We hacked the system by creating an open space – Conexões 2.0 – where IT teams interacted and developed projects with people from many other areas of Natura. This yielded novel approaches to developing solutions to business challenges, brought up innovation in different fronts, new connections and promoted innovation culture at Natura.
Funded in 1969, Natura is the biggest Brazilian manufacturer of cosmetics, toiletries and beauty products and leader in the direct selling industry in Brazil, with annual revenue exceeding US$ 3.2 billion.
The company has nearly 7.000 employees, working in operations in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and France. It has currently more than 1.5 million consultants, who advise on usage and sell products, helping disseminate the company’s value proposition to consumers.
Natura´s operations are anchored by a complex set of business and sales information systems. Like many other companies worldwide, corporate information technology (IT) teams are traditionally structured, somewhat hierarchical and have little tolerance for the expected error and failure outcomes associated to the development of innovative solutions.
The traditional IT functional structure was set to work mainly on back-office and front-office automation processes. The innovation and management practices were driven top-down, and projects were implemented throught waterfall methodologies, with extensive planning and test phases at their timelines.
However, IT´s contributions can deliver additional value at countless aspects of Natura´s business, promoting new ways for people to relate to each other, improving information and intelligence flow, thus enabling radical change and evolution of the enterprise into the new era of mobility, social network connections, human capital and big data.
Our challenge was to trigger this change at Natura Cosmetics.
The opportunity we addressed was the mindset shift from the traditional model to a new digital enterprise community system at Natura. IT is no longer a function, becoming a dimension of the company, focusing its work to improve customer and employee interaction.
The digital innovation culture becomes then a bottom-up employee-driven model, and projects can be implemented through agile methodologies, improved by user experience on beta models, reducing project lifecycles and enhancing the created value.
First, we created an open space to promote interconnection and conversations on projects, digital and collaboration opportunities, and relevant topics of digital evolution at Natura.
This open space was called Conexões 2.0 (Connections 2.0).
The concept was implemented on 2-3 hour bi-monthly meetings, sponsored by Natura´s CIO. These meetings were open to participation of people from IT and from any other area of the company. They had a clear purpose of creating an interaction space for accelerating projects and fostering innovation.
The group participants determined the agenda of the meetings prior to the venues. Projects that were relevant for several areas of the company, and also new ideas for specific solutions for different business challenges, were presented, discussed and enriched by participants on each meeting.
It was a consensus that Conexões 2.0 should not have the attribution of approving project stages. It should focus in connecting people and efforts for speeding up execution and enriching the delivery values of each initiative. Also, project activities and general execution were carried out by teams independently of Conexões 2.0 meetings.
The initiative matured internally and influenced a corporate culture shift movement, latter called "Change" (in Portuguese, the word is "Mude", meaning change, its sound alluring to the sound of the English word "Mood").
The "Change" movement expressed itself in several formats, such as "Change to Connect", that focused upon initiatives aiming to bring up mobility and digital collaboration at work, and "Change to Transform", focusing upon new work models and innovation culture.
Our Change movement brought several benefits to Natura in 2013, both tangible and intangible. The cultural shift seeds that the 70 people directly involved brought forth, and the online network they became, represent the latter.
Tangible benefits include project that delivered solutions for mobility, collaborative work, sales and corporate challenges. Some of them are outlined below, grouped according the Changing Actions the movement addressed.
"Change to Connect" - The Conexões 2.0 meetings were themselves a new connection and collaboration model, crushing the traditional interaction channels defined by organizational silos and sharply defined working roles. People participating in the events could also continue connected online, through a Sharepoint 2013 website with plenty of interaction tools, such as Newsfeed, Discussion Lists, Project Sharing Webparts, and so on. Direct, transparent, person-to-person connections were enabled, linking peoples’ ideas and workforce from across different organizational spheres.
"Change to Solve" - The project implemented in this perspective is called "CATI Interativa", a different digital support system that gives individuals more choice over the way to find answers to questions and solutions to problems. The traditional support system consisted of a Help Desk model, with a call center operated by third-party attendants, and set scripts to address employees solicitations. "CATI Interativa" brought freedom to employees to choose new ways to communicate their problems and share them with an on-line community. In addition to the support provided by the traditional Help Desk, other employees willing to cooperate with their skills and knowledge could share on the problem-solving tasks, even if they were from IT distant areas, but had the skills to contribute. Solutions can now come from everyone, and people can choose the way to seek for them.
