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Experts of change: how RB kept its business transformation on track during a global pandemic

Hear from our HR Director of Global IT and Business Transformation, Ross Davies

06 Nov 20204 minute read

A business transformation involving thousands of people worldwide is a challenge at the best of times. But instead of throwing plans off course, Covid unexpectedly inspired an even more agile approach in our leadership, collaboration and technology enablement. Hear from our HR Director of Global IT and Business Transformation, Ross Davies, as he gives more insight on the topic:

I spent some time this week, having a virtual coffee with Maria Koutoumanou, who leads our Enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Product lifecycle management (PLM) transformations, to reflect on the last 6 months.

The sheer amount of change we face, as we adapt to working and living through a global pandemic is daunting, I therefore started by asking Maria, why we decided to continue delivering major internal change programmes in a time of such unprecedented challenges? For Maria, the answer was simple: “These programmes are imperative for us to achieve our ambitious growth agenda. By putting our people at the heart of everything we do, we knew we could guide and support the business through transformational change, even during the pandemic, it really was business as usual”. Maria has called out a few key learnings:

Leadership in a time of crisis

With responsibility for 270 people globally across her two programmes, the first thing Maria and the IT Board did, when the pandemic hit, was to assess everyone’s position of safety and wellbeing. She wanted to ensure that commitments in terms of home schooling and caring for family members didn’t put any of her multi geography teams at a disadvantage, so that allowances could be made, and that everyone had the environment they needed in terms of wellbeing, equipment and space. Maria reflected, “Personal situations are important. When you’re asking people to work flexible days, to take account of colleagues in different time zones, you’ve got to take the time to understand what is possible for each team member, every individual and circumstance is different”. Along with pivoting to remote training and team support, Maria put a particular focus on recognition and work-life balance. “We’ve organised hampers, extra days off and meals out or home-delivered meals to say ‘well done’ or ‘thank you…it is always important to recognise our team’s performance, but even more so now”

Collaboration, planning and empowerment

Maria invested a lot of time before the deployment, working with her leadership to set the tone and collaborative culture they wanted to drive. From her family home in Greece, Maria ran teams across Copenhagen, UK, France, Belgium, Mexico, India and Lithuania. Maria credits this to focusing on a culture of empowerment, which starts from the top, trusting and holding our teams to account. “It’s been a massive learning curve in how to digitally organise remote teams, the more we empower, the quicker our teams will react to change. The Nordics Market, for example, is an exceptional case study of virtual change management. Critical to getting things right was to put our colleagues at the centre of the change management methodology. In practice, this meant keeping the markets informed by explaining what’s changing, why, how it will affect the.”

"We didn’t want them to feel that change at work is happening to them but instead with them, which means making them very much part of the journey."

Maria Koutoumanou

Group Major Business & IT Programme Director, RB

To enable the journey, the team had to ensure the training was understood and adopted. To help with this, Maria used newsletters, FAQs, buddies and virtual Teams channels to facilitate discussions and create support networks. “We’ve followed these up with surveys to assess our effectiveness and make sure the right messages have been picked up. Feedback and engagement scores have been overwhelmingly positive”

I asked Maria how she maintained the collaboration. “Before, it was normal to speak with the leadership team once a week, but now we connect every day either informally or formally, even if it is just a check-in whatsapp.” In order to maintain this engagement, Maria also championed approaches such as maximum 50-minute meetings, walking meetings and obligatory screen breaks. Maria was also a strong advocate of getting together for fun activities such as online games and “Thirsty Thursdays” – which involved virtual wine tastings, from her team’s home country of choice, to help people feel connected and to encourage new ways of collaborating remotely. (Who knew Welsh red wine was so good??)

People inspired Technology enablement

Looking ahead to next year, as we roll out the new ERP across our factories in the UK and China, our plan is to continue to work remotely with local teams. “We’re continuously learning and have become faster and more efficient and predictable in terms of time and project management,” says Koutoumanou.

"My approach has always been to focus on People, we will continue to lead with empathy, adapting to working in our home environments and showing strength to support each other.”

Maria Koutoumanou

Group Major Business & IT Programme Director, RB

My final thoughts; with Maria and her team at the heart of our Transformation, RB is even better placed to continue its relentless pursuit of a cleaner and healthier.