Higher education: a revolutionary transformation journey

Higher education: a revolutionary transformation journey

For our featured blog this week, Sarah spoke to Sravan Banerjee, Organisation Design and Change Management professional, who shared his insightful experience of a recent large scale change and transformation project that he led in the Higher Education sector, with a leading UK University.

Transformation – a word often used, maybe overused, that has numerous connotations on its own. It means different things to different organisations and even within the same organisation, there are multiple versions floating around.

However, the meaning of the word has never rung truer than during this unprecedented crisis we find ourselves in globally. Organisations today are battling challenges on multiple fronts not the least of which is how to stay operationally viable in the short term, but also take a long hard look at their longer-term operating model.

This challenge is sector agnostic and be it private or public most business leaders face similar challenges. The Higher Education sector interestingly has perhaps remained the last bastion – largely unchallenged in its ways of working and perhaps not feeling the need to challenge the status quo as much as other sectors.  

But with Brexit looming, the unrelenting onslaught of the pandemic and mounting operational pressures, the Higher Education (HE) sector faces venturing into the unchartered territory of transformation not only at the operational level but at a more fundamental level around its model and ways of working.

I was fortunate enough to have worked for a world-renowned client in the HE Sector who, while remaining one of the crown jewels of the Higher Education, realised early on the need to change. They embarked on a transformation journey that would fundamentally change their operating model to set up a revolutionary Shared Service Centre which would allow them to drive scale and be operationally efficient through extensive use of technology. This would ensure the enabling functions were true Centres of Excellence offering specialist advice and were true partners to the schools and colleges. Equally, this allowed the schools and colleges to focus their energy on academic pursuits and excellence and avoid duplication of accountabilities and capabilities – thus making them more outward focused.

The engagement was a learning experience like few others, as this was a ‘first off the blocks’ journey, both in terms of the scale of operation, as well as the mindset change.

The key takeaways for me are as follows:

  • Acknowledge the problem

The first step to fixing a problem is recognising there is one. My client was cognisant enough to recognise the challenges they faced in the coming years if they did not transform – hence felt the urgency to change. The critical takeaway for me here was how the senior figures within the University (including the Provost and Vice Provost) were starting to get behind the need to change. For me, that is one of the critical indicators of a successful change journey – the leadership recognising the problem and talking about it openly. Through that simple step, we had already started to make vital inroads into the change journey.

  • Treat everyone as a customer

An interesting lesson I learnt was how the client shifted its focus to a more customer-centric model. What I mean by that is:

-The academic fraternity looking at their corporate partners driving research grants, as customers and slowly moving to a more commercially focused and outcome-driven partnership with them.
-The University treating its existing and incoming students as customers and changing the ‘Customer/Student Experience Journey’ by identifying the various touchpoints for a student, reducing the number of interactions, and making each interaction meaningful.
-The enabling functions treating the schools and colleges as their customers and getting into ‘providing a superlative advisory service’ mindset.

  • Engage the right people

Change is not a dark room exercise where we go into a tunnel and magically emerge with a solution that works for everyone. It is painful, it is hard, and it takes courage. Most importantly it takes engagement with the right set of people to take them along on the journey. My client realised this early on in the process and set up numerous avenues to engage and interact with people (surveys, learning cafes, Communities of Practice) to ensure colleagues felt ‘they were doing it’ instead of ‘it being done to them’. It was not always easy. It did feel at times that we were regressing but carrying on the engagement process in the spirit it was started was ultimately the difference between success and failure.

  • A shift in ways of working and mindset

Perhaps the single largest piece of the puzzle was the internal shift – not only in ways of working but what that meant for the operational mindset within the University. Of course, Op Model and Org Design helped translate strategy into ways of working and provided clear roles and accountabilities. But implementing that design required a broad change narrative around ‘the why’ and more importantly required the schools and colleges to be comfortable with the fact that some capabilities would not be dedicated/siloed into their structures. The critical message to get across was ‘they were not losing a capability’ but rather ‘gaining a multitude of specialist services’ that would free up their time to focus on what they love doing most. This was the key message we iterated again and again (and again) with our academic stakeholders. This open channel of communication was critical for success with my client and went a long way to support the implementation of the change journey.

  • Eye of the prize

Lastly, one of the key things that my client did consistently well, was to keep their focus on the desired outcomes for the change. When kicking off a major transformation piece, it is very easy for it to snowball into something else entirely and before you know it, it has grown arms and legs and is an industry on its own. To prevent this from happening, my client had a set of 4/5 desired outcomes which were agreed at the very onset of the programme and from which they never wavered. This helped contain the scope of the Transformation piece effectively and just as importantly allowed us to iterate and re-iterate a set of key messages which ultimately became the engine for the change journey.