"Change to Communicate" - The main project in this topic is called Mobility, implementing a new set of digital phone calling and video conferencing tools, enabling employees to connect remotely with others from any space in, or outside Natura. This enhanced the communication experience and increase remote connections, yielding freedom to people to choose from where they work, when they work, how they work, and with whom they work.
"Change to Innovate" - A new innovation process, called "Tecnovação", was created to challenge all employees to propose projects that addressed solutions to business needs, and that could be implemented in a 60 day period with a predefined budget. The trial run was open to IT personnel in the scope of a pilot experiment. Proposals were voted online by the social network at Natura, and the top voted bid was implemented. The gammification stimulated more than 30% of the IT employees to participate, and the winner implemented an App designed to help Natura’s Sales Team and received an international training program as a prize.
A few other projects are still undergoing development at this point, and all share very positive evaluations of their project communities regarding the benefits of being conducted in the Conexões 2.0 framework.
Challenges to the Change Movement were mainly related to people management process and communication, given the fact that this new connection model was being adopted by people from very diverse areas, coming from a wide range of hierarchical statuses in the company. We did envisage some of the impacts that could arise from this movement, but did make a conscious decision of letting many of its aspects to emerge during the run, running it as a beta trial.
Despite being plainly an engaging open space that invited people to participate, create and collaborate, this new model challenged the traditional hierarchical matrix and well established organizational structure of the company. Thus, it was not a simple task to communicate its principles and purpose to people that had not experienced it. This was a critical aspect, as we needed to create awareness and invite people to be part of the movement in order to reach critical mass, and also enough diversity to enable it to run fully.
To start, we needed to characterize Conexões 2.0 as an open space for interaction and innovation in a simple manner. We believed that successful outcomes would be generated if the space were not perceived as an "IT-only" meeting or forum. This was achieved by clearly stating the purpose of the experimental practice from the beginning and reinforcing it to participants and newcomers in all the meetings, stimulating them to invite other people that could potentially enjoy engaging in it.
Then, we looked for support of Culture and Communications areas to produce some official endomarketing materials that resulted in the "Mude" concept and design.
In order to enhance commitment to the movement, and to gain empowerment, our CIO Sponsor participated only at the initial meetings and reinforced an attitude of being "just one of the crowd". This was critical to endorse the movement as a light, non-hierarchical interaction space. In some meetings, the absence of the Sponsor CIO did not have any negative impact on the group outcome.
Last, we were also supported by colleagues from Human Resources as part of the movement´s team of heroes. They helped us on the evaluation of the movement as a whole and acted as sponsors of the experiment in different areas of the organization.
To start a cultural shift movement like ours, as part of a digital transformation, an enterprise needs to have the digital vision as a key part of its strategic plan. The necessity of a new mindset must be real and clear.
Then, the movement needs a sponsor with a strong lead position in the company. A sponsor that genuinely believes this is a reasonable and productive experiment that could speed up and produce better business outcomes. In our case, this person was the CIO.
Naturally, the heroes (or rebels at work) will appear from the employee crowd. And they will need empowerment to make things different.
Last, the group should have a bit of organization and discipline to track the results they achieve and inspire others to join them, while not forgetting the freedom required to create and innovate.
As outcomes from the new form of work will be compared to those obtained from traditional execution modes, one must remember that results must also be formatted and presented using traditional metrics. Proof that the new way of work is more productive, innovative and efficient must be gathered in order for the experiment to fully accepted, replicated and expanded within the company.
The initial credit is for our CIO Sponsor, Agenor Leão, who brought up the idea and developed it in conversations with several of the participants prior to implementing it in first semester of 2013.
Needless to say that this movement extrapolated physical presence at Conexões 2.0 meetings, so we also wish to recognize and thank each and all of the participants and enthusiasts that believed in connecting people to inspire relevant changes. Thank you!