Driving Business Transformation - Through the eyes of a Programme Director

Our Utilities, Aviation and Transport consultant, Richard Archer recently talked to Programme Director, Charlie Herbert to understand what an organisation and an individual needs to roll-out successful business transformation. Having worked in major organisations such as Royal Mail, RAC, Travelodge and the AA, Charlie has an extensive knowledge of what it takes for companies in varying sectors to move from loss to profit by modernising their business model.

To read a summary of our chat with Charlie jump below the video.

Hi Charlie, can you describe what you do and tell us a little bit about your background?

I’ve spent the last 10 years helping organisations to modernise and transform so they’re able to compete in the new ‘digital age’. Customers and consumers are more demanding than ever and are using multiple channels to get in touch with organisations. My role is to go in and help businesses modernise and enable them to move at a faster pace with continuous improvement.

The digitalisation of the Royal Mail has got to be one of the more challenging projects that you’ve worked on. Can you tell us a bit more about your time there?

I joined the Royal Mail before they had an agreement with the government to privatise, that said, it was always on the cards and the CEO was very much driven to achieve that aim. I joined as part of a team that were brought on board to commercialise the business and get it ready for an IPO and to modernise it.

My role was focused in the customer arena, obviously the Royal Mail is both a B2B and B2C organisation. My challenge become how do you modernise and digitise the organisation?

To give you some practical examples of the work we undertook to achieve this aim, when I first joined in 2012, the company hadn’t got a mobile presence. However, after a successful mobile programme, when I left 55% of monthly unique visitors used mobile to access front-end services.

A big challenge for us was to get the channel strategy right and drive that through the business. If you look at a large retailer, Amazon for example, it’s purpose isn’t to be the biggest retailer in the world or the most profitable. For them, it’s about delivering the best customer experience in the world.

If we measured the majority of companies against Amazon’s customer experience, you’ll often see quite a gap. So what I set about doing at the Royal Mail was to bring in a customer experience strategy to ensure we had the right tools to take on a customer first approach, simple things such as live chat and automated knowledge banks. In developing these features, it took a lot of cost out of the business too, prior to these digital functions you’d have a number of people in call centres answering phones to help customers with their queries, once we were able to take a lot of this online and allow customers to self-serve, there were considerable benefits to shutting a number of locations around the country and having smaller numbers of staff dealing with telephone or live chat queries.

It sounds like there were a lot of things to change in the company, what were the biggest challenges that you faced when delivering these initiatives?

Most of our roadblocks were cultural, as an ex government organisation the business operated in a certain way, however the minute you listen to your customers and put them at the heart of what you’re trying to do, you have to re-educate the entire organisation.

When you start to do that and start to modernise the business, the cultural implications are huge. You’ve got to be able to take the people who are delivering the service and drive that cultural acceptance and change through everything they do.

It’s a huge undertaking, and it has to start at the top, at board level, they’ve got to believe in the investment that is required and perhaps more importantly, the time that’s needed to achieve this.

We had to create new business objectives to include customer measures, I’m a big believer that what gets measured gets managed and the focus comes onto them. It’s these objectives that bleed through all layers of management right down to individuals. One of the great successes that we had at the Royal Mail, was the way that we measured when things went wrong. One of the pieces of gold dust in an organisation is the information you collect when things go wrong – complaints.

A lot of organisations try to manage complaints to make them as small as possible, if you collect data on those complaints in the right way and you manage it in the right way it’s the best way to understand customer issues and drive through business improvements.

We got to the point where we were able to get a complaint in one afternoon and the next morning coach the operative – be it a postman or call centre agent - on what they needed to do differently to meet their metric and drive customer success. So that’s a really interesting process and that starts all the way with making sure you’ve got executive objectives set in the right way.

So, getting executive level sponsorship was key to success, would you say that was a difficult journey?

Of course there were challenges. In any change, particularly big change there’s always a challenge. The way I managed this was to understand what I could and couldn’t achieve from the off. Don’t try to address all the big problems at once. To some extent you need to prove to the organisation that the new ways of doing things work.

The way I got buy-in was to create small successes – it may sound cliché but go and find the low hanging fruit, deliver the benefit against it and do that using the new methodologies.