Sravan offers Organisation Design and Change Management services. You can find more about what Sravan on LinkedIn here.

Simplifying the ‘Change Journey’ – can a Change Advisory Board help?

Simplifying he change journey

A change-advisory board (CAB) delivers support to a change-management team by approving requested changes, assisting in the assessment and prioritisation of changes.   A CAB is an integral part of a defined change-management process designed to balance the need for change with the need to minimise inherent risks. 

The CAB members should selectively be chosen to ensure that the requested changes are thoroughly checked and assessed from both a technical and business perspective. The considered change will dictate the required personnel to convene in a CAB meeting.  

A CAB offers multiple perspectives necessary to ensure proper decision-making. For example, a decision made solely by IT may fail to recognise the concerns of accounting. The CAB is tasked with reviewing and prioritising requested changes, monitoring the change process and providing managerial feedback. 

How do you manage a CAB effectively? 

Here are four good tips to running a CAB: 

1. Get the agenda out early and encourage discussions before the CAB. 
Don’t wait until the last minute to publish the upcoming CAB schedule. One of the frustrating things about attending CABs is that attendees often don’t really know much about the changes until they get to the meeting. Publish the list early so attendees have a chance to get up to speed on the proposed changes. This way, they can get with change requestors and sponsors before the meeting to get a clear understanding of what is proposed. If you don’t, then your CAB will be overtaken with efforts to solve any personal issues people have with proposed changes. 

2. DECISION MAKERS attend the CAB. 
The CAB members should be selected based on their knowledge and meaningful input to the meeting. What happens when CAB invitees can’t make it and send their designated hitters? Simple: ensure that then people attending have the authority to speak on the behalf of the person they are sitting in for. There’s nothing more frustrating than discussing a change and a key role says “I don’t think I can speak on that, I’ll have to get approval from my boss.” If they can’t speak on behalf of their boss, then they don’t need to be there. You can either clarify this need with the attendees before the meeting, or reschedule the discussion to a later CAB when the key personnel can attend. 

3. Know your decision thresholds. 
Do not attempt to approve a change that is bigger than you. Follow your organisation’s governance guidelines and determine the rules to decision making. This means that you should know exactly what thresholds (pound amount, risk level, impact, urgency, etc.) you are capable of approving. 

4. Careful not to get into “rubber stamping.” 

Many CABs get overwhelmed with complex and numerous changes. The pressures of getting through these changes during a meeting are enormous. This often results in sloppy approvals that may not receive proper assessment – and can cause incidents once deployed. Ensure that every change request receives the proper attention by scheduling enough time to discuss them. Also, be careful not to blindly approve a request simply based on who is requesting it. I remember a situation where a CAB approved a change simply based on who was requesting it. This “rubber stamp” approval resulted in a poorly managed deployment that caused several hours of downtime. The lesson learned here is that it doesn’t matter who is asking, every change must have the proper amount of analysis and scrutiny. 

To discuss this article further, you can email me on danny@refind.co.uk

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Restructure in retail – will the changes prove counter-productive?

Restructure in retail

Tesco has launched a consultation with 9,000 workers as it ramps up efforts to build a “simpler, more sustainable business”. 

The supermarket giant is proposing a raft of changes that will affect staff working on in-store counters and in stock management, merchandising, staff canteens and head office operations. 

It has been a constant theme during Dave Lewis’ four years in charge of Tesco – building a simpler, more sustainable business, focused on serving customers better. 

On Monday, Tesco revealed the latest phase of that long and arduous journey during a series of emotionally charged meetings with staff. 

The grocer is streamlining its operations across a number of areas, which will impact 9,000 staff. Around half of them are expected to lose their jobs

Service counters such as fishmonger’s, butcher’s and delicatessens will close in 90 Tesco stores. The number of hours required on merchandising will be slashed as the grocery giant reduces the number of layout changes it makes in its supermarkets. 

Similarly, there will be a “significantly reduced workload” for those working on stock management as new technologies track gaps on shelves. Staff canteens will no longer have a hot food service – negating the need to employ third-party caterers – and 500 jobs will be axed at head office as the retailer moves to a “simpler and leaner structure” at Welwyn Garden City. 

Basic economics 

Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne, a former Tesco director, also understands the motivations behind the grocer’s sweeping changes. 

He believes they would have been “planned and executed over several years”, rather than being a knee-jerk reaction to the “competitive and challenging market’”. 

