that organic quality is the only sustainable and long-term way of ensuring the nutrition of the human race.

Originally published at