Marrying German and Indian cultures at Dr. Oetker India


Following Dr. Oetker’s acquisition of Fun Foods in 2008, one of the biggest challenges was to bridge the gap between employer ambitions and employee expectations.

Dr. Oetker, the German company, came to India in 2007. However, it was only in 2008 that it took over Fun Foods, a significant purveyor of Western cuisine in India. With that started a unique internal journey of marrying two cultures and enabling them to work in harmony. One of the biggest challenges, with both being primarily family-owned businesses, was the gap between employer ambitions and employee expectations, following the acquisition.

Hemangini Jayant, vice president-HR, Dr. Oetker India shares that while the Company saw it as a doubling up of the workforce and product line, and hence a larger business opportunity, the employees were expecting much more.  With a German company overtaking the business, they were hoping for a different work culture with more comfortable work hours, better pay, five-day working schedule and so on. “Although I joined the organisation in 2011, I had been consulting for them prior to that and after the acquisition, our focus was strongly on identifying the gaps in employer and employee expectations and bridging the same” she says.  

Hemangini Jayant

The cultural transformation journey of Dr. Oetker, as Jayant explains to us, had five major milestones. Each one focused on a key area, where the gaps existed. Here is what it entailed:

Behavioural changes

Jayant shares that with both organisations being family-owned originally, the decision-making was centralised and a monochromic culture prevailed. The system lacked ERP and people were not used to working with numbers. To add to that, the styles of working— Indian and German—were very different. “We first looked at decentralising the decision-making process, bringing in more heads to be involved in the process than just the authorities. We looked at empowering people to take decisions, own them and question authority, if need be,” Jayant explains.

Breaking the cultural barriers

It was important to help the staff understand and appreciate the differences in the two cultures. HR had to help people with differences in speech, language, body language, punctuality and so on, so that they may adjust with each other well. Jayant shares that, even the top management is involved in the process, so much so, that in order to break the cultural barriers, even the MD shares a room with one of the employees during the annual conference. In addition, they celebrate both Indian and German festivals to help people appreciate the two cultures.

Performance driven

To ensure an excellence- and performance- driven culture, the Company worked towards having well-defined KRAs and assessment centres, to link pay and increments with performance. At the same time, Dr. Oetker trained its people on Excel, English language skills and so on, depending on the need.

Jayant further tells us of the Company’s inter-country talent development programmes to help people gain larger exposure and learning on the job. The International Talent Development programme, which is a one and a half-year comprehensive talent development initiative, takes place in Germany and every country nominates a candidate or a top performer to participate in the same. “There is huge excitement around the programme and it has a huge aspirational value amongst our people,” Jayant concurs.

Sales Force

Jayant shares that being a product sales dependent business, it was extremely crucial for each employee in the organisation to have a sales bent of mind. “The business could not be run in silos, as sales and production had to work in tandem to align the production capacities with the sales,” she says. With that in mind, it standardised the process, with well-defined targets that each involved party was accountable for. It created a monthly sales chart, leading to an annual target, which would be looked at during the annual conference.

The impact was such that both production and sales began looking up the numbers with zeal. So much so, that, “Once a production staff directly called the VP sales, asking for the sales figures to align the production capacity,” Jayant quips.

Sales Enablement

This one is a larger drive to shape the mindset of the non-sales staff, helping them appreciate the importance of the sales function in the business, the challenges that they may be facing and how the other employees can contribute to the same. As part of this, Jayant shares that everyone in the head office was handed over ready stock and they had to go out to designated areas in the market and sell the same to the retailers for ready cash.

“It gave us all a sense of what our sales staff have to face out there in the market; where we stand; what our market perception is; and what the challenges being faced out there are. In addition, it helped bring in empathy for our sales people, making us realise the hardships they go through to make our business successful,” said Jayant. She shares that this was in line with their vision 2020— ‘Everyone in it Together’.

Besides that, a larger challenge for the HR team at Dr. Oetker was to make people appreciate the products they are selling. Not many Indians are used to having Western food on a daily basis, and hence, it was just a product for them, which they could not relate to well. “We wanted people to understand and appreciate Western cuisines, as only then they could work with more passion,” Jayant opines.

To do that, the Company organises a culinary competition for the R&D team every month, wherein they are given one ingredient and expected to work out a Western recipe using that one ingredient along with Dr. Oetker’s products. People are sensitised about product application through such competitions. The Company once had over 200 employees cooking together in a culinary competition during one of its annual conferences.

“We realised that even the top management needed similar sensitisation as most of them were not too keen about Western food. Therefore, we decided to introduce one new international dish from world cuisine during the monthly management meet each time.”

More than the dish, the idea was to introduce people to the cuisine and its characteristics, informing people about its origin and the culture behind it.


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