By Rachelle Peard. Published on 21 November 2014
Setting the scene for the morning Business Transformation partner Steve Deverill said that whilst in recent years transformation had become synonymous with operational efficiencies and cost cutting, today’s stronger economic climate means businesses are now taking the opportunity to reinvigorate and reinvest, to find ways to grow and increase market share.
Jeff Grout one of the ‘100 Best Business Speakers in Britain’, and a familiar face to Eton Bridge audiences,began by asking: “What do fast-growing companies need to do to ensure the right infrastructure is in place to remain agile and cope with increased demand, sustainability and scalability?”
John Carey: Once you know if growth is led by products, services or perhaps geographical expansion, then you can see where any supply constraint may be – systems, processes, technical support, sales capabilities or production. At that point you need to have the confidence to invest and build in the capacity to meet any future growth.
If you’re less confident in your growth forecast you might want to look at building relationships with suppliers, partners or joint venture to give yourselves flexibility until such time as growth materialises.
Graham Corfield: We are always looking at least 18-24 months ahead. In the early days, you have maybe 20-30 people, the CEO knows everyone and you are a very flat organisation, but as you grow you have to put a more evolved and structure in place. Part of the growth process is recognising where you need external talent, and where some of the early employees may not fit into that changing culture.
Communication is a big thing for us, everyone in our group knows our vision and values, you can ask anyone of them what those are and they understand that what they are doing on a daily transactional basis is part of that commitment.
Michelle Emmerson on her time at ASOS.com, where staff doubled over a two-year period: You have to look at the way you work with your people, how you communicate the processes, policies and procedures to ensure these are sustainable for the longer term.
It’s about balance; the right amount of rigour, autonomy and discipline without stifling creativity and culture. For us, it was about investing some time in defining what was magical about ASOS and the business it is today, but realising that what got us there at the time, wouldn’t get us there in the future.
Never underestimate the amount of time a leader has to invest in defining your strategy. When a business is growing quickly, you can lose control and everyone ends up marching in different directions. Businesses aren’t successful – people are. You need to invest in managing people and managing them well.
A question of balance
John Carey: It’s always a question of balance. As you get larger, investors look for reasonable financial controls and surety of numbers, but you also need to balance those controls with an entrepreneurial approach. The right performance management culture is also key; ensuring people can say if they have a problem and whilst giving enough autonomy for decision-making.
The value of quick wins and catalysts for change
John Carey: People can see things happening and they need quick wins to get commitment and buy into the change programme. Significant organisational change can be disruptive, so sometimes you have to get the painful part of that change out of the way early.
If people are sitting there with something hanging over their head, they start to get dysfunctional; they need certainty about their role and to know what direction they are heading so they can get behind it.
Michelle Emmerson: We had three lots of restructuring in 18 months, so there was major disruption, but it can often be easier to manage change when there is a catalyst like that, because in adversity there is no choice. In a growth environment, where change is just as important, it’s often more difficult to convince people because there is no such catalyst.
Graham Corfield: To drive organisational change as a leader, you need to get decisions out of the way, otherwise senior managers become distracted, and if growth slows down then you fester on decisions. In a struggling business, it is easy to explain why you need to do things but in a growth environment when people are happy, it’s much harder. The key is good communication; as a leader you need to take people on the journey.
Jeff quizzed the trio on the importance of investing in talent and an alignment of values:
Michelle Emmerson: I recruit to values first and foremost the technical skills as almost a secondary thought. If new people don’t understand an organisation’s values, they don’t stand a chance of being successful.
Employees need to understand that although they may be doing one role now, it may not be the role they will be doing in two years’ time. There is always a place for great people who do great things and it’s compelling for them to know that. Coca-Cola is a great example of an organisation that has created real agility by giving employees diversity of roles. We have tended to bring people in with a ‘job for life’ approach, but we need to recognise that isn’t how it is going to be, talk to employees about the future and show them some examples of what can happen.
Graham Corfield: When I joined JUST EAT I had never heard of them, but I was sold the vision. We don’t recruit people for the here and now, we recruit them for the challenges we’ll have in two, three or four years’ time and we want people who will come on board and be part of building the vision.
Leadership and Communication
Michelle Emmerson: People want to hear from the CEO, you’ve delivered your message and you may have a project plan, but individuals deal with change in different ways and some need more time and explanation than others. You have to manage change by watching how people develop; it’s about the change curve. You need to have one-to-one conversations, find out how people feel and what their perceptions are and if they are worried about their career. You need to nip problems in the bud, so invest your time.
Leadership is crucial. The FD will always challenge the CEO, and you have to bring the rest of the executive team together to mix old and new abilities, so invest time with the team away from the office to ensure you’re all totally aligned.
Graham Corfield: Give people a forum to talk. Don’t just push them away, get people to the table and talk to them. They need to air their opinions otherwise they will be like a festering sore in the business.
Bringing the first session to a close before taking questions from the audience, Jeff asked each of the panel to name their most important lesson in change.
Graham Corfield: Communication is most important, get the team on board and communicate the decisions. If it’s all too clandestine then it tends towards the culture of business mayhem.
Michelle Emmerson: You need to communicate in lots of different ways. A CEO only has so many hours in the day; you need to make sure everyone is on the same track. It’s no good having one person buy into the vision if you don’t all walk and talk with one voice.
John Carey: It’s all about the people. You can have the best technology, processes and strategy, but if employees aren’t behind you then it won’t work
Questions from the floor
The panel took questions from the floor:
“Which board director should take responsibility for change and which shouldn’t?”
All three agreed that the COO was in prime position, with the CEO as the “backstop”. Although John supported the idea of a CFO being involved, both Michelle and Graham felt the role of the CFO should be more around challenging the COO.
“How do you best manage the way interims step away from a project at its end?”
John Carey: I work very hard to make sure I am culturally aligned, I work on a project basis with a clear remit and then I leave. People know my agenda, which is purely about making a project successful, I’m not building an empire, so people understand my motivation. It’s important to me – and any interim manager – to be able to become part of an organisation and adopt its ways.
Michelle Emmerson: You need to build in capability and understanding up front; it’s a big mistake if an interim just delivers on the technology front and then no-one has the ability to continue to run with the ball afterwards, because sustainability hasn’t been built into the plan.
Bringing proceedings to a close, Steve Deverill thanked the panel members for their contribution to a fascinating discussion.
To talk to Steve or the Business Transformation team in more detail, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01753 303600.