At a recent Comotion Breakfast Briefing, Stephen Ingledew, who until recently was the Managing Director, Customers and Marketing at Standard Life, presented ‘Five key steps in developing a customer driven business’ based on his many years of experience and lessons with established financial services businesses.

Most recently this was with Standard Life, where he led the transformation of the marketing and customer functions using the latest creative thinking and new technology capabilities in digital, data and disruptive innovation.

This is the first of 3 blogs about the insight and learning Ingledew offered and looks at how they addressed the changes to internal approach and process.

In his excellent talk, Ingledew spoke extensively about initiatives that are necessary to change the internal structures and thinking of a business. On this subject, there are 2 themes that can be drawn from his presentation:

  • How the business is led
  • How the teams and culture change

How the business is led 

Like most commentators and practitioners in the field of transformation, Ingledew was clear that without strong committed leadership, transformation projects were extremely unlikely to gain traction. Therefore, the success of change programmes has to be founded on early and unequivocal support from the top of the organisation, the senior leaders and Non-Executive Directors.

From this foundation, there is an immediate need to engage the internal stakeholders. Ingledew was clear that there is no single approach to this. Different characters and functions require different tactics. A great deal of the impact relies upon nuance and tailoring of messages to individuals.

However, some key ideas did emerge from the process:

  • Pace yourself – It is unwise to expect that everybody who needs to be involved will do so at the same pace, internal stakeholders will embrace the need for change at different rates. Furthermore, it is not about a short sharp sprint to execute change. It is also not a process of  continual and continuing progress, rather one of successes and set-backs.
  • Push on open doors – Irrespective of where people are in the organisation, growing internal advocacy is an essential requirement to gradually bring others on board. Seek out those who are most likely to be early adopters.
  • Create metrics – As soon as possible, start to move the conversation to concrete KPIs and measurements. These can be amended and improved over time, but setting the conversation in terms of clear objectives and processes helps make it tangible for all members of the management team. For example, by developing a series of customer focused scorecards that evolve over time and can eventually become a key part of the regular leadership executive meetings.
  • Encourage participation – this is part of a broader theme throughout a transformation programme, but a key part of getting the stakeholders on board was through fostering involvement at a low level. At first this may merely encouraged but it can soon become an mandated expectation. Requiring all senior leaders to spend time each month in some activity that was a direct interaction with the customer (on the complaints team, talking directly to customer reps etc) is a great way to ensure active participation.

The effect of these initiatives is to ensure that the transformation project is seen as something for everybody and not just the product of a small elite team ‘in the corner’. The importance of broadening ownership was a key theme in Ingledew’s presentation and one which can be applied to many levels of a change programme.

How the teams and culture change 

Ingledew explained that a major component of transformation programmes has to revolve around changing the internal thinking and culture of teams across the organisation, this imperative can be enshrined in what Ingledew called “WoW”, or Way of Working.

He was passionate that to change how an organisation is seen, you must first change how it behaves and thinks. This can be a challenge for long established businesses where there is a great deal of legacy attitudes and processes that are not compatible with a customer driven operation fit for the 21st Century. For example, one of the legacy attitudes can be an extreme traditional product focus that permeates all commercial thinking.

Culture before strategy

Ingledew used Peter Drucker’s quote as the headline of this bit of the programme. He accepted that this view could be questioned, but felt it lay at the heart of getting teams in a business to change how they thought. Culture change involves every aspect of how teams work and operate. This must include teams being empowered to challenge traditional conventions in working environment, from the relatively trivial –  such as dress code, to the profound – such as how product decisions are made.

 There are a number of key considerations in considering how to evolve the culture within a business

  • Cross-functional teams – An important element is breaking down the siloes of the legacy business and encourage cross functional working at every level of the business. Ingledew emphasised importance of a close relationship between the CMO and CTO both needing to learn to ‘live together’ in order to drive digital transformation.  In addition, Ingledew highlighted to the value of internal cultural differences in preparing teams to accept a more diverse and inclusive working culture
  • Empowerment – It is crucial to allow teams to act on the conclusions they were deriving from working together. There being much gain to from shifting beyond a deferential and top down management approach which generated a limited ‘HiPPO’ (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) culture. Thereby embracing the fact that those closest to the customer are most likely to understand their needs on a day-to-day basis and so should be given an ever-greater voice in shaping business actions and outputs
  • Marriage – Another powerful insight offered by Ingledew was the view that it’s too easy to pay lip service to ‘collaboration’. For example, sometimes it is too easy for teams to retreat to their siloes after the mandatory ‘collaborative’ monthly meeting. this can be overcome  by encouraging cross-functional teams to think in terms of being married to each other. This means being permanently co-located and together in all planning, doing and thinking so ‘marriage’ of living together effectively becomes the new collaboration.
  • Iteration and agility – Ingledew echoed Seth Godin’s famous quote “If failure is not an option, then neither is success”. For established businesses, moving to an agile iterative approach is a profound change. It is vital that teams understand they could go through the test, learn, adapt cycle and didn’t have to have a perfect answer the first time.  (This is also a key component of the engagement with customers which will be covered in another blog). Removing the fear of failure is particularly important especially in established risk adverse businesses and in this respect it is vital to have the risk and compliance teams as part of the ‘marriage’ as well

Ingledew was keen to stress that internal changes of this nature are neither fast nor linear. However, when taken together they can provide the foundation or backbone for the core operational changes a business is seeking to implement.