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Cracking the culture code to transform performance in multi-site businesses – Roundtable Report

22 June 2017     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Salma Ali, Director, Organisational Insights & Culture – BT
Laura Beard, UK Market Hr Manager – American Express
Niall Cluley, Director Of Consulting – Dragonfish
Paul Gilliam, HR Director – UK & Ireland – L’oreal
Robert Gould, HR Director, Global Learning & Development – Glaxosmithkline
Danny Griffiths, VP, Organisation Development – Nissan Automotive Europe
Gemma Hambley, Group Employee Engagement Manager – Edwardian Hotels
Becky Hone, HR Director, Finance Innovation & Change – Aviva
Michael Kerr, VP & Chief Hr Officer – Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd
Jo Mills, Associate Director of HR – Integrated Care 24
Jenny Munce, HR Manager – Harvey Nichols
Rich Webley, Managing Director – Dragonfish


There is an inexorable link between organisational culture and business performance, particularly in relation to the challenges of the multi-site organisation and so there’s an absolute necessity to have a culture that forms unbrokenly between employee engagement, customer expectation and the resultant business performance.

What are the key cultural challenges in managing a multi-site service business?

Michael Kerr: When I joined Aston Martin Lagonda three years ago our culture change had become rather stale. We quickly established our second century plan to take us through the next five or six years with new investment, new models and a new way of looking at our business underpinned by a culture change process called Professional, Passionate and Motivated People. We wanted our new culture to focus around quality, customer service, products and finance. A key element of this was to introduce crossfunctional teams (CFT’s) which have now become part of our culture and used to identify and resolve issues within the business.

Becky Hone: Aviva’s strategy is to be digital, innovative and customer-centric, but with a legacy workforce and traditional career paths; the two things are not meeting comfortably. Processes cannot go before customer experience, customer advocacy and loyalty. This is particularly true in corporate functions who are a long way away from the end customer.

Heritage is nice, but people can keep harking back to the old days and revert back to old ways of operating.

Paul Gilliam: We looked at our culture and could be quite individualistic, so we are now focusing on ‘teams are the new heroes’ with more emphasis on collaboration, empowerment and trust. This seems the natural way of working for the generations coming into the workplace now.

Jo Mills: Our organisation provides contracted services for the NHS, and in a diverse organisation with a disparate workforce it’s really challenging to connect with people, as their role is not sitting at a PC. As an executive team, it’s about being out there, spending time, understanding the challenges.

Danny Griffiths: I believe environment influences behaviour, which dictates your culture. Having the correct culture is a business imperative and requires the same level of management scrutiny as other aspects of any business model. We are changing the organisation structure, the processes and systems to underpin the change, but we must address our behaviours, that ultimately dictate our culture.

Salma Ali: With EE coming into the BT family, a younger, more agile organisation, we’ve taken the opportunity to review our current ways of working, policies, processes and systems. Our approach has been to take the ‘best of both’ and in some cases ‘better than both’, to ensure we retain what works, and improve on things that could be better.

Gemma Hambley: We have 91 nationalities which reflects in our culture which naturally evolves from the people within the business. Our culture is unique, yes, each different hotel has its own patterns and behaviours, but yet we strive to achieve one business with one community.

Jenny Munce: We have changed and developed as a company, with a huge focus on brand identity. Now our attention is turning to our internal brand and culture.

Laura Beard: We are constantly looking to reinforce our servicing culture thorough our brand values. One of the opportunities that we have at the moment is the environment around us is rapidly changing and so how can we engage our employees to think about, not just their individual role but how that links to business results. We are constantly transforming and embedding an innovative and creative culture, and we need to bring employees along on that journey.

Robert Gould: GSK is probably a bit more conservative than most represented here, but is has been leading the sector in terms of innovation, one of the first to remove the link between individual sales rep incentives and their pay, they have also changed the way its sales reps enage with HCPs (healthcare practitioners) and also shared its clinical trial data beyond GSK for others to use. I certainly noticed a perceptable positive shift in engagement and a different type of culture evolving on the back to these kinds of innovations.

