Here’s a story how a small team tried to bring the best of both worlds together in a complex, corporate setup – effective processes and a humane environment that reaches deep into personal traits.
This case can apply to any large organization and builds on the learnings from broad spectrum of sources. Yet the most valuable elements come from our experience within Mars, that's been our organization for many years now.
Mars Inc. is a first-tier global player in FMCG. The biggest brands must ring a bell - Snickers, Mars, M&Ms, Uncle Ben's, Pedigree, Whiskas, Sheba. Since it's very beginning, for over 100 years now, we're privately owned, which for the company it's size is a rarity. Known for it's Five Principles and recently denoted as one of "top 100 places to work for" Mars carries plenty of valuable heritage.
We'll focus on the journey of a single local unit, located somewhere in the middle of a large corporate landscape.
As any organization grows there’s that increasing urge to standardize everything – from global policies, financial management, portfolio choices to the size of cups in the coffee machine and the ways people operate together. “It needs to be done that way!”. “It can’t be done any other way!” While processes might be a blessing to a company of any size, those can also become a nightmare that stifles individual contribution, passion and inspiration.
The triggers to rework the way we work, a.k.a. "set up the Integrated Business Management", were classic. Ever increasing pressure from competition, market turning the clock back to volatility of a non-developed stage, this creeping feeling that top-down approach and chaotic reactions are below our capabilities and market requirements. Add a complex connections across the whole value chain and you have a perfect case for change.
Two years ago our local Polish unit of Mars Petcare embarked on a journey towards Integrated Business Management. Some call it IBM, some stay with the more established name of Strategy Deployment & Operations Planning, yet the intention behind the buzzword stays the same – have your business operate in a beautiful, coordinated way where no effort is wasted on non-value adding activities and use the new found time to generate better ideas, to execute faster, to listen to your customers more eagerly.
While the structure and ensuing hard elements of this exercise are a given, the success of the whole system ultimately comes to the people running it on all levels of the organization. It comes to remembering, through words and through actions, that culture beats structure 9 times out of 10 and that all models and technologies are only as good as to which extent they find their way to day-to-day operation.
The implementation of IBM is a major effort for an organization and impacts the professional life of all departments – from marketing, through sales, supply, to finance. So many different ways of looking at things, so many agendas, so many individuals that all of the sudden need to find a way to one backbone setup and principles for agreement. It’s clear at first sight that cultural roots also play a role in how one can approach the goal of bringing the idea of integration to life. In Poland we went on to run a first official IBM cycle three weeks after the training workshop, while elswhere the preparation took several months, so that all hard elements could be put in place and tested. Both choices were right - for a successful implementation, listening to people needs and conditions for their comfort is non-negotiable - hence the timeline has to remain flexible.
We’ll share most potent lessons from the implementation and look deeper into reflections from within the team driving necessary change. As the top-down approach doesn’t cut it when unlocking further layers of commitment and human potential, the second part of this article comes directly from one of the team members.
We’ll focus on behavior and culture – not the formal structure of the IBM system – as those are the factors that make or break the whole exercise.
Here’s a recap of what we learned along the way:
Self-confidence is a foundation of everything. First, we all are human-beings and only then human-doings. The overwhelming action focus can bring us down to “do-do-do” creatures. To be able to achieve true heights of achievement, we can’t operate against our own identity. It’s key to know oneself deeply and revert the pyramid – identity comes first, values second, actions third. That’s a virtuous cycle. It takes courage to move beyond daily grind, create space for reflection, value emotion as much as intellect and accept somewhat uneasy thoughts that have lingered under the surface.
Will you dare to expose your team to individual growth coaching (not only performance training), knowing that afterwards a basic management will not cut it anymore?
Manage priorities, not time nor place. Old-school management is boring. Prescribing the time, the place, the WoWs, the problem-solving techniques and the problems themselves might serve inflated egos of the people on top but definitely does not make a business more effective. Mind-numbing rules make us all think alike. And when all think alike, no-one truly thinks. When the priorities are clear, when our people feel safe and trusted – they will choose the best way forward to land a final result.What’s the added value from 9 to 5 in the office, filled with obedience and with no-one willing to go an extra mile?
