BASF Manufacturing in 2021: Best practices in adapting to and thriving in a global pandemic

Corporate Member Spotlight: BASF
Manufacturing in 2021: Best practices in adapting to and thriving in a global pandemic


BASF Corporation is the North America affiliate of BASF SE, a producer and manufacturer of chemicals, which is committed to creating a sustainable future. While many manufacturing companies are addressing labor turnover amidst the pandemic, BASF Corporation's turnover is down significantly, indicating strong retention. Core to BASF’s mission as a talent developer, retention in future leader talent pools reached historical highs to a rate twice that of the company average. Engagement also rose for women in production and engineering roles from 2019 to 2020.


According to Gartner’s research on the Future of Work’s Industry Impact Analysis within Manufacturing (September 2019), the sector has experienced a tumultuous 2020 filled with change and an even stronger call to up the ante on flexible approaches for its workforce. For BASF, this environment has created a renewed focus on driving employee engagement at its manufacturing sites.


BASF shares with WiM its best practices for engaging and retaining employees, maintaining company culture and continuing to successfully operate during a pandemic:


  • Get the basics set up first. The first step in rebuilding engagement in a time of crisis is to get people answers to their burning questions, quickly. We deployed a website on which we pulled the major policies, tips, learning for working virtually and FAQs into one spot — rather than directing people to the traditional areas (increased ease of finding things). We also developed a consistent cadence of updates from our Crisis Management Team. The impact of this approach was high scores on our pulse checks—more than 87% of our employees felt satisfied with the communications they were receiving about the pandemic. Getting the basics set up enables employees to quickly refocus on their work.


  • Double down on health and safety. At BASF, our responsibility is to provide the safest operations and products for our employees and customers while protecting our communities and the environment. We consider the health, safety and security of people and the protection of the environment to be our most fundamental responsibilities. Our employees and communities in which we operate expect us to ensure we adhere to the highest standards of safety. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve emphasized the importance of keeping each other safe by asking as many people as possible to work from home—helping us create joint commitment and accountability for keeping each other healthy, as well as safe.


We added campaigns around both physical safety and emotional well-being, including a “Pledge to Protect” campaign (view more pledges and videos by following #BASF_PledgetoProtect on social media) and put a stronger emphasis on wellness programs tied to our Healthy YOU brand, as well as using communication vehicles, like cell phone notifications, to remind people to be safe, wear a mask in advance of holidays, and other important health tips. BASF is expanding the umbrella of Healthy YOU to include programs which cover four pillars of well-being – emotional, financial, physical and social. For example, under the emotional well-being pillar, we introduced the myStrength app, a digital behavioral health solution, which empowers employees to address various conditions, such as stress, anxiety and sleep challenges while also supporting the physical and spiritual aspects of whole-person health.


  • Listen, learn and lean in. Gartner data suggests that within our “new normal” of doing business, manufacturing employees rate uncertainty about the economic climate as their number one concern and are sharply focused on how trends brought about in the age of COVID-19 might affect their individual employment and overall company stability. We know leaders need to proactively seek employee concerns and communicate clearly on how the company is positioned to help. BASF has expanded its employee listening strategy to include more frequent Pulse Checks on Regional Priorities and has provided leaders with tools and frameworks to complete simple, actionable and measurable follow-up. We have also deepened our commitment to encouraging vulnerability and conversation that ultimately yields more meaningful dialogue and commitments, many of which are centered on tough topics our employees live and experience daily.
    • Consider more flexible resourcing and benefits. An increasing percentage of workers are seeking non-traditional routes to employment (freelance, part-time or job-sharing arrangements). At BASF, we are beginning to operationalize a vision toward a Total Talent Model as we seek to think bigger and bolder to develop a more agile workforce and tap into a new talent market outside of those seeking traditional full-time employment. Employees also expect more from their company as it relates to a Compelling Total Offer that better meets their needs. Amidst the many personal challenges faced due to the pandemic, the importance and impact of flexible working arrangements, Employee Assistance Programs and other benefits has elevated to new heights. Offering flexibility in types of roles, working arrangements, and benefits can have a profound impact on employee engagement especially during these times.


  • Show gratitude and use non-traditional forms of recognition. Understanding what motivates individuals and tailoring recognition and appreciation is a longstanding and well-researched method that should be encouraged and measured to drive engagement. Through our Recognizing YOU program, we provide our employees with a digital platform that enables virtual kudos and on-the-spot monetary rewards to encourage behaviors that drive our business performance forward. During the pandemic, we ran additional training for employees and managers on the value and importance of recognition, coordinated multiple organization-wide employee appreciation campaigns and consistently reinforced recognition in communications. These efforts resulted in an 8-point increase in our employees’ feeling of being recognized for great work on our annual engagement survey this year.