Rich Webley: Organisations, regardless of their shape or size, struggle to get to grips with the culture that they have in a way that is not subjective. How do you get leadership teams to take ownership for culture? That comes from spending time and effort to really understanding the links between the culture you have and the performance you want. As a field – compared to other areas of HR or other areas of marketing or finance, etc, culture change is not as mature. It is fairly weighed down in academic theory, and conventional approaches are either too academic or too pink and fluffy. In truth, not a lot works! The key is simplicity, alignment and creating a compelling business case – moving the conversation from investment in culture being a ‘cost to keep staff happy’, to an investment in delivering your business plan. Key to achieving buy-in at a senior level is quantifying the commercial upside for the organisation and/or the cost of doing nothing.

Niall Cluley: Looking back on my experience as Group HRD at Fitness First, a global business with a diverse workforce of 13,000 across 16 countries that needed to go through significant transformation was how much time we invested in managing culture and the dynamic and influence that your shareholders have between short-term performance and long-term options for creating value. Whilst some things remain uncertain around the shareholders agenda there are some things that remain constant like the purpose, values and the behaviours that deliver for your customers that you must push forward, to create and sustain a high performing culture. On culture and performance, many organisations are struggling to move beyond measuring key people data into analysing the performance relationships links between people, your brand and customers. Planning horizons are also getting shorter so having the right insights allows HR teams to be more proactive in driving performance today whilst shaping the organisation that will hopefully deliver tomorrow.

What are the most effective ways of establishing a company’s overall purpose across multi-sites, with the objective of supporting values and driving the correct behaviours?

Robert Gould: Empowerment, simplicity and alignment; where the whole organisation operates with transparency, respect and integrity. For large multinationals, the challenge exists as to how these messages are cascaded to employees around the world, ensuring that employees understand these themes and understand how to use them in their everyday work. The trick is to keep things as simple as possible, repeatedly communicate key messages, and remain watchful.

Becky Hone: The challenge is, people cultures can vary, even in different departments in the same organisation.

Danny Griffiths: Agreed, and one fixed approach will not work, so vision, deployed, with very clear objectives and behaviours that everyone can understand, explained based on their environment. We have decided to focus on six key behaviours that we can articulate.

Rich Webley: Problems when trying to take vision, purpose and values from being posters on the wall to driving real behaviours, are mostly caused by complexity and ‘framework overload’. Often there’s a vision, purpose, and values framework that originates from the HR function, then another from the marketing function, and then the CEO will introduce another acronym or mantra, and by this point, expecting someone who works in a shop or a restaurant to understand what’s important becomes unrealistic. If a senior team forces itself to be brutally simple – to articulate where the organisation is going, what we need to strive to do best every day, and how we need to behave on a page – the degree of alignment you get from forcing yourself to create that level of simplicity is amazing, and from what we see, a powerful driver of high performance.

Salma Ali: It’s important to prioritise and focus on doing a few things brilliantly in order make the biggest difference – it’s not about boiling the ocean. How leaders communicate can also make a huge difference – a good piece of communication will resonate in the deepest, darkest part of your organisation.

Michael Kerr: It’s usually a result of us naval gazing, not seeing the bigger picture in the business and failing to understand exactly what our senior team want from HR. That should be a big learning point going forward.

Aligning values and incentives, recruitment performance management and reward: how can you best attain consistency across multi-sites to ensure that financial and non-financial incentives are appropriately balanced and linked to behavioural objectives?

Niall Cluley: It’s that balance of getting incentives and rewards based around individual performance and contribution right, and the need to shift to much more of a team focus, in terms of where value comes from in organisations. The magic happens when teams collaborate, when teams think and act and behave together to achieve performance. As a profession, perhaps too much of our focus has been designing very individually-orientated, competitive talent management and reward processes.

Paul Gilliam: One of the relatively simple things we have introduced in the last year to try and get more team focus was collaboration objectives across all levels in the business. This can lead to some interesting conversations with individuals who have delivered success in the past, but not in a collective way. In general, I feel we have to make sure things we are doing in HR are aligned to the culture and are not too complicated. Are we doing this in our talent management, our succession planning, our recruitment? Is our reward strategy consistent with the culture we are trying to enable? Too often we work on these things last when we probably need to do it first so that we are consistently encouraging the behaviours we believe are important.

Danny Griffiths: We need to hire people based on the behaviour that we expect, not just on their technical competence or the strength of their CV. In addition; organisations have a tendency to tolerate poor performance from a management perspective so if someone is rewarded but demonstrates bad behaviour that sends a message.

Laura Beard: Our measurement is not just about what you have achieved, but it’s how you achieved it, and that helps to embed our relationship culture; it encourages collaboration and alignment and how you build relationships.