If you want to bring in an agile or lean process methodology use those to deliver against the low hanging fruit – don’t use what’s in the business already. Then you can prove the methodology and people have faith in it and will see that you’re building a team of people that are delivering true business benefit.

If you don’t do that and you go in with a big business case that says I need x million pounds to do this, and here’s a set of promises at the end, that’s when the debate and the challenge is difficult.

Another tip is for you to understand the rhythm of the business, businesses operate at different paces. One business may take 3 months to get executive buy-in, other’s it can take as much as 2 years. But that’ not 2 years of sitting in the back room doing nothing, that’s 2 years of demonstrating those small successes to take them on the journey.

Do you have any practical examples that you can share where you had successes with the ‘low-hanging fruit’ to create momentum?

A quick win is always to look at taking out cost, I would always say it’s much easier to prove credibility taking out cost than it is driving new revenue if you talk to most CFOs they will tell you that new revenue is a promise that they never expect to be met. Whereas if they can see a direct line to cost then they’ll believe it more.

Prove your credibility with cost actions first. A good example at Royal Mail was the call centres I talked about and allowing customers to self-serve. We took this idea throughout the business and found lots of opportunities to reduce costs and improve customer experience.

A really simple example of this was to do with the B2B side of the business, for a large business to use the Royal Mail, they need certain equipment. If you’re going to produce letters for big direct marketing campaigns, you need to put those letters in trays, they then go onto trolleys, which get wheeled into a roll-out van or lorry and taken away from their premises and put through the Royal Mail delivery system. If you do parcels, for retailers that are sending stuff out for fulfilment, they need the right products for wrapping parcels, labelling them, getting them onto the trolleys and into the back of the vans. Those trolleys, labels, trays, bags etc are all equipment you need from the Royal Mail to operate your business. When I first joined the only way of getting hold of that equipment was to ring up a small team of people, who worked between 9am-5pm, and get them to put an order through for you. You had no way of tracking that order, or seeing when it would be delivered.

So, it was a really simple process – the back end warehousing side didn’t need any refinement. But the front-end process was what I’d call a really good piece of low-hanging fruit. So we made it digital. We put a form on the website that people could fill in, it’d track that order and allowed for better management of stock for both sides. It was a really simple bit of technology that cost very little to do on the existing platform, but it resulted in us allowing orders at any time of day, enabling us to process them quicker and ultimately took some cost out by reducing the size of the team we used to have to handle these queries.

That’s a really small example of something very important in terms of the trading process for Royal Mail. Really small, really easy and really successful. The measurement that went behind it was obviously cost out, but the other measure was customer satisfaction and net promoter scores, one of these was ease of doing business with us. After implementing this change, watching that improve as a metric was absolutely key.

What characteristics does an individual need to deliver successful transformation?

Resilience is key, the ability to bounce back. It took 2 years to get a full programme and strategy agreed and defined at the Royal Mail, during that process, there were a lot of times when it felt quite painful because you’re putting cases forward, you’re building credibility and trust, yet the organisation isn’t buying. You’re getting knocked back, you’ve got to take that knockback, get back up and bounce back. That’s number 1.

Number 2 is don’t fight unnecessary battles. A lot of people will really want to champion something and while the benefits are there, if it’s not going anywhere and you’re getting pushback on it – leave it. There are plenty of other battles to fight, so find the ones you can win. Eventually, the one you started with will come back around, so another example, the call centre transformation I proposed, I put it forward 18 months before it was put into place. In the intervening period, I had a go multiple times, I pushed quite hard to get it through but the answer was no. So, I put it to one side, carried on doing other stuff – succeeding in other areas, banking benefits, and then a chink appeared where I knew I could take the original idea off the shelf and put it back in.

There’s something about patience and fighting the right battles, you’ll be gradually building allies, proving credibility and eventually you’ll find the right time to get your programme through.

Finally, don’t have an ego. If you’ve got an ego and you want to constantly own all of the outcomes then you’re going to fail because you’re going to upset other people. Any transformation role should ultimately end, and you should be able to embed a lot of what you’ve done into P&Ls and give them to MDs. The minute an MD says I want to own that, it’s brilliant because they’ll now take that forward and drive it as part of their business. If you’re trying to keep it as part of a transformation process for too long then there isn’t ownership out there, ultimately, you’ve got to be willing to give up your baby.

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Richard Archer

4th June

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