You can start a cultural change with organizational changes or strategic changes. But until the operations change, nothing will stick. This is often the most difficult part of the change process because operations involve ingrained habits, practices, and systems. This is where the sacred cows hang out. This is the domain of long-tenured employees – who have seen change agents come and go.
But fear not; it can be done. Don’t give up. Find the chinks in the armor. Find the ambiguities and drive your cultural change right through them. It's worth the effort because corporate culture is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.
Equifax’s Andy Bodea provides a great example of how to do this. He leveraged the revolution in the technological environment as his platform for change, worked with his team to envision a more effective and efficient reality, and drove the steps in his call to action relentlessly over time.
Platform for Change
Global Operations had been viewed as more of a support function within Equifax. But the information technology revolution meant that Equifax had to find ways to manage data more efficiently and effectively if it was to keep up with its competition. This gave Bodea an important external platform for change.
The key to successful cultural evolution is pulling the right levers in the right way at the right time over time. Pull too many too fast and the organization will reject the change – and you. Pull too few too slow and you won’t get traction. Your focus must be on attitudinal change, led by relationship and behavioral change.
"To strengthen the customer relationship and drive more revenue growth we needed to create greater scale."
Envisioned Future State
What Bodea envisioned was a highly customer-centric and more robust Equifax experience, driving growth through operations. He saw opportunities to create and leverage direct links between operations and the customers – links that would generate efficiencies and insight to fuel new sales, growth initiatives and industry solutions. Essentially he wanted to turn operations into a competitive advantage.
Call to Action
To achieve this vision, Bodea knew he had to:
Get buy-in from leadership. (As part of this, Bodea’s leadership needed to know and understand his commitment to lead this – from the front, by example.)
Assemble/rejuvenate the team. "Building a team that combined the old and the new was critical to our success. It was critical for me as a leader to not underestimate the people part, getting people to engage, be willing to support and sustain the change. Strategy and execution has to be joined by a very strong psychological conversion of beliefs, from the old patterns to the new."
Develop and communicate a strategic plan “grounded in reality” – explainable on one page.
Identify a set of initiatives and refresh the list annually and quarterly as needed to meet the targets.
Put specific goals in place (revenues and margins) – built into the budgets of business units and functions so there was a shared commitment to making things happen. “This is a critical element.”
Prioritize the needs, the requirements and the opportunities.
Insure organizational clarity and alignment through nested operating rhythms:
One-on-one with direct reports once per quarter to look at prior quarter accomplishments and next quarter's priorities.
The same thing on a monthly basis plus business metrics.
Look at initiatives' progress every other week.
These create an opportunity to see what’s going on and influence it along the way instead of waiting too long.
"Critical to our journey was a relentless focus on Equifax's overarching strategy, grounded in a clear and real vision that was supported by an operating model sensitive to the BusinessUnit nuances but had been stressed tested and forged into razor sharp rigor and a bias for speed and execution."
The results have been terrific: a world-class integrated data platform, expanded consumer and customer databases, online, self-service systems, strengthened product fulfillment, new ways of onboarding customers more quickly, and cultural acceptance of a shared services model leading to 13 consecutive quarters of double-digit million dollar annual operating margins. Equifax’s credit score is strong!
This is a good example of step 7 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Exploit Key Milestones to Drive Team Performance.
The milestone tool is straightforward and focuses on mapping and tracking and what is getting done by when by whom. High-performing team leaders take that basic tool to a whole new level, exploiting it to inspire and enable people to work together as a team.
What do you feel could help First-Time Leaders in transition?