Salma Ali: We have also recently introduced team objectives, so it’s in the interest of everyone to work together and collaborate.

Laura Beard: I think there’s consistency in how ratings are applied, there is always an element of 80/20, where some aspects of measurement are subjective, but the alignment across peers and markets helps to pressure test ratings.

Danny Griffiths: We use our employee’s survey to focus on the low scoring management areas by function and management grade and put together improvement plans. If there is evidence of a consistent lack of management competency we address it formally.

Becky Hone: It’s the consequences of not living the values or behaving as a leader should. If technically-strong people have been given line management responsibility and are not up to the job it must be handled.

With multi-site businesses in mind what are the inherent difficulties with culture change?

Rich Webley: One of the things that holds back culture change programmes generally, is the lack of consistent understanding of what culture is, and the process of culture change being seen as intangible and mysterious.

Salma Ali: It’s important to help people understand that we all own culture change, it doesn’t sit with one person or with the leadership team; everyone is responsible. The other thing that really helps is telling real stories from the business – just saying that we need to behave differently isn’t enough.


What in practice drives the behaviour of employees and management across sites, and shapes and influences those drivers in a way that will foster greater sustainability and improve performance over time?

Gemma Hambley: Ownership of the values is difficult. Having redefined every element of the HR process piece, we are embedding the behaviours we aspire to which in turn we hope will streamline our performance as an organisation. Each of our properties offers the same product but has different teams, guests and the pressures upon them vary so widely, but yet they are incentivised using a standardised approach.

Becky Hone: Behaviours cannot be evidenced in an “absolute way”. One exec’s view of assertive could be another’s view of aggressive and inappropriate. Who’s right? It’s in the eyes of the beholder so how do you decide, and therefore while I agree with behaviour frameworks have a use, but they can be limited with more senior and complex roles.

Jenny Munce: Performance process is often hindered by employees only starting to think about what brand behaviours they should be displaying in the lead up to the review conversation, rather than considering how the company’s values link to their performance throughout the year.

Does your organisation invest in culture and do you think it is effective in achieving return on investment and improved business performance?

Robert Gould: Everything in an organisation impacts on culture, either through the overt investment it in its people, through normal development, recognition and engagement processes or, perhaps less overtly, through how it addresses and tolerates underperformance. These overt measures are certainly easier to track and measure, in terms of ROI, but it’s the less tangible elements that are often held in greater regard by employees that have a greater impact on performance.

Becky Hone: Employee engagement surveys are an investment, but they risk being one dimensional. They cannot be the only measure of culture change.

So does the discussion in the boardroom go something like this; “are we happy with our culture”? “no”! Shall we invest in it”?

Danny Griffiths: We decided we would have a six month rolling culture programme, first focusing on the personal journey that the top executives need to experience to deliver a sustainable change in culture. They go through a hallelujah moment collectively and will focus on the blockers to change as well as their personal action plan to “Walk the talk”.

Niall Cluley: Some organisations are growing frustrated, that the engagement survey is not creating the debate around the case for change or investment in managing your culture. There is definitely a need to achieve a deeper understanding of your people to really get to the bottom of the links between your people and performance. Along with improving the data side of things, finding ongoing ways to hear the diverse range of employee voices is key – people expect and want to contribute to the organisation they work for, understanding about the relationship between the people and delivering your customer strategy.

Salma Ali: BT used to measure four times a year and I remember saying, “You do know that you’re not going to fatten the cow by weighing it every day, right?” We now have one employee survey twice a year and the focus is less on over-analysing the data and more on the insights and actions we can take, based on the outcomes we want to achieve.

Do you believe everything the numbers tell you? Are we asking the right questions in engagement surveys, or courting the responses we actually want?

Danny Griffiths: If you can connect the business strategy the whole way down to behaviour by a clear and compelling story, backed up by actions that demonstrate the desired behaviours this will be very visible. So if we say we want our people to be more customer-centric, which we do, that’s one of our key behaviours. This means you have to put brand next to everything you do.

Rich Webley: Most employee engagement surveys overlook customer and brand. They tend to describe ‘employee happiness’ – and show how engaged and motivated staff are feeling. Then annual or quarterly cycle comes along and the action plan that results from this insight simply creates a hundred small steps towards a slightly happier workforce. Don’t get me wrong – having a happy workforce is important, however the big leaps in terms of performance come from getting your people more connected to your customers or to your brand.

