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Patience and passion in strategy implementation and culture change

Development and implementation of guiding principles – with top management in the driver seat

IT implementation, or rather strategy roll-out and culture change?

The challenge

The first call sounded something like this:

“Our 2020 strategy is defined, but somehow it hasn’t really taken off, yet. Hardly anybody knows it. And even those who do, are not sure what it means for them. The board doesn’t see the Business Unit Heads showing an entrepreneurial spirit in breaking down the strategy; not to mention implement it.”

To bring the this financial service provider’s strategy to life, a company culture Change was needed. You might say “Strategy implementation and company culture development are fundamentally different”. But often they go hand in hand. The objective was to turn a risk-averse “bunch” (self-diagnosis) with a strong silo mentality into a more innovative “team”…

The client’s business development unit, supported by a management consultancy, had already developed a rather abstract strategy, intended to lead the company into the year 2020. Key aspects of this strategy were new business models and a further internationalization.

The CEO quickly realized that this strategy could not be implemented by only focusing on the functional aspect of the strategy.

  • Mindsets and behavior didn’t match the strategy and had been bugging the board for quite some time
  • A customer satisfaction survey revealed improvement potential
  • Financing solutions were often developed within one business unit, neglecting market orientation
  • Numerous good concepts were not implemented due to a lack of implementation efforts
  • Mistakes were a reason to hide

The journey

In a first step, Business Unit Heads were supported in developing their business unit strategies in a participative way, including the respective managers. In change planning workshops, we jointly developed an implementation plan.

In order for the strategy to come to life, the culture development had to be shaped further. This was initiated through the implementation of new leadership principles in large group events, and the creation of a “cultural manifesto”. In order to transfer these changes to every employees’ daily work, a multiplication concept, using employees as ambassadors, was initiated and comprehensive “what-does-it-mean-for-me?” workshops were conducted.

The Timmermann 360° feedback, supported by feedback trainings, helped institutionalize a more intensive feedback culture as a main driver for organizational learning. To ensure a sustainable change, we worked together with the HR department to develop a new HR development strategy, including an extensive talent management concept, and helped to implement it.

A highlight were the culture development workshops with the board. As constructive irritating impulses are important in change processes, our Founder and Managing Partner Michael Timmermann, climbed onto the precious marble board room table to demonstrate what an inspiring speech can look like. An example to underline what a “reeeally” unusual approach actually means. Michael explained what elements such a speech should contain: only one message, an authentic and confident leader who provides personal examples, and the moment of surprise he had just demonstrated.

The results

As it is typical for a cultural development process, which usually takes two to four years: our clients didn’t find the courage to “climb on marble tables” from the very beginning – it took patience to change old habits. But this patience was more than worth it.

We couldn’t have done it without you!

This was the assessment in a call after a management conference about company culture with the company’s top 180. The head of HR development gave us a 30 minutes long call only to thank us for our contribution to their cultural improvements …

The challenge

Germany’s largest real estate manager faced a big and diffuse challenge. They predicted parts of their business strategy to become obsolete. Yet, they didn’t have an idea what the alternative might look like. They had the functional expertise but many things were not implemented. Guiding principles for the future exi:ted, but they were as diffuse as the challenges they faced: captured as a high quality brochure but without any impact on visible action.

After a top-team training with the board of directors and another workshop, we knew the guiding principles had to be redesigned. We needed to develop a clear strategy for the future together. We had to implement both thoroughly. And in order to do so, the client’s corporate culture had to be substantially improved.

4 topics were pivotal for the implementation of guiding principles and the culture change:

  • Improve leadership culture and governance in order for managers to really spend time on leadership tasks instead of getting stuck in operational assignments
  • Make the whole organization more open to change in order to better respond to future challenges. This included a reduction of the fixation on rules and regulations
  • Steer the organization more towards a project based working style (and make clear which projects are actually relevant). More cross department collaboration would be needed to respond to customer requests more flexibly
  • Be more customer-oriented. Instead of an administration mindset, customers should be proactively offered comprehensive real estate solutions. As a first step, this means to really get to know the customers, their business models, and needs

The journey

The board of directors started with a top-team development workshop. We intensely helped them to become a real team.  At the same time, we supported them in revamping, and partially developing for the first time, their guiding principles for the future.

In a next step, we integrated the management team into a participative process. In a special, natural atmosphere they jointly developed the guiding principles further; within the guidelines given by the board. We supported them on their way of becoming a team with a variety of methods. During these three intensive days, they built a higher level of closeness, trust, and shared commitment for the change program. After this starting event, we intensely worked together to improve teamwork and leadership behavior in the board and top management level in several additional trainings and workshops. This continuous work is an important success factor for change processes.

