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What role does HR play in successful transformation?

Julie Digby, Global Integration and Transformation Leader at Mars, shares her experiences of delivering successful transformations.

The role of HR in driving successful org design

In this podcast, Julie Digby, Global Integration and Transformation Leader at Mars, talks to David Green about the role of HR in driving successful organizational design and change.

Sharing her experiences of delivering transformation, including the merger of Mars and Wrigley, Julie delves into the criticality of HR working in partnership with Finance to understand the business strategy and ensure outcomes are achieved. She goes into the role of data and technology in supporting any transformation project, as well as the need to upskill HRBPs to think more strategically, tell stories with data and lead change initiatives.

To watch the quick 7-minute summary of the podcast, simply click to play. To hear the full 45-minute version, go to myHRfuture.

Recorded in November 2019


David Green: I’m delighted to welcome Julie Digby, global integration and transformation leader at Mars. Can you give us a quick introduction to yourself and why you moved into HR?

Julie Digby: Of course. My background is more in sales and procurement, handling things like commodities. I was working in the cocoa team before moving into HR about five years ago. I was invited to join the team and said ‘yes’ because I thought it was an opportunity to do something positive in the business. Then three years ago, I volunteered to join a team that was looking at business transformation and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Designing the modern HR function

David Green: What were your thoughts when you first came into HR?

Julie Digby: I think from the outside you only see part of it. It’s a place to be highly influential and help the business move forward.

David Green: So, how is HR set up at Mars and, importantly, how does HR work with the executive team?

Julie Digby: We operate through a global service center that runs all of the transactional stuff – talent acquisition, socio relations, rewards [and so on]. We have a relatively small center of expertise that runs things like culture and engagement. And then our strategic business partners are out in the segments working with global and regional presidents [across] all of the markets. So, very close to the business and strategic choices.

David Green: That’s important, I think, [because many] HR functions are [often] centralized and quite removed from the business. [And] because different geographies, different parts of the business, operate very differently [and] have different needs, different priorities.

HR’s role in business transformation

David Green: So, you’ve [mentioned] transformation. What were the driving factors and objectives behind the business transformation [at Mars] that you’ve been involved in?

Julie Digby: Well, [Mars] is transforming all the time. If you look at our consumers, what they want to buy and, more importantly, where they want to buy it, [it’s changing constantly].

I was involved in [the] post-acquisition merger [when] we bought Wrigley and brought those two businesses together. [As well as making] those two businesses collectively more effective, combining innovation, and driving efficiency, we were also looking at going from DCOM to ECOM in terms of route to market and our salesforce.

David Green: And I suppose from a people perspective, that means you continually have to evolve the mix of skills in [your] workforce, which I guess is where HR plays an important role.

Julie Digby: Yes, absolutely. I think one of the key things that the strategic business partners need to do is [translate] the mission and strategy [of the business] into capability building and identifying the capabilities we need.

David Green: So, what was the specific role that HR played in the transformation?

Julie Digby: For the things I’ve worked on, the [business unit] president sponsors [the project], then your steering committee is your HR lead [and] your finance president. It’s then taking the mission, the strategy and saying, “what do we need in terms of ways of working, what do we need in terms of cultural [and] behavioral shifts.” And lastly, “what does the organization need to change?”

Overcoming obstacles to effective transformation

David Green: What is the hardest part of driving transformation?

Julie Digby: First of all, it’s distilling and cutting through [the complexity]. I’ve learned that data transparency can be a challenge. So, we’ve been working quite hard to have more [data] at our fingertips. Sometimes it’s hard to [stay] focused on delivery, so we [communicate] every four weeks where we are. It can [also] be quite hard in the sense [that] transformations [can be long, but] the outside world doesn’t stop. You’ve got to keep a sense of agility and [knowing] that we’re still heading in the right direction.

But probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is the people side of change [and] how you [win over] hearts and minds. You can change the logical stuff, but you’ve [still] got to persuade and make people [feel] confident.

David Green: And what are some of the practical things that you’ve done to help win hearts and minds?

Julie Digby: The first thing we’ve done is recognize [that] change management is a real skill, so we’ve adopted a methodology [and] trained HR people to do it. When we’ve done transformation projects, we have a change manager [as well as] a sponsor [and] the project manager Bringing in change managers globally, regionally, and in the markets, and create heat maps of areas of resistance. Personally, I believe [this will be one of the core capabilities] of the strategic business partner of the future.

Technology as an enabler in business transformation

David Green: And what’s the role of technology as a key enabler in a transformation change process? Both from a planning [and] execution perspective?

Julie Digby: Technology for me is ‘speed’. We’ve got a system now that helps [us] visualize [the] organization globally. [We can now do in hours] what would have taken a couple of days to do in terms of organizational design. [We’re also] able to interrogate [the system] live and test a hypothesis. So, it becomes an evolution, not a transformation.

