Alžběta Axmann, HR Manager, CEMEX

We live the space we created for our work

Interview with Alžběta Axmann, HR Manager in CEMEX Services Group

CEMEX Services Group, the leading Mexican manufacturer and supplier of cement and building materials in 52 countries with more than 43,000 employees, won the first place in HR Innovation Challenge CEE 2017.

The winning project "Thinking, Working, Living AGILE" aims at transforming the workspace of the global development IT centre of the company in Prague in a truly innovative way. The project was presented by Alžběta Axmann, the HR Manager of the company.

Your company has become the winner of HR Innovation Challenge 2017 under the auspices of SAP SuccessFactors. Are you happy with the success?

We are very happy. It's a great success. While the project as such we have been preparing for almost a year, we decided to take part in the competition at the last minute, so the surprise and joy of winning is even bigger.

Tell us more about how your winning project "Thinking, Working, Living AGILE" originated? What led you to the idea?

In 2016, we started to implement the digitization project to completely change not only CEMEX as such but also to influence how companies in the building industry and building materials and other similar areas (mining, processing, etc.) operate. This involved the recruitment of a number of new colleagues in Prague and the need for new space.

At the very beginning, there was a debate with the then company's CIO about what "Office of the Future" is; how "collaborative space" works and how we could do more to meet the specific needs of IT professionals. At that time, I began to get acquainted with the AGILE project management methodology and its associated requirements such as SCRUM Stand Up meetings (SCRUM methodology is one of the AGILE methodologies and is generally used in software development, Ed.) and Design Thinking (a creative approach to problems solving and innovations, Ed.). And in September last year, we first talked about wanting a space to let people work creatively, in a flexible and simply different way.

CEMEX - Thinking, Working, Living AGILE CEMEX - Thinking, Working, Living AGILE CEMEX - Thinking, Working, Living AGILE

In what way was the project implemented? Who participated in it?

The project itself was the work of many people. From the company management, through many internal colleagues - such as Office and Facility Management led by Bára Šťastná, to Tetris, the architecture office. Tetris has created several hundreds of visualizations for us and deserves our great thanks as it has gone all the way with us, ultimately to a space full of features not yet even considered in our market.

What was your role?

As the HR Manager, my main role was at the very beginning and the end of the project. First, I was present during interviews with the leadership concerned with the space philosophy. I was also partly present in its planning, changes and development and at the end I, with the help of my team, summed up the whole process in a presentation with which we participated in the competition.

My role today is to show our new colleagues how we work and to help them enjoy the space in day-to-day work.

The space you created is specific not only for its functionality but also for its visual aspect. What features characterize it?

The final design formed very gradually and very intuitively. From a relatively traditionally arranged office space, we finally reached an open space designed around the structure of hexagons in neutral and natural colors. It is reflected in the entire office design - from the shape of individual rooms to partial graphic elements on the walls or on the floor.

Let me explain, the CEMEX logo features two stripes - blue and red, however, in the office space you won't find any stripes or these colors. Hexagon is, however, the basic chemical structure of the materials we work with and the selected color palette describes the color of the materials entering the cement production. So, this is not a random concept that we just liked. Also, if you look carefully you'll find our logo you might have missed at first glance.

How did the employees respond to the given changes?

You know, the idea behind the space is that it is so intuitive that everyone finds his or her own way of using it. At the same time, there are parts that are clearly intended for specific activities. Especially the Design Lab is a totally multifunctional space where you can materialize your idea within a moment or a Stand-Up hexagon as an example of space where only day-to-day project meetings are really done.

CEMEX - Design Lab CEMEX - Design Lab CEMEX - Stand Up meeting hexagon

Many other features such as a fully wireless space solution make the space fully functional; mobile TV´s with video conferencing units enabling us to work with colleagues from other countries at a single table; mobile boards used for writing on one side and simultaneously creating noise insulation. I think, the team’s acceptance is very positive and we really enjoy the space together.

How did the project implementation and changes in the Prague office have been reflected in the functioning of your team?

As I have already said, we live the space - not only me and Tereza but my whole team. And I think, especially for younger colleagues, it is good to see that it is not just about empty phrases and great cost of realization but that the use of all the benefits of the space really pays off. We already have another project, this time for IT diversity, so we plan to continue innovating. I believe that every other project will be an opportunity for my team to learn more about the methodologies used by our colleagues in IT, not only in theory.

Have you also encountered any difficulties during the implementation? If so, how did you deal with them?

Now, I will not go back to the project as such. The problems we encountered were solved by other colleagues. I will only talk about how I and my colleague, Tereza Houštecká, addressed the situation when we decided to take part in the competition at the last minute and we did not have much time to prepare the documents required to enter the competition.

From the beginning, I was talking about having space to help us work in AGILE methodology while using Design Thinking. And that's exactly what we used. Within a few hours, using techniques that were a little new to us at the time (even though we use them quite commonly now), we designed a presentation structure. We worked remotely on the content thanks to the technology we have available (my colleague was in New York, I was in Prague) and in a few days we prepared everything that helped us to win.

Thanks to the project, you were able to participate at a global HR Conference organized by SAP SuccessFactors in London, where you introduced it in the presentation. What, in your opinion, was crucial to the whole project and was most appreciated by the jury?

When we presented the individual projects in London, I was really nervous. My turn was towards the end. I must admit that many of the projects were really interesting. In some cases, I envied my peers the possibility to experience them. The jury discussed the way they evaluated the magnitude of the impact and the changes as such. At that time, I was thankful that we had come so far. When the jury came to a point where Damon O'Neill said there were two companies in the final selection - Lenovo and CEMEX - I was really shocked.

The jury's final decision i.e. that ours is the winning project, was primarily grounded on the fact that we were introducing innovation in a rather conservative industry, which is more demanding task.

In addition to actually winning the HR Innovation Challenge CEE 2017, what else did you get from the conference itself?

I love rock concerts and I am not ashamed to say that the SAP SuccessFactors London Conference was one of the top ten of my favorite rock concerts. And, of course, it was also an opportunity to meet and talk to colleagues from different parts of Europe about their job, get inspired by their experiences.

What did the winning in the given competition bring you personally and or your business?

It made me keener on similar challenges. I also believe that CEMEX will benefit from my energy.

What other HR activities are you currently planning in your company?

As I already mentioned, our current topic is the diversity in IT, however, we won't abandon the issue of innovation.

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