Those challenges have been born out much more than the changing shopper habits Tarry alludes to. A perfect storm of rising rents, ballooning business rates, the increasing popularity of online shopping and the relentless onslaught of the discounters has forced Tesco – and its big four rivals – to radically rethink operations. 

“The increased wage costs, National Insurance contributions, business rates and the like will all contribute to the basic economics of the counter operation making little sense in many stores,” Grocery Insight director Steve Dresser says. 

The emergence of the discounters as a mainstay of British food shopping has also played a big part in Tesco’s streamlining. The supermarket giant is bidding to regain a group margin of 3.5% to 4% by 2020, and so operating in a more efficient fashion – in the way that Aldi and Lidl so famously do – has been a central driver. 

But the growth of the German duo has had some potentially unforeseen consequences. As Tesco ploughed investment into its entry-level ranges – creating the successful stable of ‘Exclusively at Tesco’ brands – shoppers have been slowly lured away from the service counters that were so long seen as a crucial differentiator between big-four operators and their discount counterparts. 

“The irony with this strategy is that chasing discounters in meat, fish and cooked meats has led to a strengthening of the value tier in terms of price points and range, designed to stop discounters establishing a price gap,” Dresser explains. 

“However, if you make your aisle of product cheaper and certainly equivalent to discounters’, then there are fewer reasons to visit the service counters unless you are a real die-hard shopper.” 

Beware the pitfalls 

The finances, then, seem to stack up. But could the changes have an adverse effect on the store experience? It is a pitfall that both Sainsbury’s and Asda have fallen into in the not-too-distant past. 

Both grocers made radical changes to store teams over the past few years, most recently Sainsbury’s when it “reset” its shopfloor structure in 2018. The business “streamlined” the number of in-store roles, creating five “broader” positions – down from the 22 it used to offer. 

But availability in its stores suffered during a hectic summer of trading, as its supermarkets struggled to keep up with demand heightened by the heatwave and England’s surprise progression in the World Cup. Those issues were not fully addressed ahead of the crucial Christmas period, despite the protestations of boss Mike Coupe. 

Similar fears may well be raised among analysts and Tesco investors after it said it had “found a simpler way to conduct store routines”, which would be rolled out to all its shops. 

Clive Black, head of research at M&S and Morrisons house broker Shore Capital, is among those who admits he will be “watching with heightened interest to see overall availability in the estate over time” as the new model filters through. 

Roberts, however, has few concerns and suggests some of the hours freed up from the service counters could be used to make sure customer service and availability do not deteriorate in a similar fashion. 

“You can tell that counter staff aren’t all rushed off their feet. If they can be redeployed elsewhere to contribute a lot more to customer service, or to improve availability, then arguably that’s a better use of their time and Tesco’s money than standing behind a quiet service counter. I wouldn’t read too much into it in terms of the impact it will have on the broader offer,” he argues. 

Minor risk 

But could the loss of those counters – and the expert knowledge that employees working on them are supposed to provide – ultimately lead to a loss of customers? After all, Morrisons sees its market street proposition of butchers, bakers and fishmongers as a key USP – and that could leave it well-positioned to reap the rewards of Tesco’s move. 

“To some shoppers, at least, counters are an important part of how they shop. It might be the case that this is a deal-breaker for them and they will shop elsewhere,” Roberts says. 

“The obvious choice for those shoppers would be Morrisons and, to a lesser extent, Waitrose. Indies as well might be able to step up to the plate on meat and fish in particular. But ultimately, fresh fish in the UK is such a microscopic part of our way of life that not many people are going to miss those counters. 

“So the overall risk of Tesco losing customers is minor. It doesn’t appear that a lot of shoppers are habitually frequenting the counters and spending a lot of money through them.” 

Echoing Roberts’ views, Monteyne concludes that “the plan reassures us in many ways” and insists the impact on Tesco’s quality credentials “should be minimal”. 

But the effect on costs should be more visible. Monteyne estimates Tesco will save between £150m and £170m a year as a result of the latest structural changes. About 70% of those benefits will be felt in 2019/20 – the year Tesco is aiming to return group margins to that magic figure of almost 4%. 

Monteyne’s ultimate conclusion should ring in the ears of Tesco’s critics and rivals: “Anybody doubting the Tesco margin recovery should think again.” 

Click here to read the full article by Retail Week 

To discuss this further, you can email me on danny@refind.co.uk

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector.

Predictions for retail this year

Predictions for retail

As we head into 2019, we’re facing a pretty uncertain time. While 2018 was a year of growth for many retailers and brands, accelerated by tax cuts and low unemployment, 2019 is more precarious. The stock market is in flux, many retailers are facing the reality of steepening tariffs, emerging markets are flexing their muscles as they take on a greater share of global growth and it’s anyone’s guess on which way the wind might blow fickle consumers and their expectations for connectivity around every transaction. 

