Challenge and change – why did I decided to apply?
Finance and research has always been my passion. Measuring behavior, connecting occurrences with numbers and trying to see the bigger picture was always something that kept me motivated in my studies. Throughout my education I was following the irrational behavior of financial crises, negative interest rates and investments. However, seeing the effects of climate change in my country, I started to get interested in the things we can do to influence change locally. How can we take care of both people and environment? The big list of available companies encouraged me to try to pursue an internship that will give me a new perspective and enable me with a new skillset.
Change of a career path
I was fascinated how German consumers deeply care about environmental issues starting from recycling to wanting to know whether the products they buy were produced in an eco-friendly way. The notion that German people care whether manufacturers from other countries are treated with respect, inspired me to look for an opportunity to learn everything I can about Corporate Social Responsibility and transfer this company mindset to my country.
When I first heard about Kaufland’s Code of Conduct that commits their business partners to comply with conditions regarding welfare of workers and environment, I immediately wanted to be a part of a firm that deeply cares about people. The hardest part for me was the possibility to be accepted in a department that had little to do with my current work and educational background. I was utterly thrilled to learn that Kaufland took a gamble and accepted me as a trainee in the CSR department.
We before me – How to adjust to a company culture?
Arriving in a new company in a new country, I unpacked a suitcase of beliefs and protocols on how to behave, act and finally, work. I expected a strict working environment with rules and procedures, but what caught me off guard is that I uncovered a family. Colleagues who care and are willing to stop and help me get around, choose insurance and most importantly simply talk about work and life in general. Being proactive and speak up with new ideas or approaches was very much appreciated and supported from the department. I felt heard but most importantly I could see how my ideas are being implemented or further developed. My takeaway for the new interns would be to first try to understand how a department works, to participate in as many projects as possible and gain a lot of experience.
What can I do to help the team?
The case of millennials, these very driven, motivated young professionals, fresh out of college, is why we sometimes feel the need to prove ourselves and step up. In a team culture as in Kaufland, sometimes you need to let go of the ego and focus of the unison of team. One of the best advice before the internship is when entering in a new environment to give others space to get used to you as well. I accepted this tip with a twist that changed my mindset and view of my role in the organization: when there was a new project or social audit to be conducted, I stopped thinking about how can I get the most out of my tasks in the internship and focused on how can I be there for my team when they need me. So, if there is a social audit to be conducted in Italy, since I know Italian language, I would not mind do the compliance of Italian legislature or even offer to do a simple task such as to translate documents to ease up the process.
Everyday responsibilities and tasks – What did I get to work on during my internship?
Being proactive and asking the right questions is how I got to work on a process improvement project which allowed me to communicate with the CSR department in Asia and through qualitative analysis discover inefficiencies and propose solutions.Moreover, I have been doing cost reporting, determining the price of a social audit done internally and comparing it to the competition. After a long research on legal compliance and training on how a social audit was performed I got the opportunity to participate in social audits in Italy and Spain where I had an active role in determining if the rights of the workers were respected regarding contracts, minimum wage, safety and environmental practices. To top it off, I even got to work on the creation of the Social Standard of Kaufland for its business partners and suppliers.
How being part of Kaufland’s CSR department changed me for the better?
When a department is running smoothly it is because of the people in charge. That was the case in the department I worked. The manager of the department Karl Beck created an environment where everyone has a chance to be heard, to speak up and not be afraid of the consequences. Ideas were generated through conversation and active listening where no matter of your position, everyone felt welcome to participate. I got a chance, after chance, after chance to continually prove myself and received encouraging words along the way to help pick myself up when a project was just not working and embrace the process. The environment where instead of hiding the elephant in the room there is a discussion, showed me what a transparent and open surrounding looks like as well as an idea that every company should not only care about CSR, but also connect colleagues and management to work together effortlessly.
Mentorship that changes perspective
What struck me the most was the time my mentor Hergen Blase spent to teach me principles about strategy, problem-solving, business negotiations and leadership. Through the process of continual improvement and eliminating waste, Mr. Blase built a forward oriented department that effectively handles the everyday changes knowingly that what worked well today may not be as effective tomorrow. In a surrounding of change what remained constant was the treatment of the employees as the most valuable asset. The big takeaway from my mentor is that if you treat people with respect and appreciation, they are going to be the most valuable employees.
Friends & fun
One of the most precious gifts of the internship was the amazing people with whom we shared same experiences, laughed and traveled. It is especially invaluable to have peers going through the same things all around Germany, which means you always have someone to whom you can turn for advice and cup of coffee. Whether it was work or life in general, together we had fun to think it through and laugh it off. Late night conversations, breath taking landscapes and lots of interchangeable stories bestow this journey with an indispensable magic only explicable by experiencing.
This internship is a path to a lot of opportunities: to learn, work, travel and meet incredible people.
Embrace and enjoy the journey.
Tina, Generation 2016