Becky Hone: It’s the triangle; brand; customer and employee. If team members cannot be your customers, how can you successfully motivate them to deliver the brand, if they never walk in their customers shoes?

Michael Kerr: We are fortunate in that we have a brand that people want to be associated with which takes us a long way. In our surveys, passion usually comes out as the number one positive, but we cannot rely on passion alone.

Danny Griffiths: One of our key behaviours is pride and enjoyment and we recognised the influence, for example, of building a corporate social responsibility theme for the organisation that people can relate to.

Jo Mills: You’ve got to do more with less and actually there are a lot of basic things that we don’t do yet, we are investing now in learning and development, encouraging managers to connect and communicate more effectively and instilling the principles into daily work and life.

Michael Kerr: And you’ve got to reward the people that are engaged, and also be mindful that if somebody does not want to be in your company, no reward or benefit will change that.

Paul Gilliam: Listening to your teams is important especially at Senior Leader level. You cannot assume that you know the solution. We are using Facebook groups and other social media, running focus groups and really understanding what people want and don’t want with much greater effect.

Jo Mills: Agreed communication is central, when you go out and talk to people, you realise that, if you could take away some of the barriers that stop people delivering great care, then that can be compelling and engaging. In all organisations there are things that stop us from being able to do a great job, and a real understanding of that makes such a difference.

Danny Griffiths: At a general management seminar, 200 general managers engaged in speed dating with real customers and we went round listened to what the customers were saying. Also, senior executive will spend a day at dealership, listening to the customer at first hand, and this knowledge is essential to progress and improvement.

Jenny Munce: In retail, it’s a great idea when management spends time on the shop floor, especially during Christmas sale times, so that they can fully appreciate how the culture translates to different areas of the business and understand the challenges they may face.

Rich Webley: One of the biggest opportunities for any organisation is aligning the HR and marketing functions – collaborating to help frontline teams understand who their customer is and what they expect. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve seen that when HR and marketing teams come together with a simple, customer-centric shared goal, it does have a huge impact.

Michael Kerr: We have been running a series of CEO led town hall sessions emphasising where we want to position Aston Martin Lagonda over the next five years. We use these sessions to drive the required culture change and making sure that the message is spot on and has everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. It will not work if the message is received in a skewed way so keep it relevant and to the point. Most importantly HR should not shoulder this responsibility alone as it needs to be shared across the senior leaders in the business.

Paul Gilliam: As HR leaders we need to be a bit more courageous in challenging our leaders and saying we need to have more of a constant drip, a constant message, because that’s what will create sustainable change.

Some leaders think their responsibility is a stirring keynote, then step off the stage and admire their handy-work.

Danny Griffiths: In my experience some senior executives enjoy hallelujah moments, it’s great to get everybody together take them off somewhere nice and tell them this is the way we want you to behave in the new world. The reason this is comfortable is this generates the feeling that they have supported the culture change message so now get on with it as they expect someone else to deliver the change!.

Robert Gould: It’s also important to periodically check the prioritisation, as situations change quickly and its important to validate that something is still needed to the same degree as it was six months previous. Without this step-check there can be a lot of wasted effort and confusion.

Danny Griffiths: Agreed, our job is to always hold the mirror up to the organisation

Salma Ali: Creating that awareness and helping leaders understand is key, because they can lack that awareness – it isn’t conscious behaviour – it’s more they just don’t realise that actually, that shadow they cast can reach really far down the organisation.

Becky Hone: I agree, especially if you see contradictory evidence to that role modelling, by the nature of your job. You have to hold that tension while authentically and properly leading your own department, your own team.

Niall Cluley: Managing change, it’s critical to spend time getting ready to support and sustain the desired changes. Alignment on principles amongst the leadership team and flushing out some of the key issues upfront just helps you go faster later on. Another opportunity is around the narrative for culture and change. In HR, we have a unique vantage point of the organisation which is very powerful. Nothing great happens without people connecting to the strategic narrative from a people point of view.

Laura Beard: Where I’ve seen a change in culture work well, is where it has felt like evolution not revolution. If you are trying to change behaviour, this is often inherent in individuals, so can take time.

Gemma Hambley: It’s very easy to get carried away, but the little and often thing resonates with me. I have been implementing all manner of small things and look forward to getting some tangible results.