That said, you could also say that the glass is more than half full and that these challenges also present opportunities for savvy retailers and brands willing to face the winds head on. Here are 10 key points on what the retail industry should expect in 2019. 

Click here to read the full article by Forbes but here is an overview: 

1. Retailers will get personal with zero-party data 

Consumers are becoming more aware of their rights thanks to Facebook and GDPR, which is making way for a new age of privacy and personalisation. If 2018 was the year that marketers were forced to wean themselves off third-party data sets, 2019 will be the year they shift to “zero-party data.”  

2. Small is the new big 

Digitally-native and niche brands have come on the scene over the last couple of years, and 2019 will be the year that the growth of these brands will eclipse the growth of traditional retailers – and not only in their online businesses. 

3. Customer-centricity will go mainstream 

Retailers have been saying they want to “put the customer at the center of everything they do” for the past two or three years, but have struggled with how best to scale this. In 2018, retailers learned that simply monitoring social media is not enough. We believe that, thanks to the adoption of technologies like Voice of Consumer (VoC) Analytics, 2019 will be the year that the industry actually makes the customer-centric model happen. Offers a robust solution that enables them to determine what their customers want and also to deliver it – with speed and at scale. 

4. Retailers and consumers will begin to feel the weight of tariffs 

Retailers will be faced with making decisions in 2019 to determine the categories and products they raise in price and push the cost increases onto the customers, and where they need to absorb the cost increases themselves. This may force retailers to evaluate whether it makes sense to exit certain categories if they cannot sell product profitably.  We all wait on the outcome…

5. Algorithms take control 

Retail has long been driven by savvy merchants who had a penchant for following their gut to the right product selections and it has been an art far more than a science. But as more retailers implement innovative tools to leverage consumer data – whether to confirm the merchant’s gut feeling, or to guide decisions altogether – 2019 will be the year when the true science of retail takes hold. 

6. Millennials will flock to brands – they will want luxury 

Millennial purchasing power continues to increase.  By 2025, Bain & Co. forecasts that Millennials and Generation Z will represent 45% of the global personal luxury goods market.  This is a great opportunity for luxury brands, but it’s also a challenge since younger consumers think and shop differently than their parents. 

7. Baby Boomers will constrict spending in a much bigger way 

Along with the growth of Millennial spending, comes the decline of spending by Baby Boomers.  Millennials are expected to overtake Boomers in population in 2019 as their numbers swell to 73 million, while Boomers decline to 72 million. But the Boomer segment is still a huge cohort whose spending habits drive the economy. 

8. Apple jumps the shark 

A warning to Apple aficionados:  The Crown of Cupertino is losing its luster.  We haven’t seen any real innovation from Apple in years – with only incremental enhancements to the iPhone and Mac since 2010.  Apple has grown revenues by increasing prices – the average selling price of an iPhone in 2018 was $765 which was up 20% from 2017, while unit sales have flattened out. 

9. Amazon: Prime membership plateaus and prices increase 

Amazon’s growth of Prime membership is showing signs of slowing down. At 55 percent, just over half of the U.S. is subscribed to Prime, which is about the same as in 2017.  This was the first year that Prime membership did not increase. Some of this may be due to the fact that Amazon raised the Prime membership price in May to $119, but it is more likely a function of reaching a saturation point in the U.S. market. 

10. The final divide of retail winners vs losers 

2018 saw additional retail bankruptcies, and 2019 will be the year of the final shakeout.  Most of the winners and losers have been decided, but several more will hit the mat this year.   

As in any year, 2019 will have a tremendous amount of opportunity for those who spot the trends and position their companies to capitalise on them. 

To discuss this further, you can email me on danny@refind.co.uk

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector.

Generation Z: understand retail’s chief disruptors

Generation Z: understand retail’s chief disruptors
Generation Z: understand retail’s chief disruptors

Meet Generation Z. Impatient, frugal and with ambitions to save the world, the first generation of true digital natives demand a simple retail experience and substantial discounts from brands that have strong ethics. And yet, confounding expectations, they might not be quite as attached to online shopping as stereotypes suggest.  

Categorised as consumers born in 1996 or later, this rapidly growing consumer demographic is shaking up retail in a big way. Gen Z has never known a world without mobile technology. Compare this with their older millennial cohorts who used floppy disks at university and remember a time before Facebook, and this defines how each generation acts both online and off. Gen Z will comprise 32% of the global population in 2019, passing millennials (31.5%) for the first time. 