An extraordinary 2-day large group event with the top 100 was the starting point for the whole organization. At this Event, we jointly created an atmosphere that allowed for everyone to really feel the target state of our journey.  They experienced, e.g., the physical starting shot for their journey which was fired after a “reeeally” inspiring speech. Participants also worked on concrete business tasks, e.g., on how to improve functional exchange with employees while simultaneously building trust.

20-30 of them then started working in their respective workstream teams in order to integrate the subjects, as defined by the top-management, even deeper into the organization. In mixed teams, consisting of Timmermann consultans and the client’s workstream owners, we pushed cultural topics (e.g., feedback culture, dealing with mistakes, and cross-silo cooperation) and functional topics (e.g., strategy, key account management, and steering) even further.

For the last 3 years, we accompanied them on their journey, for which they planned a total of six years. As planned, step by step, we are becoming less and less important for the ongoing success of the change process. Some key actions of the change process include:

  • Strategy development
  • Reorganization in order to be more customer-oriented
  • Joint development and implementation of a customized key account management system
  • Training and guiding change agents in their task of setting cultural impulses and developing everyday actions throughout the whole company
  • “What-does-the-journey-mean-for-me?” workshops with all employees
  • Change leader training program for middle management
  • Highly effective team development processes for important project and leadership teams

The results

The results of this change process are clearly visible on different levels. At the end of the top 100 event, part of the top leaders spontaneously started dancing with us on stage, overwhelmed by happiness. Within the whole leadership team, the atmosphere is much more trusting and open, leading to a measurable increase in efficiency, e.g., annual budget talks used to take 2 days, now they take 2 hours.

Jointly, we were able to activate an considerable number of people within the organization to actively shape the future with us; even though they are aware of the upcoming challenges. Also from a business perspective, positive results are apparent. E.g., the department for “Integrated real estate solutions consulting” which is highly relevant for the future, received new major orders.

As a Region Manager put it:

“Since the Timmermen are here, a new wind is blowing. I see happy faces, clear decisions, and recently also new major orders we didn’t even dare to dream about one year ago.”

The challenge

We started our project in cooperation with a process focused consultancy and quickly gained trust of our clients in the waste & recycling business. Their words after hiring us:

We wanted you, because we felt that you are a well-rehearsed team. Expert knowledge on process and performance improvement in combination with effective change knowledge is very special, hard to find, and exactly what we need.

In order to increase effectiveness and efficiency throughout the whole company, our client had unsuccessfully tried to implement an ERP software several times before.

Therefore, the board considered it a matter of urgency:

We already had two attempts for this project that clearly failed. We cannot afford another failure. Otherwise I’m not sure for how long we are still going to be around.

As reasons for the two failures our client identified a lack of competence of their previous implementation partners, insufficient management attention and struggles between departments on a social and a functional level.

Early on, it became clear that a pure change support of the functional implementation would not be sufficient to respond to our clients challenge. Instead of pushing growth at any cost, profitability and excellence had to become the focal points of attention; new ways of working together had to be developed within the company.

We sat down with our clients and had an open talk about our observations and agreed on a new scope of the Project:

The journey

During a first management conference, the initial scepticism towards unconventional methods turned into honest interest, openness, and even enthusiasm. In partly experiential Formats, leaders openly spoke about their own mistakes. Discussions and reflection were no longer hidden behind conference tables or closed doors. Needs, concerns, and hopes found their place in discussion just as much as strategic subjects – most of the time “what” and “how” were directly linked together. The results proved us right; one participant phrased it like this:

This is really different and I really believe that we can change something this time.

Intensive coaching and a top team development process made our clients realize that their current management constellation rather acted like what they called “a layer of clay” than providing guidance for the levels below. Through a challenging joint process, we achieved a solution that felt right for all participants.

The rest of the management team started its journey with a change leader training to improve leadership competencies and instruments. Step by step, a new learning culture, characterized by steady feedback materialized. Learning and development did no longer only take place in specific events, but -successfully- in daily life. Making “good mistakes”, holding efficient meetings, and thoroughly preparing decisions were only some of the subjects that were discussed in the hallways and the coffee corners now.

Jointly, we developed formats and concepts and thereby provided them with “help to help themselves”. Top and middle management was much more involved in shaping the company, and messages from personal conversation did not only reach their employees’ heads but also their hearts.

The results

Today an extended management board leads the company and supports their employees in discovering their own potentials: ‘The most important part of our success is our team,’ became the new slogan and thereby the basis for trusting teamwork.

Not all business challenges are solved but the strategic initiatives have paid off so that the economic situation of the company is no longer dangerous but stable, represented by a multiplication of profit. A clear project prioritization has a positive impact, role transparency and a facilitated coordination among sub-projects reduces efficiency losses and friction.

This allowed us to leave the stage, step by step. Or to put it in the words of the COO:

Normally I do not like consultants, but without you we couldn’t have done it.

Long live appreciative directness!