How VWR has built a successful employee engagement program

Lab bench equipment

Sustainability manager Megan Maltenfort at the pharmaceutical supply company VWR knew her sustainability engagement programs were taking a turn for the better when a senior vice president in the company came running up to her, waving his arms.

"I got 100 percent!… I got 100 percent!," the executive shouted. He had just completed a short assessment in an interactive online learning program about how sustainability impacts VWR’s business and how employees can help shape future initiatives at the company.

Earlier, Maltenfort and her colleagues had used a variety of methods to reach out and encourage greater participation and support for sustainability initiatives, but found they were facing an uphill battle. Now the tide had turned, and employees, managers and executives across the organization were coming to them.

Turning the tide

VWR is a leading, independent provider of laboratory products, services and solutions with more than 8,500 employees managing operations around the world.  For the past three years, Maltenfort has helped to lead the company’s sustainability initiatives, publishing global sustainability reports, launching its pipet tip-box recycling program in North America, and helping the company build sustainable business practices to enhance the value of the organization.

To support internal engagement efforts with its employees, the company maintained an Intranet site with several web pages and links dedicated to sustainability, but employees didn’t always access the information, or know how to apply it to the business or in their job functions.

The new online learning programs clearly helped employees discover the value that sustainable business practices bring to VWR, its customers and its suppliers, as well as helped employees take sustainability issues more seriously. This success greatly increased demand for more information as well as increased participation in specific initiatives.

Now, the sustainability email Inbox is used much more frequently, particularly by the sales organization as they proactively seek more information to share with their clients and prospects.

In an effort to engage more employees, the sustainability team understood it needed to make sustainability more relevant to everyday work and easier to opt in rather than opt out.

“When we first started our Sustainability program, we were focused on being a good corporate citizen. Then the training allowed us to show employees how environmental and social risks and opportunities impact VWR, how other companies are addressing these risks and opportunities, and how VWR is developing initiatives in our R&D and material processes as well as operations to support sustainable business practices,” says Maltenfort.

“In addition, key global customers are looking to VWR to support their sustainability goals.  Beyond addressing VWR’s own impact, it has become critical to embed key components of sustainability into different parts of the business so that we can address the needs of our customers.  We simply needed to engage more people internally in order to achieve that work,” shares Maltenfort.

Make it relevant, make it stick

Maltenfort partnered with the HR training team at VWR to find programs that would suitably meet the company’s objectives.  The team found they were able to leverage content from a readily available library (Sustainability In Practice™) to provide the programs quickly and inexpensively. Topical interactions helped employees quickly understand the context and relevance to their work functions, and the open feedback loops and assessments helped them refine their knowledge and contribute additional ideas. 

 Interactive screen to learn about VWR’s Framework for Success
Interactive screen to learn about VWR’s Framework for Success, courtesy of VWR.

The programs have been very well received. The initial roll-out reached over 50 percent of the North American employee base last year and is now being expanded internationally. The program is also now a standard part of the company’s new-hire onboarding process. Unlike other communications programs and Internet portals, the interactive and immersive learning elements help employees discover and apply key principles for themselves.  It also helps them think outside the box, and use their imaginations in providing feedback and contributing useful ideas. The result has lowered resistance and increased participation virtually across the board.

Ripple effects

The ripple effects from the learning programs go well beyond the sales group in helping the sustainability team build stronger relations with other key stakeholders. Partnering with HR and training leaders has raised the profile of sustainability as a core company-wide employee engagement initiative. Marketing is frequently using the materials in customer communications and presentations. The company’s leaders have even received many emails from customers thanking them for committing the company to these better business practices.  

In the past year, VWR has even won two Supplier Awards from key customers for demonstrating excellence in sustainability among its supplier base.

Perhaps the highest honor was the invitation the sustainability team received to present to a group of key customers to report on VWR’s progress and future plans to get feedback about the company’s direction. 

“It was great to be included in such an important customer forum and the feedback provided allowed us to refine our strategy to better support our customers. The experience has only encouraged us to double our efforts,” says an excited Maltenfort.

VWR foresees increased internal employee training and awareness efforts, as customers ask the company to get further engaged as a leading supplier in value-added initiatives.  The sustainability team will continue to support the Sales, Marketing, HR and Category Management teams in further embedding sustainability into their functions so that VWR remains well-positioned to add value through sustainability programs.