I have recently read a report titled ‘Generation Z:  The shopping and work habits of retail’s chief disruptors’ and wanted to share some of the information.  You can click here to access the original report.  I think the report will help retailers better understand this group as consumers and employees and offer guidance on how to harness the spending power of a generation that could swipe before they could talk. 

Here is an overview of what is in the report: 

  • Gen Z’s shopping, technology and social media habits 
  • What influences them to choose a retailer and make a purchase 
  • How to create successful strategies to target this demographic
  • How to engage Gen Z as part of the retail workforce 

To discuss this further, you can email me on danny@refind.co.uk. 

re:find help businesses find the talent they need to deliver transformational change.  Clients call us when they need change to happen quickly and effectively. We are Executive Search and Interim Search specialists. 

Click here to read about what we do specifically in the retail sector. 

Insider story – how to tackle a HR transformation project

Wondering how you’re going to tackle that next big transformation project as well as keeping your sanity intact? Wonder no more, in this blog we talked to Peter Cablis from HR consulting firm Evolving HR about managing a large, complex HR transformation project for Jaguar Land Rover. Peter talks about what was involved in the project and shares his key lessons learnt.

Embarking on a mission critical HR transformation project? Keep your cool with these key insights from Peter Cablis, from Jaguar Land Rover.

“The modern world is volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous and organisations have had to become like rapid-reaction forces, needing to respond quickly, flex and adapt to suit an ever-changing world. HR professionals have needed to adapt too and have been required to manage multiple change programmes over their careers.

No doubt many of you have learned valuable lessons during the change programmes, but how many of you wished you had gone into the experience armed with the wisdom you were set to gain after the project?

While we can’t send you into the future, we can at least give you some insight into the wisdom we gained from a recent large scale, complex transformation programme involving:

  • Multiple business areas and sites
  • The introduction of new technology & major office refurbishment
  • Ordering and trialling of new equipment
  • The transition of new people into a department and their training
  • A major cultural shift for how HR transacts with the business and how business needs to operate
  • Limited budget and finite time for implementation
  • A culture of low accountability and silo’s

Despite these challenges, the project delivered, on time, to budget and was exactly what the customer wanted. So what were the secrets to this successful programme and what can be learned for future HR change programmes? We share a few of the key insights below (this is not an exhaustive list but serves as a guide):

1. Clearly scope out the project. Have clear timelines, measurements and milestones for each activity and phase of the project.

2. Know the skills and experience you need on the project and select the right people. Ensure they are fully dedicated and clear about their role in delivering the project.

3. Be clear who the key stakeholders are and engage with them right at the start.

4. Ensure everyone on the project is clear on their roles and what they are accountable for.

5. Set up a clear project governance board, with the right operational people from the project and the right key stakeholders. Review weekly/daily each part of the project as it proceeds. Make sure there is a ‘Risk, Actions, Issues and Dependencies’ log. Just as importantly, ensure all members of the project team are kept informed of changes and impacts to the overall project and their areas. Consult regularly with them and don’t be reluctant to refine the project plan if required.

6. Chunk the project down into its component parts, so that it becomes manageable and if required have distinct work streams.

7. Always ‘check in’ with the end users/people most likely to be affected by the change, to see if you have missed anything in the project.

8. Have a clear communication and feedback work stream. Consider how the change may affect the end users and adapt both your style of communication and the method of communication accordingly. Use multiple mediums to reach out to these people, including workshops, feedback groups, presentations, regular bulletins and blogs and intranet. Keep the flow of communication going throughout the project.

Thank you to Peter for sharing his knowledge and if you would like to know how to keep your cool and perhaps your sanity during a big-ticket, high-pressure, HR transformation project please contact Peter at EvolvingHR on info@evolvinghr.co.uk.


To discuss further, you can email me on James@refind.co.uk.

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.

The resurgence of M&A activity and what you can do to get it right

The resurgence of M&A activity
The resurgence of M&A activity


We’ve always been really proud to partner with some of the most prominent change agents in the market knowledge. A few years ago we interviewed someone who was leading the way from a people change perspective to talk about the latest trends, innovations and transformations. It’s still very current so we wanted to re-share.

The interview focused on the resurgence of M&A activity and what you can do to get it right. Liz Phillips from the FTSE250, restaurant and pubs business, Mitchells & Butlers shared her insights, knowledge and experiences with us. We talked to her about the process of buying and integrating the Orchid Pub Group and what made the project a success!

Talking Acquisition Integration with Liz Phillips, Director of Resourcing & Employee Relations, from M&B.

“Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) acquired the majority of The Orchid Group – comprising of 173 pubs and a fully operational Head Office – in June 2014, for £266m. The deal expanded the M&B share of the growing pub and restaurant market in line with its strategy. The aim was to convert the majority of sites, such as Harvester, Toby Carvery, Ember, Miller & Carter and Castle and Vintage Inns, to M&B brands and formats over a two year period. The average weekly take of M&B brands was £22.7k, compared to £15.3k in The Orchid Group. The expected savings and synergies from rationalisation and support functions were c.£6m per annum – definitely worth it!

A Board of Directors were appointed to lead the Company; Operations, Finance, HR and Programme Planning. This was a senior leadership team with clear accountability for all aspects of operating the business successfully and the integration. The team had not previously worked together but quickly established a strong rapport recognising each other’s roles, responsibilities and areas of strength.

“The priority was to ensure effective and ongoing communication with all 4,000 employees throughout the business from day one.” Liz explained.

The aim was to explain the wider business context and plans and provide regular updates throughout the period of integration. It was important to understand the cultural differences and psychological impact of change on all people within the business, particularly in closing the Head Office, to keep the business running effectively in the medium term.

“The people were amazing, supportive and open with us. Whilst we did everything we could to involve, reward and communicate, we really couldn’t have done it successfully without them. There have been ongoing 121s, briefings, newsletters, weekly updates, roadshows, training courses, match making for roles and conferences. We recognised aspects of the way they did business which we admired, particularly certain aspects of operational practices which knew we could learn from and have introduced into M&B.”

In terms of leading HR, the emphasis was to continue to recruit, develop and retain people to run the businesses in a rapidly changing environment. We closed the office early in 2015 affecting c.100 people. There were a number of redundancies, however, the focus has been on deployment and employability to enhance people’s skills and experiences for their future employment.

“The plan has now been delivered and performance is looking good from an employee engagement, scorecard and ROI perspective!”

A huge thank you to Liz for sharing her experiences of leading an acquisition programme and the challenges they encountered. We hope you found it useful.

To discuss further, you can email me on James@refind.co.uk.

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.

The Interim role at board level

Business change and transformation moved to centre stage following the recession and it’s remained there! Many businesses, particularly those who have lost talented staff at all levels, now have the opportunity for growth, but with a host of new challenges. These challenges include new competitors, technology and changing markets and businesses beginning to realise that they can’t “transform” gradually. They need to make a step change and that’s where the ‘Professional Interim Executive’ earns their money and reputation.

The vision

It starts with the CEO or a Chairman, who has the vision. Sometimes this individual is also an interim recruited by a parent company or arriving via private equity. But more frequently, it is someone internal who recognises the challenge and, whilst valuing the talents of their existing team, knows they need help. They are too embedded in the organisation to be able to take a fresh view without external help. Often, the first challenge for an interim at board level, is to convince senior colleagues that they are not there to ease them out. (Although sometimes that is necessary!) Their role is to help them take a fresh view of their business, the market, the customers and the operating processes. Then develop and implement new strategies that will make change happen immediately.


What has changed “post-recession” is the speed of change. Whilst businesses have always had change, there has been an acceptance that “change doesn’t happen overnight” and it can’t happen if the whole organisation isn’t on board. To use an analogy, “a long journey starts with a small step”. In 2014, that small step needed to be a leap, followed by a number of big steps, otherwise the change would falter and come to a halt.

In 2019, it is much of the same. Change is very important for businesses and bringing in an interim can help to make change happen quickly and effectively. It is even more fundamental now with all the uncertainty for businesses around Brexit.

The interim role

Businesses bring in interims at different levels in the organisation. Sometimes to lead particular projects, sometimes to fill vacancies during a recruitment process and sometimes because a function/departmental head has seen the need to “transform” their particular function. All valid reasons for recruiting an interim. But real change has to come from the top and that requires the main ‘change agent’ to be operating at the ‘Senior Leadership Team’ level. It doesn’t have to be the CEO, however, clearly the CEO has to be receptive and supportive.

It is an exciting time to be an interim. But it’s vital for the future and the reputation of the profession, that we recognise that whilst you need to be committed to any business you work with, as an interim you are not “part of the business”. You are there to give a fresh perspective. Once you begin to feel part of the business, it’s time to end the contract!

Paul Duncan is the founder of Duncan Paul Ltd, an experienced HR/Change Director and Business Expert. Paul provides consultancy providing strategic advice on the management of Change Management, Business Transformation, Business Strategy and Planning, Organisational Design and Development, and Employee Relations (Union Negotiation at all levels).