Will you dare to trust your employees to be partners, not the cogs in the machine?
Diving in, stepping back – there’s right time for both. Models are great for guidance, action mode brings perception of being useful yet neither should be a substitution of one’s own thinking. Through a repetitive review of strategic or tactical priorities, it’s possible to narrow down on current hot points and act on them with laser focus. It’s not solely a role of the leader to bring in the broader perspective and question current state of things. It’s equally important to encourage the team to do so and occasionally drop what might seem like the most important task at the very moment. Stop, take a step back, be the judge and don’t hesitate to give up what doesn’t advance you on the most potent directions, even if the idea in itself is good and tempting.
Will you restrain from pumping the sense of urgency into everything coming your way from the top?
Learn the process like a pro, so that you can break it like an artist. That quote comes from none other than Picasso (!). What might seem contradictive at first, is not. This very principle was an underpinning to make our business unit operate efficiently within a given framework and at the same time sustain the flexibility needed on such a dynamic consumer goods market as Poland. Greatest developments come from learning to combine water and fire. Not surprisingly, in the environment that promotes accountability, creativity and making things happen not everything goes as planned and mistakes are inevitable. It takes time to learn that what is easily visible as an error or non-delivery is in fact a piece of bigger puzzle to open new layers of human and organizational capability, and consequently performance.
Will you take the heat yourself and resist from transferring it down when your team misjudged and made a mistake?
Influence comes from sharing. When we started the IBM journey, the silo environment was well established, nurtured and rooted in how the organization worked on a daily basis. No need to explain further, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? The biggest breakthrough came when key players learnt to trust the fact that transparent information is more beneficial than good news. There’s no incremental topline neither from buzzword-heavy presentation nor from slick advancement of hidden agendas.
Will you resist the temptation to hoard when, as per proverb, information is power?
“Kill your idols”. Speaking up is not only everyone’s right, it’s everyone’s responsibility. The best gift a leader can get is another perspective and a challenge to his/her own view on a problem at hand. Yes, there always is a person at the end of decision tree yet the amount of calls that have to happen high up the food-chain can get down to a bare minimum. Why not unlock all those great perspectives, angles and potential, for the benefit and fun of all involved? The only price to pay is a brief moment of discomfort on one side and slightly bruised ego on the other. It’s quite a bargain one might say.
Will you dare to share the power and be ready to challenge your own beliefs regardless of the position on the org-chart?
Let the pressure boil over. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility. On the path through aligning multiple agendas, heavy workload and ever-present stress each of us went through the phase when one can’t anymore sustain the performance and things fall apart. That immediately take a toll on our belief in own abilities. Unless you’re a neurosurgeon, perfectionism is not the way to go as it will sooner or later put a hard ceiling on what one can accomplish. It can also seriously limit the fun factor… How to trigger the development of our people from “perfectionist” to “world-class priority setter”? Nothing changes the ways of working for smarter as well as experiencing a serious failure of the current ones. There’s time for results and there’s time for tears.
Will you allow a painful failure to foster the growth? Will you be there to pick up the pieces?
Care for your internal customers, so that they can become your partners. Operations teams tend to become self-righteous in their perception of the business priorities, often to the tune of the typical “we’re the bread and butter of this business - we know, they don’t”. Unlike for individualism, there’s no place for self-righteousness in an integrated environment. When the topline folks know that you’re key objective is to make the business better for all (and their goals are no less important than your own), the space for out of the box solutions grows exponentially. In our journey, we have reached for quite an extreme measure to turn around relationships between Sales and Operations folks. The project to lay foundations for a whole new level of cooperation – a new process, new tools, a new mindset – was given to the most junior member of our team. A guy with serious smarts and top-notch personality but with no in-depth knowledge nor experience. Best decision ever!
Will you dare to share the accountability for your KPIs with the partner teams?
The team is about so much more than a common goal. For that one – and some more – let’s hear the very personal thoughts from within the team. The team that chose to live up to their potential and pay it forward as well.
