Case study | Changing strategy: changing the leaders’ mindset or KPIs?

Roxana Axini

Changing the strategy is about changing the leaders’ mindset and practices much more than changing the KPIs 


Problem:

One of the most challenging projects we had this year was for a leading player of the construction industry. He runs an international activity and his goal was to materialize economies of scale in order to improve competitiveness across markets where it competes against smaller, regional players, with a lower cost base and more aggressive pricing. The Procurement department was considered a key element for reaching this, so it was given the liberty to design a local strategy. 

But a lot of burdens came along with this freedom and this is where our HR challenge begins: the European Procurement country management team had to transition from a centralized set-up towards a localized set-up, which gave Country Procurement Heads more space, but also additional strategic responsibilities. Essentially, we had to change a leadership mindset accustomed to have a passive, direction-taking and execution-oriented attitude with a pro-active and strategy oriented attitude, as required by the new context.

What we did:

After extensive discussions with the Group management and the HR function, we established that the Country Procurement Heads were delivering an overall good performance under the centralized set-up, but they needed our help to become aware of the additional skills they had to develop in the decentralized context. Also, they needed our support for developing those skills.

To that effect, we implemented an intervention plan with three components:
1. An assessment component, to identify the key competencies required to perform in the new environment.
2. A group development component, to build the common competencies indicated by the assessment.
3. An individual development component, to change the current leadership mindset and leadership practices with a more autonomous attitude.

How we did it:

We started the journey by assessing the behavior and the potential for those key competencies needed by the Procurement Heads to better handle the local competitive environment.

Based on the findings from this assessment, we structured the development journey into a group development phase (focused on developing strategic thinking and persuasion competencies) and an individual development phase (focused on expanding their leadership repertoire, stimulating contribution and ownership, co-creation, growth mindset and leveraging talent).

Each phase had an interesting twist. The group development phase included 7 themes that took the participants through a real-life exercise of designing and selling their own strategies to stakeholders (both local and Group). Each group interaction was focused on a step of this process and provided the participants with the information and the tools required to complete that step but also with the opportunity to use those tools in real-time.  Following this, all participants had to go back to their teams and/or stakeholders, complete the step in real-life and report back to the group and the facilitator. The assignments reported back were discussed at the beginning of the next interaction as a way of connecting with the previous theme, as a way of sharing the key learning points between countries and in order to collect feedback from facilitator & peers. Also, upon request, participants also received individual feedback and support to complete the steps.

The individual development phase came in to support the participants in overcoming the challenging responses they were receiving from the system once they knew how to approach things differently while they were putting into practice a new leadership mindset. 

The calendar of the program was based on two-week learning increments. At the beginning of a two-week interval we scheduled the group sessions and then participants went back to their teams and completed the assignments. Simultaneously, throughout the interval they went into 121 coaching sessions to tackle their leadership practices. The development journey took overall 4 months to be completed.


Costs:

The cost for a participant was around 2,000 Euro.

Obstacles:

For the participants, the main obstacle was obviously the novelty of having to formulate and support a strategy. We tackled that by chunking the process into logical steps and using simple tools that would yield insights without over-burdening the learning process. What we aimed for was activating higher-level thinking skills that would help participants evade from operational detail and process information from an outside-in, global perspective. This design choice implied a lot of facilitator and coach effort - to keep participants on top of instead of immersed in operational details - but this effort paid off in the end.

The second obstacle was the logistics of the entire process. As you might guess, bringing all participants recurrently together for live classrooms was difficult and expensive. We tackled this by structuring the program as a sequence of webinars for group sessions, email conversations for feedback on assignments and video calls for the 121 coaching sessions, thus allowing participants to engage from work or from home. Separately, a shared library with video and written resources was created to support deeper learning at the participants' own pace. 


The third challenge was to ensure participation and progress given the differences in seniority of the participants: some were recently appointed while others were about to be promoted. Also, the differences between national markets were consistent. We tackled that in two ways. One was by recommending the client to create mentor/mentee relationships within the group. The second was by leveraging the 121 interactions to meet the specific seniority level of each participant.

Stakeholders:


Next to the participants, the stakeholders were the European Head of Procurement and the Organisational Development function at group-level as well as Country HRD's.

We approached the stakeholders management from a co-creation perspective at every step of the design and the delivery process. To that we added a test & pilot approach to inform them of our decision to move forward with the program. Finally, we enrolled participants individually based on their willingness and commitment to the program.


Team & resources:


Mihai Muntean, a business executive with a people development background, focused on helping clients develop strong executive teams. 

Roxana Axini, a leadership coach with high expertise on learning & development, focused on helping leaders achieve the next level of growth.

Results:

We measured participants' initial commitment by presenting the development program. Afterwards, we gave time for consideration and asked for voluntary enrolment. +95% of targeted participants decided to enroll.

The most valuable result was that at the end of the program each participant had his own strategy co-created with main stakeholders while they also learned new leadership practices that are supporting them to stimulate more contribution from the people around them.

Finally, we measured the client's willingness to go forward with additional cohorts enrolled in this program or similarly designed ones. As a result, we are now completing the third roll-out of the program and are looking forward to the fourth.

Key lessons learned:


1. Voluntary participation pays off in terms of initial commitment, but in the case of longer programs, an accountability mechanism needs to be in place to maintain that commitment. This accountability mechanism can be as simple as a survey, a follow up from management or a formal opportunity to introduce participants' work to the wider organization.

2. Allowing each participant to follow his individual learning pace slowed down our progress through the 7 strategy & persuasion themes, but we feel it was overall more beneficial to the program. We had many people working to catch up with the assignments or accessing both the library as well as the facilitator/coach with real learning appetite because the program was designed this way.

3. Walking the talk was also one of the lessons. We onboarded on a journey which was about stimulating a new mindset of contribution and empowerment and despite the pressure of wearing a consultant hat and showing the easy way to do a strategy we had to make sure that in the way we will accompany these leaders we are also stimulating their thinking and they feel empowered to use the know how in a way that they see is useful.