James Cumming is our MD and leads our HR practice. He has recruited senior HR professionals for over 15 years and has experience in finding niche HR talent. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

If you would like to find out more about re:find and how we can support you and your business, then please get in touch.

What is organisational development?


What is organisational development?
What is organisational development?


A lot has changed since I started re:find 4 years ago, but the principles are still the same. I want to help make your business better, through recruiting the right people!

I want to go back to the start and look into my world of organisational development (OD). As an OD expert, I help build high performing businesses. Yes, it is a fancy title. So what is it exactly that I do?

OD is about how organisations’ function and, more importantly, how they can work better. There is no one single OD theory, but there are plenty of best practice models that give discipline to my work which is a combination of “hard” and “soft” issues.

Hard issues such as the external environment, vision, strategy, structure, tasks and skills. Soft issues such as culture, values, work climate, motivation, management practices and individual needs. Hard or soft, my end game is always to help your business achieve great individual and organisational performance.

Re-creating your strategy
Technological, demographic and geographic change is constant, whether we like it not. I have a view that organisational development (OD) should be a constant, organic, evolving process of change, improvement and development to meet what is an ever-changing internal and external market.

What does this mean for you, the business leader? There are one-off situations where a leader finds something that they find distinctly undesirable and wants to change it. Mostly, OD is about being on the ball, revisiting core business capabilities, revising old strategies or implementing new strategies to make sure that your business survives and thrives, in line with the market.

So I encourage my clients to think about the product, where it sits in its sector, competitors, suppliers, customers, technological advances and the threat of new entrants into the market – the stuff of Porter’s five forces.

Are you a market leader or follower? Are you asset light or asset heavy? Who’s doing something new out there? Keep your market intelligence up to date. As Jack Welch once said, “Change before you have to.”

When you make a change to a strategy it always has a knock-on on effect on certain areas of the business – structure, process, people and culture. Some experts will argue which is affected first. Stop! All are interconnected and have to be considered in the round.

So, exactly what part do I play? Well, I help you to recreate your strategy.

Changing strategy means some of your core processes will change. Your team, using their end to end technical process knowledge, will now need to assess, analyse, discover, redefine and redesign certain processes. This will be key to maintaining and improving service to customers and should not be rushed.

You will need a disciplined method of considering workflow design, IT, motivation and measurement, policies and rules, people, resources and facilities.

I can help you redefine the process. Some folk call it ‘business process re-engineering’.

The new process will impact the structure and reorganisation of staff, resources and facilities. Policy led and technological systems will have to be addressed.

Technology is an enabler for strategy. Since the days of the Luddites, technological advances have meant that smart machinery has replaced skilled workforces and that the smart machinery has required a new set of technical expertise to maintain and develop.

I can help you to design the proposed organisation model.

Today, we are all technologists with our smartphones, iPads and social media, but most people still don’t like change. Communicating your logic and passion for change, consulting and listening and remaining organized, tenacious, sensitive to reactions, adaptable and resilient will help you to make a successful change.

I can help you gain acceptance of change and manage the transformation programme.

Your current core capabilities, management systems and culture are likely to limit your ability to implement the new strategy and will also need to be adjusted.

Company culture is difficult to change and sometimes it is a case of “working with what you have got” and morphing it into “what you need”, to drive the strategy. Leadership, reward, training, employee branding, recruitment, management practices and other motivating factors can be introduced to help culture evolve. Perhaps the most powerful impact on culture comes from a good learning infrastructure.

Your culture is unique and I can help you call on the creativity, best practices and lesson learned from other organisations.

Darwin once said, “It’s not the strongest species that survive, or even the most intelligent. It is those most adaptable to change”.

He has a point you know!

Ruth Gawthorpe is the founder of The Change Directors. She is an expert in Organisational Devlopment, HR and Change Management and works with organisations to help them build high performance cultures. Ruth is passionate about using her skills to support executive teams to get the results quickly and smoothly and would like to share her lessons learned and wisdom with you.


To discuss further, you can email me on James@refind.co.uk.

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here.

Insider story: The war on talent – Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation

Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation
Dr. Marten’s impressive cultural transformation

For this instalment of ‘Insiders Story’ Helen Verwoert – Global HR Director of Dr. Martens kindly spared a couple of hours of her time to talk to me about the Dr. Martens journey.

Dr. Martens is an iconic British brand founded in 1960 in Northamptonshire. Originally produced for workers looking for tough, durable boots, the brand was quickly adopted by diverse youth subcultures and associated with musical movements. Dr. Martens have since transcended their working-class roots, while still celebrating their proud heritage and, nearly six decades later, “Docs” or “DMs” are worn by people around the world who use them as a symbol of empowerment and their own individual attitude. Dr. Martens currently trades in 58 countries worldwide.

