Bring a group of HR leaders together these days, and the word on everyone’s mind is ‘change’. Almost all organisations are either undergoing or has recently undergone a process of transformation that has seen the overhaul of the old and sluggish process, to bring in those that are new, agile and forward-thinking. While almost always a worthwhile exercise, the process does not always go smoothly, so we thought it would be valuable to gather and learn from each other’s experiences on change and transformation. At the end of April, ChapmanCG along with the team at Cargill co-hosted a roundtable session with Regional HR leaders to do just that and to discuss the various HR Transformation projects being undertaken across organisations.

The Change Challenge

The team at Cargill, led by HR Head of APAC, Manish Verma, took us through some of the challenges that the organisation has overcome during a recent phase of change. For a privately owned organisation that is over 150 years old, driving change doesn’t come easy. In fact, Cargill hadn’t undergone a transformation project of this magnitude in 15 years. The key reasons for initiating the evolution were:

1.) changing consumer preferences

2.) political irregularities

3.) macro-economic challenges

4.) the need to leverage the company’s scale to best advantage

Cargill was looking to consolidate from 69 business lines to 22, as each of these business lines was operating as a separate entity with its own dedicated support functions. That is an enormous pool of in many cases duplicate resources, and the HR team at Cargill needed to come up with a more efficient structure.

Focus on the External and Internal Customers

The primary focus for the transformation was to improve performance and delivery, keeping the customer top of mind – both the external and internal customers. The main aim was to simplify things – rather than having duplicate functions for each business line, the ‘simple’ solution is to have one shared function. One of the challenges, of course, is that simplification is impossible without a complex back end. Following Cargill’s successful programme of transformation, CoE teams are now tasked purely with design and no longer with implementation and business HR has moved away from operations and now has a more strategic focus. Around 88% of the remaining HR activities were moved to the newly formed Cargill Business Services team, which has become a key component of the new HR model. Early signs are that this streamlining has indeed simplified things for customers inside and outside of the organisation.

Flexibile While Responsibile

An HR leader from the financial services industry presented her own challenges in trying to encourage her company to offer flexible working arrangements. The company had been quite reluctant to change, and she was met with a lot of opposition, so the team decided to survey employees on the topic, and there were some surprising findings. Employees responses were significantly more ‘responsible’ than their managers had anticipated, and while they did approve of more flexible working arrangements, there were also a lot of ideas for measures to avoid any ‘misuse’ of the policy and ensuring that customers were kept top of mind. While flexible working hasn’t been implemented regionally, due to the complexities of certain markets, it is now being offered in Singapore, and early indications are that it has been a success.

Dimensions of Change

One regional HR leader of a large FMCG company shared some critical learnings from his/ her own transformation model. The strong recommendation was to keep a close eye on the number of dimensions of change that could be handled by employees, as too many initiatives at once can become too big a beast to tackle. This company’s experience showed that two or three dimensions of change was the upper limit at which the team could manage them successfully. It was also agreed that it is critical to have clarity, or a clear destination and vision in mind, and to ensure that this is communicated effectively throughout the organisation. Having clear-cut outcomes established with metrics and an agreed end goal also helps and these should be known by all. Lastly, all employees will be asking themselves ‘What’s in it for me?’ when faced with change, so it is important that this answer is compelling, or you run the risk of losing people along the way.

Many thanks goes to Cargill for hosting this valuable gathering, and we look forward to bringing this group together later in 2016.