Rich Webley: There is a role for the big bang launch event, because for some people, that will be the best way to learn and be inspired. The challenge is when the expensive launch is followed up by nothing else at all. Twenty percent of how people learn comes from observing other’s behaviour. When someone’s been to a launch event the first thing they do is then observe their manager more closely, and if they’re not seeing any changes to their behaviour, the chances are they’ll wipe their memory and go back to their day jobs. The majority of it is about the day-to-day employee experience – activity that is little and often, practical, and provides the tools, confidence and the conversations to support change.

Salma Ali: BT has around 110,000 people and I read a statistic somewhere that to create momentum in a revolution you need ten percent behind you – 10,000 is a lot people!

Laura Beard: If you can identify those that have not bought into the change, and tackle them first. They can often be powerful influencers to support the change rather than detractors.

Rich Webley: I think that’s really smart, because the trap many programmes fall into is trying to influence everyone at once, at the same pace. It is important to remember that in most businesses, leaders and managers shape success – particularly during times of change – so focusing your efforts on a group of managers first is always going to pay back.

Salma Ali: If you can partner with somebody who understands a group it makes life easier, somebody that speaks the same language as, say, the engineers.

Danny Griffiths: It’s that person who everybody goes to, obviously you have to work with them but it is a terrific enabler in change management.

Jo Mills: We have KPIs that measure quality and performance and whether initiatives are working. Do patients feel like the service that they’re receiving is better? So if you start and end with the patient you can measure success through that lens

Paul Gilliam: In terms of measuring, it goes back to what we talked about before, of getting that connection between customer experience, business results and people experience. I feel we have to go back to some very basic things about clarity of message, leaders role-modelling behaviours, having the courage to challenge and do the right thing. These don’t require lots of money, but we need to deliver on them. Perhaps the solution could be much more simple than we’d like to believe it is.

Jenny Munce: Everything we do, we have to consider how it impacts on our customers and sales. But whilst this information is important, I also think it’s important that we understand how our employees are feeling and what they’re saying about the company externally. Do their thoughts reflect the brand and culture that we perceive?

Becky Hone: We need to do much more engagement- little and often.

Danny Griffiths: Agreed, a standout comment for me was; “ten percent big event, 20 percent role model and 70 percent little & often”. That sounds like a pretty compelling ratio.

And finally how can you measure the impact of your input and activity?

Salma Ali: In terms of measurement, we should definitely look at employee and customer experience together, managing and measuring the two together is really important and keep things really simple – that clear compelling purpose and vision.

Michael Kerr: There can be a disconnect between input and output, and you have got to recognise that it is very difficult to put a financial value on culture change. Many of the measures used, for example attrition do not really work and change is a slow game that you have to stick with, avoiding initiative overload and being mindful of not throwing too much at it.

Laura Beard: I think the measurement goes back to things that have been covered i.e. business results, customer scores and employee feedback both internally and externally. In terms of takeaways for today, I think it has reinforced the importance of clarity, simplicity and sustainability to be able to support the embedding of change.

Gemma Hambley: We’re lucky enough to have Trip Advisor which says a lot about our internal and external successes. There is value in recognising that Trip Advisor and other sources of guest feedback, tells us a lot about our culture. Our measurements are extensive, but not quite tuned into engagement just yet. The whole marketing and HR dual approach is pivotal in achieving engagement with the brand and business, which has been our ultimate goal. For the first time, commercial and HR are sitting in the same room.

Rich Webley: In terms of measuring culture, I think there’s a need to move away from the annual employee engagement survey, and to take steps to see people data, customer data and financial data in context and therefore change the conversation at board level about links between the three. It has reminded me that if an organisation can get to a simple framework on a page to define what’s important, and has a leadership team that’s committed to role modelling the right behaviours, then I think you’ve given yourself a pretty decent chance of making change stick.

Niall Cluley: In terms of understanding the links between culture and performance I would say the evolution shifting my focus from improving engagement, to understanding the links that drive sustainable growth between your people, the customer experience, your financial results and the connections with the brand. On a cautionary note, whilst everyone is obsessed about getting more data, big data and HR analytics, I think it’s connecting insight with the real everyday great stuff that’s happening that gets others onboard with positive change. Keep celebrating examples that back up the right insights and use great team performances to focus your future research and analysis. With the landscape of change ahead for organisations understanding the links between teams and performance is more important than ever.

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