Unlocking self and business through teamwork and fit for purpose approach
Old is safe. Working in a corporation for over 10 years did I reflect upon my role in changing the environment I work in and making it more powerful to the business? Improving life in a meaningful way? Why do that? It’s not that bad today… it’s safe to work the same way over and over again. Leave it to others to shape my job and simply follow the rules. While it might seem safe, it’s also boring. It had proved to be unfulfilling too. "Boat is safe at the harbor but it was not made to stay there".
If that’s the case, what triggers contribution and performance necessary to enrich both the business and self? How to stay true to yourself and not become a follower without own initiative? How to be a rebel with a cause – believe in own ideas and be brave enough to implement them? For me it took some time get the answers, even though the questions were there since I can remember.
Break the status quo via inspiring leader. When joining a new venture – let it be a new team, new job or project - it’s always ambiguous at the starting point. You ask yourself many uneasy questions - was it worth the effort? Was it waste of time? Did I get misled with a smooth story, job description or promising incentive? After quite a few years of participation in different teams, projects and ventures I have realized that environment that the leader creates plays a huge role in the path you take and in the results that follow. Can he give me space to grow and offer support when I need it? Can he co-create mutual trust? Can he give a green light for own choices and facing the truth about yourself? Only then the unleashing happens.
I like the comparison to a parent / kid dynamics: kids don’t always know what’s good or appropriate for them. When parents ask them to follow their guidance, some do while some don’t. What makes the difference? For me it’s the way they approach the kid – acceptance, care and understanding of the in-born or learnt qualities that can be leveraged for greater development. The analogy to the leader is spot on here – I have experienced it with my personal development and watched it happen for other people in the team.
Examples? A Team I was recently part of - Logistics Department built on the three relatively distant areas of business responsibility – Demand Planning, Project Management & Operations Planning. What enabled each and every member to grow individually and simultaneously develop a common team mindset was the right combination of incentives coming from the leader – crystalizing the shared purpose, 1 to 1 development conversations, encouragement to read through inspiring press and web releases (“why the hell did he send it to me?!!!” did come to mind quite often…), quarterly sessions to review our common goals, facing the right team members with the right challenges. That does sound like a standard agenda of every leader, doesn’t it? From experience – it isn’t. So when combined with the influence from peers, the development happens in baby steps until a serious turnaround.
Where the real Team happens. I believe there are only few elements that make all the difference when it comes to building teams truly eager to make the best of their potential:
- First - taking advantage of diversity, to create unique combination of skills and knowledge where everyone plays into the team’s and organization’s objectives in its natural way.
- Second - finding a common ground that can bring the team together. The particular interdependence that will make everyone work towards one, agreed direction. That’s where motivation and engagement happen, performance itself is only the outcome…
- Third – authority. Easier said than done. It comes piece by piece, where trust and human approach lead the way, only then wisdom and experience play a role. There is more to it – you respect and follow a leader that takes your feedback into account. It’s amazing how you change as a person when your word counts. You become more independent, open and brave to speak your mind freely. I remember my first reaction to the question “I’d like to know your opinion, what do you think about it?”. What was irritating and scary at first, became a great experience that opened new layers of thinking. And from there it’s only a small step to the world of the winning ideas worth implementing, sharing and helping to drive performance. When your mind has once been opened, you’re always ready to go further, to challenge your boss(es), to reach decisions independently and move your organization forward.
Low-pressure leadership. Linking to authority we come to the role of informal leader – the one who drives and encourages by example and expertise, not via formal reporting dependency. How to leverage the opportunities the informal leadership offers when your organization requires a minimum number of direct reports to establish a formal reporting line?
In our team there were several of us, operating in two distinctive areas of business where informal leadership had a chance to play a role. One person in each of the areas has agreed to support the formal line manager in expertise as well as advice, guidance or help for the rest of the group. Not only was it the line management school in a safe environment but the process was so natural that we saw the trust and credibility of the involved build up incrementally.
Peers make the difference. Whose influence is stronger – leader’s or peers’? I think both have a role to play – each from different angle.
