Expert tips on transforming business

Four business leaders describe the benefits of business transformation and how to ensure success

Fredrik Hedlund, senior vice president finance, Nielsen

Back in 2010, our finance model in Europe was not effective. Teams worked in silos. There was a lack of process harmony between countries. Complexity abounded.

The goal at Nielsen, a global information and measurement company, was to transform our European finance function from a fragmented and relatively costly department into to a simple, integrated, scalable and more value-added model to serve all Nielsen business units across each of our 42 European markets.

Following the implementation of a common IT platform, substantial outsourcing to a third-party provider, and redesign of our finance operating model and organisational structure, our transformation is complete. Our finance business partners are now delivering high value-added services to the company. Controllership and compliance are strong. Transactional centres of excellence drive efficiency in all processes and we have access to a global talent pool through our third-party service provider.

From our experience, these were the points vital for transformation success:

Secure executive sponsorship – a cast-iron commitment from the top is essential to help the transformation team stay the course through difficult times; it’s also needed to sanction additional resources if necessary.

Mix internal and external superstars – staff the central project management office and programme management team with a mix of the very best talent from both inside and outside the business.

Make tough calls early – exit weak leaders and those resisting change; raise the performance bar and expectations.

Do your homework and develop a clear vision – pre-transformation, assess where you are today and benchmark against other businesses to determine best-in-class; then develop your clear vision for transformation with a strategy and roadmap to realise it, leveraging best practices.

Invest in change management – build engagement and create commitment to organisational changes; and provide associates with tools for how to cope with significant change.

Tie transformation success to individual goals – align associates’ performance reviews and compensation with project success, incentivising them to pull in the same direction.

Sustain 100 per cent leadership commitment – maintain strong leadership to successfully deliver the project objectives and aim to complete the transition as fast as possible.

Keep communicating – implement a rigorous communications process and deliver regular updates to all stakeholders to foster trust and credibility.

Oliver Burkhard, chief human resources officer, ThyssenKrupp

ThyssenKrupp, a German multinational conglomerate corporation, is currently undergoing its biggest transformation since the merger of Thyssen and Krupp in 1997. We are realigning the group, adjusting our portfolio and transforming the company into a flexible and efficient organisation. In order to achieve our financial targets we will place a much stronger focus on performance and productivity. We are currently catching up on changes other corporations introduced years ago. That is why we need to maintain a fast pace: change is imperative if we are to make up the leeway.

We have already come a long way in a fairly short time. We are achieving success in our transformation programme because we have a clear goal and a strict execution plan. Our goal is to become a diversified industrial corporation. Our execution plan is our Strategic Way Forward which sets out all the small steps needed to complete our successful journey. The ACT initiative – Achieve Change @ ThyssenKrupp – is one of the performance-enhancing programmes under our Strategic Way Forward.

Our motto “We are ThyssenKrupp” focuses our values. This is vital because to complete our journey we need committed, informed and motivated employees. Communication is therefore key. Every ThyssenKrupp employee needs a common set of values, a common understanding of our goal, and for each step we all need to know why, when and how it is being executed.

We also need to establish an open culture that encourages feedback. Without feedback we would not be able to adjust our roadmap when necessary. Openness, transparency and respect lie at the heart of such a culture. That is why we developed our mission statement at the beginning of this journey. An important element of this mission statement is: “Integrity, credibility, reliability and consistency define everything we do.”

This combination of measures is starting to bear fruit. The way ThyssenKrupp is perceived both in the media, and by friends and acquaintances is changing, and this in turn is providing added motivation for our employees. At ThyssenKrupp, this is a time for the good and the brave. It is great to see that in these times ThyssenKrupp can attract courageous people with brilliant ideas and a hands-on approach.

Andy Burgess, head of retail and enterprise sales lead, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Google

Smartphones, tablets, video calls, social networks. These tools are transforming the way we lead our personal and our working lives. Employees today want to be able to work the way they live and organise their time to suit themselves. The challenge for businesses is to create a culture that’s flexible enough to accommodate them.

At Google, our working practices are built around these pillars of mobility, flexibility and collaboration. Our employees are equipped with laptops and smartphones so they can work the way they work best – on the train on the way to meetings, at one of our other offices around the world or in one of our quiet spaces in the London office. We also rely heavily on instant communication through Hangouts and Google+ so we can get in touch with people quickly and unburden some of the clutter that comes with e-mail overload.

We built our apps suite so we could collaborate on documents at the same time, rather than editing version 34 of a document only to find it’s at version 45 by the time you get to e-mail it back to the group. Face-to-face meetings make it easier to collaborate and make faster decisions, but with thousands of employees around the world, we needed a video conferencing system which we could join easily from anywhere and from any device. So we built our own, Chromebox, for meetings.

Many of the products we build to solve a problem internally also go on to become products for our business customers too. John Lewis and Waitrose, for example, both use apps to collaborate with partners across the country and to provide a platform for ideas. If you empower individuals and teams to generate fresh thinking and innovative ideas that they can act on easily, employees will feel more engaged.

The challenge is giving people the freedom to work the way they live so that everyone in the organisation is as productive and engaged as possible. This will only accelerate as being able to work from wherever we are, on whatever device we choose, becomes fundamental to success.

Peter Duffy, group commercial director for customer, product and marketing, easyJet

I’m delighted to say easyJet is one of Europe’s leading airlines right now on a long list of metrics. But it wasn’t always like that. Just a few years ago easyJet was in a very different place.

In the summer of 2010, we had worse punctuality than Air Zimbabwe, the share price was struggling and we’d fallen behind on our mobile strategy. Yet today we are one of the best in Europe for punctuality, we have recorded two years of record profits and more passengers are flying with us than ever – more than 61 million in the last 12 months – with higher-than-ever customer satisfaction. Oh, and our digital strategy is the best in the industry.

How did we do this? One of our most effective changes was to introduce an integrated digital and broadcast communication strategy. This meant positioning easyJet in the mind of the European consumer and then allowing customers to buy flights more easily through the digital environment, which has become an everyday part of our lives. An example is smartphones – we had no app or mobile website three years ago. Today, it is a very important revenue generator for the business.

What tips can I give? Two things. Putting the customer first can never be wrong if it is done in a way that makes commercial sense for a business. Secondly, just because the rest of your industry doesn’t do something, that may not necessarily be a reason to not do it either. In fact quite the contrary – be brave. Having a customer-centric approach and being a low-cost airline were seen as contradictory concepts in some quarters, which is nonsense.

How can you keep your staff motivated during a transformation? My advice is to communicate, communicate, communicate, while being realistic and optimistic in equal measure. If people can understand the direction you are going in and buy into that vision, half the battle is won.

It’s the role of the change agent to excite, motivate and not take for granted the goodwill of the team. And as you begin to deliver and people see the benefits, that helps enormously.