Now based in Camden, arguably the hippest area of London, Dr. Martens is a globally dominant household name – with a brand and identity to make the edgiest of retailers jealous. However, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. After threats of bankruptcy in the early noughties Dr. Martens were acquired by a business in 2013.

Dr. Martens firm set out ambitious plans to generate £400million revenue in four years, doubling headcount and increasing stores globally from 15 to over 100 – no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. With the company being so fiercely independent in their approach, their brand and identity were at risk of being diluted.

Helen joined the brand in 2013, shortly before the sale, so she had the opportunity to work with the family first hand.  Speaking of why she joined Dr. Martens, Helen said, ‘I loved the brand. There’s something different about us, we do it our way.’

And she isn’t wrong. Whilst the fundamentals of employee engagement and cultural development are similar from company to company, what Dr. Martens have done is create something that is very unique to themselves and it really sets them apart from the rest.


Rebellious self expression

Helen and the team knew what made Dr. Martens special, but it was crucial for them to define this more formally.

‘It became key for us to define who we are and what our expectations are. What do we love, what do we preserve and equally what do we evolve? There is a lot of superficial shit around culture. What is different about us is, whether you are a consumer or an employee, you get the same experience from us.’

Focus groups were held over a period of 6 months that involved employees from different areas and levels of seniority across the business and from this, the essence of the business was extracted. ‘Rebellious Self Expression’ – a simple, powerful and memorable phrase which was at the heart of everything they do.

After the focus groups and much thought and discussion, Dr. Martens went ‘On The Record’, quite literally, by printing their ambitions, purpose and fundamental beliefs on 7 inch vinyl, complete with artwork and sleeve.


Culture vultures and a revelation in social networking

As we all know, developing and maintaining a great culture isn’t just about sticking some values on a fancy disc and sending it to your employees. Culture isn’t a gimmick.

Helen went out to the business to ask for volunteers to be culture ambassadors – and was amazed to get over 40 responses – the ‘Culture Vultures’ was born.

The responsibility of ‘Culture Vultures’ was to live and breathe ‘doing things the DM way’ looking at mental health & wellbeing, how they could make meaningful connections, as well as collaborating internally and connecting with key charities and local communities to create opportunities to be able to give something back.

The Vultures learnt that nurturing a culture wasn’t about quick wins – sure the free food and office parties were nice, but that’s wasn’t what made Dr. Martens the business it is.

‘The Culture Vultures have really been getting traction from the business, they have got buy in from senior leadership and it has empowered them to see how we work as a business’.

They have developed and embedded some amazing initiatives including ‘CultureAmp’, an intuitive online employee engagement platform, which provides real-time results and feedback.

A real game changer is – LifeWorks. LifeWorks is an internal social networking platform for all Dr. Martens employees, implemented to help keep people connected, rewarded, recognised and supported. It combines a live newsfeed, employee benefits, an EAP service and a colleague directory, with people being able to post live updates from their sites and give each other recognition.

Helen admits ‘In the past our comms wasn’t great – but with Lifeworks everyone around the world can see what we are up to – from HQ, to the stores and the factory teams, everyone has really embraced it’.

The war on talent

Of course, the key to any great culture is getting the right people. Helen admits they haven’t always got it right. ‘We have to hire people who understand the journey we have been on and where we are going.’

‘We tend to find that when we do interview people, they have an affinity in the brand. We have had people tell us that they were never allowed a pair of Docs as a child, or that they remember their first pair of boots – where, when and why they bought them.’

With DM still on such a huge trajectory, they need agility and adaptability in their employees, as well as having the right leaders to embody the vision of the business. And sometimes this means not hiring the obvious choice.

As a business, they have a flat structure, there is a lack of hierarchy, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but boy do they know how to get shit done!

Now at 103 stores globally, a new CEO and seeing exceptional sales globally, Dr. Martens haven’t lost who they are. Their leaders know what’s going on in their business.

Everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the senior management team are warm, friendly and take the time to understand you as an individual. It is rare in a business you can be unashamedly true to yourself and have that welcomed with open arms.

So…what next?

‘More of the same!’ is Helen’s answer. And who can blame her?

What she and the rest of the business have achieved in the last 5 years is nothing short of remarkable.


For all things interim management, change & transformation, get in touch with us via the info form below, and if you would like to feature in our ‘Insiders Story’ blog, email me on kate@refind.co.uk.


You can view more about Kate Wass our executive interim specialist here.