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How EADS has fostered a corporate identity

One of the measures of EADS's success has been the extent with which it has fostered a corporate identity among its employees - and it is an effort that time has made easier.

When EADS was created in 2000, the staff it inherited worked not only for different businesses, but within various self-contained national organisations.

Even the French component had recently been two separate companies. A Eurocopter engineer in Bavaria had little sense of being part of the same enterprise as a satellite scientist in Spain.

Since then, more than half of EADS's current 120,000 workforce have joined an entity called EADS and those around before the merger have had 10 years to get used to it. Jussi Itavuori (pictured) - EADS's Finnish head of human resources and one of only two "foreigners" on its executive committee - says that unsurprisingly employees express different levels of identification in surveys.

"We all have our own national heritage, but national association is less important than it was in 2004," he says.

"There is some loyalty to business units, but often the main driver is people's passion for the product, whether an aeroplane, helicopter, launcher or whatever. However, people will also identify with EADS and that has been getting stronger and stronger," Itavuori adds.

This is particularly the case as employees rise up the seniority ladder. "If you look at our executives, they don't forget their division, but they feel very much part of EADS," Itavuori says. "This applies very strongly to the younger generation of managers."

The ability of managers and engineers especially to move between countries and business units is one of the biggest draws of working for EADS, but "mobility remains one of our primary challenges", says Itavuori.

"Aerospace is a long-term business and there is a conservative, seniority-based engineering culture."

That said, around 3,000 employees - equivalent to almost 3% of the workforce - are on transfers or secondments from their main place of employment. "The average for global corporations would be about 1-1.5% of the labour force," says Itavuori.

EADS has set a target to have a fifth of employees working outside their home country by 2020; the figure is currently about 6%. EADS has also put measures in place to encourage international and inter-divisional mobility among senior managers with a policy that anyone nominated as an executive ought to have experience of working in at least one non-home country and in two other functions or businesses.

Some 40% of candidates met these criteria in 2009, compared with 25% a few years ago, and the policy should be fully implemented by 2016, says Itavuori. A corporate business academy near Bordeaux and a "structured approach" to appraisals is helping identify and develop high-fliers throughout the organisation. "Transferring people is the best way of transferring ideas," he says.

The fact that EADS's entire 11-strong board of directors, all 12 members of its senior executive team and virtually all its next tier of executives are men would appear to be evidence of a glass ceiling at play in Europe's biggest aerospace company.

However, righting the gender imbalance is a priority for Itavuori and his team, starting with the ranks of managers and engineers, where only 7-8% are female. EADS is committed to raising that to 20% by 2020, a figure already being met in Spain where more than 30% of engineers are women.

Itavuori points to the evidence of annual "engagement surveys" and simple statistics - voluntary turnover within EADS is 1-1.5%, compared with a 3-4% norm for European industry - as evidence of a loyal and committed workforce.

"We have a much more common culture than we did in the past," he says. "When we survey people there is an amazing consistency between our divisions in terms of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of our management."

A priority now is making employees feel cared for. "We are aware people are continually under more and more pressure. We have at times remote management, a transnational organisation and all the other issues of a growing company. So we started to question how people are feeling," says Itavuori.

"Our surveys have pointed to the fact that we have very bright, committed employees, but who feel that there is a lot of improvement to be made in terms of commitment of management to their careers and individual development. So we are going back to basics, looking not just at hard business targets, but asking about employees' wellbeing and career development," he says.

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