  • Develop virtual Learning & Development opportunities: We didn’t let the pandemic stop the continuous learning and development of our employees. We moved our curriculum (including “Leading People” and “Building Productive Relationships Through Emotional Intelligence”) to a virtual format. We also completely virtualized our FLAME (Female Leaders Advancing Manufacturing Excellence) program. Starting with the program-wide kickoff in April, participants were able to actively participate in Insights Training, virtual networking sessions with our Manufacturing Executive Community and attend from the safety of their home or office.  


  • Enhance culture of connection and engagement through mentorship and employee resource programs: We have multiple Employee Resource Groups with chapters throughout the country, an Inclusion Champion Network that fosters awareness and accountability across all sites/businesses, and a focus on ensuring all sites have set up an inclusive infrastructure so everyone belongs and feels safe/cared for.


Our North America Mentoring Program is a key element of our HR Strategy to form the best team at BASF, and this did not waiver during the pandemic. Open to all BASF employees, our program deliberately reaches across organizational, cultural, and geographical lines within our region and has maintained a 90+ percent satisfaction rating. We also prioritize mentoring and sponsorship in support of our high potential talents and encourage informal mentoring through our Employee Resource Groups and FLAME, where employees “pay it forward” and bring the next generation of talent along. This has proven to be particularly effective among our females in manufacturing.


BASF also created an Apprenticeship Program in North America (NAADP) with a mission to develop a pipeline to meet future talent needs for a skilled and diverse technician workforce with an emphasis on attracting more females. The NAADP is guiding sites on the implementation of the Apprenticeship program with virtual consulting calls, online toolkits and leveraging video technology across all our sites to allow for safe pre-screening, interviewing and virtual site tours.


  • Create adaptive onboarding strategies: One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic was finding a way to onboard new hires in our manufacturing plants. For the first time, several of our sites held virtual new hire training for our production operators, utilizing virtual instructors and Red Vector training videos. While elements of the training still happened in person on site, the virtual approach kept the number of in person interactions to an absolute minimum while continuing to give our new hires a full training experience. Virtual Manufacturing Day for our Health & Nutrition Business was finalized and conducted in November with enormous success.  A video was created and made available based on this event “How a Virtual Manufacturing Day Can Be Done,” so that other sites could create their own similar events.


  • Create connectivity in new ways: We took strong measures to ensure that our employees felt connected to each other and the broader BASF even while working remotely. Our team leaders found numerous ways to create space for socialization and networking through virtual gatherings, including coffee chats, cooking demo sessions, Amazing Race, yoga, and more. When possible, leaders held ‘video on’ team meetings and had special days including “show-n-tell” where people shared their hobbies and other facts about themselves to drive greater connection.   


We also promoted our “Pledge to Protect” to help build a shared ownership across BASF on what we are doing to protect one another and each other’s families. BASF provided all employees working on site or off site with masks. Virtual employees received resources to safely and effectively work from home where possible, such as extended backup care to help families juggle their newly mixed worlds of home and work. Essential employees at our manufacturing sites participated in creative new ways to interact including (complimentary) “lunch boxes” for recognition meals on site that allowed for social distancing. One site set up a COVID channel in Microsoft Teams for leaders, as well as conducted COVID-19 Pulse Check surveys.


We elevated the impact of our Employee Resource Groups by creating virtual events and connections. This expanded the network, bringing new ideas and further impacting inclusion efforts. The rebranding of our Women in Business ERG to Women at BASF came from this.


  • Retain, retain, retain. Retention of a highly skilled and diverse talent pipeline is crucial to BASF’s continued success, as well as our success in increasing female leadership in manufacturing. There are several ways we have adapted to the post pandemic world that have directly contributed to our success in retaining and motivating top talent at BASF.


  • One-on-one Connection: To address the lack of face-to-face connection, we implemented virtual development programs and get-to-know connections with leaders across the organization for personal interaction and networking. These opportunities facilitate conversations and community and increase the convenience of participating. Our Talent Strategy team scheduled individual conversations with talents to understand their aspirations, experience and motivations, as well as used this information to proactively match them with job opportunities across the region that support their development.


  • Leader Engagement: We leveraged our annual talent events to discuss the key feedback from our talents directly with senior leadership. Our leaders have been proactive in advocating for high-performing talents who need exposure and development in response to the difficulty in meeting people when everyone is working virtually. Senior leadership also sponsors and participates in many initiatives across the company, such as Employee Resource Groups, Inclusion workstreams and efforts around the Future of Work, ensuring a visible commitment to these topics.


  • Feedback & Culture: BASF has rolled out measurement tools and initiatives around leadership effectiveness at all levels, employee engagement, as well as diversity and inclusion. These include a “Grow & Tell” Courageous Conversation series, Inclusion Project with 6 Action Fields (Leader Action & Accountability, Talent D&I Practices, Culture Education & Training, KPIs, Compliance and Community Connection), additional Employee Resource Groups, Onboarding Effectiveness solutions, and ongoing surveys to ensure employees feel their feedback is valued and acted upon, and that they each have a part to play in shaping the culture they want at BASF.


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