United in Change: United Biscuits
Like all major businesses, United Biscuits ("UB") needs to respond effectively to the demands of a highly competitive market and to implement rapid change in order to meet the requirements of its customers; for example, major retailers such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. Flexibility - specifically UB’s ability to constantly re-examine and refine its manufacturing and delivery systems - is crucial. But UB itself is also a customer: It has seen significant inflation in the cost of raw materials such as cocoa, flour and packaging. UB has to ensure that its internal processes and procurement strategies are sufficiently robust to secure the best deals from its suppliers.
But although change has to be supported by new systems and evolving procedures, it will only become real - and yield its full benefits - if people change too. It’s not enough simply to highlight the need for change and impose new ways of working; you have to take people with you.
UB is the leading manufacturer and marketer of biscuits in the UK, Iberia and the Netherlands and the second largest in France and Belgium. In the UK, UB is the leading manufacturer and marketer of packaged nuts and the second largest manufacturer and marketer of savoury snacks and crisps. Among UB’s popular brand names in the UK are McVitie’s, Penguin, Go ahead!, McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes, Jacob’s, Hula Hoops, Skips, Mini Cheddars, McCoy’s.
Taking People with you
Les Bacon, UB’s Change Manager for the United Kingdom, explains UB’s thinking behind the business’ drive to improve its ability to manage the people-side of change:
"We’re pretty good about delivering change projects on time, but what we really need to do is to get our people to understand the fundamentals - the genuine need for change and our approach to it. Change, naturally, brings a level of upheaval and uncertainty: new processes are introduced and, in some instances, headcount is reduced. The desired outcome is simplification, but it’s easy for those who remain to be worried and unclear about the way forward. Employee engagement is crucial: you have to make sure that employees are fully aligned to new imperatives by presenting them with a cast iron case for why change is necessary and how the company - at every level - is going to work through that change. Moreover, people - not processes - determine the best solutions for managing change; our people are vital in helping the company arrive at solutions that are both fit for the purpose and sustainable."
Clearly engagement cannot be imposed; it has to be earned and with a business as large as UB, effective communication of change is very important.
"We have to recognise that people are different", says Les Bacon. "The way they perceive change will be different because it will be based on their previous experience in a specific aspect of the business. We need to work with different teams in many locations; to understand what they’ve gone through in the past and what we need from them in the future. Local capability has to be able to pick up on a large project and then tailor the communication and engagement process so that it is appropriate to the local population."
Kaisen’s offering and its track record made it the perfect fit for UB. What stood out for UB was Kaisen’s combination of practicality and flexibility, and its ability to provide UB with a genuine sense of ownership of the engagement programme. "We’d started to recognise", says Les Bacon, "that the existing tools we were using to facilitate change management were useful diagnostically in terms of establishing what was going on at a particular time. However, what we weren’t picking up were the people issues; what we needed to do to align change with our employees’ concerns. Kaisen’s approach is eminently practical; it strips away the ‘bureaucracy’’ of change so that we can get a clear picture of the effect of change on those who have to experience and respond to it.
"The Kaisen ‘toolkit’ provides the scientific rigour and skills for implementing the programme, but it’s so flexible that we - UB’s change controllers and line managers - can tailor it to address specific issues. The whole point of Kaisen’s approach is to ensure that the client is immersed in the programme and, crucially, that the client runs the programme."
Putting Psychology to Work
Kaisen kicked off the programme with an intensive, two-day ‘change enablement’ workshop attended by selected HR business partners drawn from various parts of the business and functional change controllers representing areas such as sales, marketing and logistics. Kaisen’s Aurea Fellows explains the purpose of the workshop:
Kaisen kicked off the programme with an intensive, two-day ‘change enablement’ workshop attended by selected HR business partners drawn from various parts of the business and functional change controllers representing areas such as sales, marketing and logistics. Kaisen’s Aurea Fellows explains the purpose of the workshop: "We started by focusing on the psychology of change; what management needs to do throughout the course of the change process to ensure that people are genuinely engaged. We wanted managers to understand an individual’s emotional response to change and, therefore, how they need to be managed. The participants were then provided with a Kaisen toolkit which they could use in their part of the business - the people engagement element which could be introduced into their role as designated change facilitators.
"This exercise was augmented by a four-day ‘Train the Trainers’ (TTT) programme for selected internal trainers so that they, in turn, could run change enablement workshops for UB line managers engaged in critical change projects. The role of the line manager in facilitating meaningful change cannot be overstressed; they’re the ones who are charged with making change happen and they have to have the necessary skills to understand employee engagement issues. It’s not enough just to consider the process and the task.
"This is also particularly relevant for HR Business Partners in supporting their part of the business. If HR Business Partners are going to work effectively with line managers responsible for implementing change, they need to raise their skill levels in areas such as employee enablement."
The intention is to widen the scope of these TTT programmes so that they enable all of UB’s line managers to acquire the appropriate skills. UB also recognises the need to introduce similar programmes for senior directors and stakeholders so that they can recognise their role in leading change. Les adds, "We realised that the immediate priority had to be ‘bottom up’ - if we’d started with senior management, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve instant results because the programme would have taken too long to permeate the business. That said, senior management has to be brought into the process as quickly as possible. They have to understand how important it is in terms of their role in driving and supporting change and to understand the people impact."
Of course, there is no instant fix, but the results to date are very encouraging. Skill checks completed by participants in the change enablement workshop and the TTT programme showed a 92% increase in confidence to minimise resistance to change, a 69% increase in the ability to make people motivated about change, and a 59% increase in the ability to speed up the pace of change. Managers and HR Business Partners alike are now well-equipped to ensure that people in the business are united in change.