“Even if you don't manage company culture, a specific culture will emerge. Although it probably won't be the culture you envisioned,” says Omnia Retail’s COO Vanessa Verlaan who presented on the topic of building a strong and healthy workplace culture at the annual World Class Workforce Transformation conference in Frankfurt, Germany in January. 

In sharing Omnia’s experiences, failures and successes in building a healthy company culture, Verlaan shared that it is not something that can be achieved if only one part of the company is actively trying to enforce it: “I am convinced everyone in the company should be responsible of company culture. Not just HR. It starts with the leadership team and then it can be scaled.”

Covid-19 has upended how leaders interact with employees and how coworkers connect with each other," a Harvard Business Review article by Denise Lee Yohn says. "Culture has become a strategic priority with an impact on the bottom line. It can’t just be delegated and compartmentalised anymore,” says Yohn. In many cases, a company’s core values are used to attract and hire top talent and remain a calling card on a company’s website. But what happens when the experience does not match the initial expectation? “People have certain expectations when they start at a company and then when faced with the reality, they are disappointed, and then leave. That’s when companies have to rehire for the same positions. This is why core values need to be implemented from the leadership team and throughout each department,” shares Vanessa.

Using this simple yet effective system, Verlaan explains how the expectation-reality gap can be closed if culture plays an unconditional role in every step of the employee life cycle: 


Professionals from DHL Express, Siemens, Allianz Global Investors and Celltrion Healthcare also shared presentations on upskilling, digital transformation in the workplace, employee engagement, and other interesting topics that affect teams across the continent, making this one of the most innovative and forward-thinking events dedicated to the employee experience. 

In addition to the case study presentation, Verlaan also participated in a roundtable discussion with professionals from other private companies which further unpacked the topic for employees at corporations, scale-ups and start-ups. In talking to one of the fellow speakers who experienced that her previous leadership team was not supportive of  implementing a specific workplace culture throughout the company, Vanessa believes that there are further opportunities regarding the practices for companies that want to achieve a strong and positive corporate culture.

“Culture persists only because people act in ways that uphold its principles and codes,” says a Stanford Social Innovation Review paper, echoing the sentiment that Vanessa shared in her presentation. As Omnia has grown over the years, expanded in locations and developed each department, one thing has stayed the same - its core values. “We don’t update our core values because they are the foundation. However, they have become more clear and implemented in various steps,” says Vanessa.


Omnia Retail's COO Vanessa Verlaan enjoyed snapping some photos at the event with fellow speakers in between interesting discussions on company culture.