Seeing your peers acting in sync with their values, being frank, promoting atmosphere of openness and free exchange of views, makes coming to your desk every morning easier, even tempting. Even though there might be a hard nut to crack that day, good team vibe and mutual respect soften the bumps. Quoting great examples of a positive peer influence in my team – introducing “make it happen” or “can do” approach in everyday business makes impossible come true surprisingly often.
On the other end of the spectrum lies the disengagement and quiet consent to operate below team’s capabilities – driven by double standards or infectiously poor performance of even one of the peers.
Whose opinion counts? A leader can truly influence not through authority and imposing (a drastic and non-engaging way for the followers) but taking advantage of the right combination of power and relationships. It takes particular skills to navigate opinion leaders in the organization and spread desired behaviors and mindset. That can happen if a leader does have an own view but is ready to stay close with associates on a daily basis, understand their challenges, broader context or down-to-earth barriers.
In case of our unit - sessions with associates were introduced by the department heads. What seemed to be info-sharing at first, actually became a forum for guidance and support for new initiatives coming from associates. Such approach served as a foundation of mutuality between the leaders and the associates, and was consequently transferred further. Additionally, the management team used well shaped communication sessions to publicly recognize associates who proved that they can walk the talk. That’s influencing in its simplest and purest form.
Team doesn’t stop after 5PM. A task or a project are not the only things common to a team. There are no successful teams without a goal, yet even well-defined objective is rarely enough to bring people together. Collaboration doesn’t have to stop at 5PM at the office door. The way to cement the team together can be (should be ?) not necessarily directly linked to the job. We put our bets on a well-being theme - running a quarter Marathon together, a charity help for a family or supporting dog shelters. For initiatives like these, the only thing that can come from the top is encouragement and inspiration, never the prescription. How to encourage work-life balance in a dynamic, corporate environment where the only constant is change? For your team to stay alive and sane, work-life balance can’t be just a nice expression taken from motivational books.
Counterintuitively to standard corporate prescriptions, we boosted the engagement and performance by pushing the boundaries of flexibility – stretching concepts of home office and working hours to mesh our inner need for results with private, daily constraints. Personal maturity, responsibility and mutuality were indispensable to make that happen.
Fit for purpose. Enabling fruitful co-operation of multiple functions and connecting the dots within overall strategy often comes down to understanding of who does what and when. How to make the process robust, smooth and self-explanatory and still leave space for initiative and passion?
We started with a RACI exercise to bring transparency to the roles in the organization that could use more clarity and suffered from too many meetings. Simple “understand the context, yet stay in your area of expertise” released plenty of time and needless tension. The time saved was spent on value adding topics, unleashing associates’ potential in their areas of expertise. Some of us are better in making things happen while some operate at their best looking forward. Accepting it saved us from a lot of frustration and empty runs.
With clear focus of our unit on customer collaboration we were asked to prepare a framework for a new setup - the recommended structure accounted for teams working around specific customers with clear accountability for broader KPIs and expectation to take decisions as fast as possible. All regardless of the reporting lines. This combination of empowerment and broader responsibility proved to be the trigger to unlock another bite of our potential, stepping out of past functional expectations.
The RACI model and broader business-like approach was then combined with Integrated Business Management that enabled decision making in the right place, by the right people, in the right time. While IBM is used by a wide range of companies, this specific organization set-up and skill to “connect the dots” was a game-changer for the new WoWs.
And that's what we've learnt, both looking at the whole organization and one team in particular.
Did it work? Yes.
When helping people to unlock their development, the work never stops. It can get more ingrained in a daily job, linked to corporate policies and practicies, supported from more places and by more people. Yet the link between the leader and associates never weakens and homework for both is an ongoing process. Started once, it never ceases.
As for our journey with the IBM - people got smarter with the transparent information, responsibility for decisions moved towards right places, the time got allocated to more value-adding activities, the numbers got better - what else to ask for?
All in all, introducing the Integrated Business Management - a behemoth of a process - can become a leverage to improve human autonomy (!).
If there is one lesson to underline from the whole story above it's this one: Culture beats structure 9 times ouf of 10. So, dream big and dare to fail as the best way out is always through. Your people will take you there.
Maciej Kaniowski, Sylwia Bialkowska and all our friends and associates