David Green: So, this technology helps you do scenario planning [and] bring the data from different parts of the organization together [to] run an org design model.

Julie Digby: Equally, it tells you where you are [against] what you said you were going to do.

Bringing HR and Finance together for better transformation outcomes

David Green: So, what are some of your key learnings from the Mars and Wrigley transformation? What worked well, what didn’t, [and] what would you do differently next time?

Julie Digby: The key thing is having [a] sponsor who is with you throughout [the project] and really being clear about their role. Spend some time explaining the role. Have simple things like weekly steering committee [meetings]. [And] make sure you understand where [your sponsor] sits on [a] particular thing. There’s an industry stat that says 80% of transformations fail because of [a] lack of sponsorship. The second thing would be around data, being able to get access to that, visualizing [it and] making sure that’s happening.

David Green: You’ve said [previously] that Finance and HR are the core of the business. So, as someone that’s come into HR from the business, what are some of the practical ways you feel that HR and finance can work well together?

Julie Digby: Finance and HR bring in complementary skills. The key thing is to [know] what you can do as HR and what Finance can do. You [have] to be clear about what you’re going to deliver to the project and then ask for help from Finance for the bits they’re much better at.

David Green: [Many] organizations don’t get the relationship between Finance and HR. I hear stories of HR being in the room presenting some numbers and Finance saying “we don’t agree” on something as simple as headcount. By working well together and playing to each other’s strengths, you can present the whole story.

Julie Digby: Exactly. [It has to do with how] you set your business up. If you have a finance system with headcount and an HR system with headcount, that’s already a problem in itself that needs to be resolved.

Taking business change from ‘transformation’ to ‘evolution’

David Green: The word ‘transformation’ implies a [beginning] and an end, [but] it’s more continuous than that now. So, what does this mean for HR professionals in some of the skills they need to develop, particularly when working closely with the business?

Julie Digby: I think it should be evolution rather than transformation. [While] there are clearly times, [such as] with mergers and acquisitions [when it] becomes a ‘big bang’ thing, unless the business evolves, that’s an issue.

[As an example,] we’ve been changing how we do business. We [now] run two and a half thousand vet hospitals, going [way] beyond our core business. There will be [other] mergers and acquisitions, [but] day by day the roles people [have are changing]. [Now,] strategic business partners need to be, really close to strategy, to the mission of the business, [and know] the strategic priorities and how [they’re] changing.

I also think we need to be more data-driven. We’ve got to have the tools and the specialists [working with] the strategic business partners, showing them the data and testing their hypotheses. They need to [be able to ask], “what’s happening in our organization and does that still fit the strategy?”

I’m doing that on a [continual] basis, [which] is hard because to become more comfortable with data, you [have] to invest the time. Usually, we’re so busy [with] the day-to-day [that] we just need to step back and invest to get over the discomfort.

David Green: So, it’s working hand in hand with the people analytics team and data specialists, and for the strategic business partners, [being able to] translate [data] into a story that resonates with their Finance partner.

Julie Digby: Yes, absolutely. We’ve got data analysts out in the regions because you [don’t need] your strategic business partners to be specialists at this, but they do need to be able to do that translation.

How will the next five years change HR?

David Green: [Lastly,] to the question that we ask everyone on this show. What do you think the role of the HR function will be in 2025?

Julie Digby: I’m really optimistic because the people part of our business is a massive competitive edge. Getting the best out of people is always going to be a means of delivering more. I think we [have] to really understand the capabilities we need to build to do what the business wants to do. And I think getting really good at that is going to keep us relevant.

[Also], it’s really important that we create the environment for employees to do their best work, because that attracts people to want to come and work with us. So, our service centers need to be super-efficient because we need to [enable]our strategic business partners to invest [in this].

David Green: And I guess some of the technology that we spoke about will take away the more repetitive aspects of H. If you can automate some of that, [clearly you] free up resource to focus on more strategic [work] and helping develop the [employee] experience.

Julie Digby: That’s the journey we’re on. We have to invest in skills. Sometimes it’s the last thing we think of but to stay relevant, we’ve got to be the best we can be and get comfortable with technology. And we’ve got to make sure that we are role models for other functions [by] evolving and developing ourselves.

More than ever before, HR has a critical role to play in successful business transformations, but often managers don’t know where to start or lack the skills to contribute effectively. Orgvue is a software platform that provides actionable insights in real-time for more intuitive project planning and better decision-making. You can find out more about how Orgvue can support your change project, read our whitepaper ‘Meeting constant disruption with constant design’.

To hear the full 45-minute version, go to myHRfuture.