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Cooking Up Change at Barilla America

Change efforts often fail because sponsors don’t pay ongoing attention to the change initiatives they launch.

June 27, 2011
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Related Topics: Change Management, Management
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The goal of a recent change at Barilla America, according to Laura Birk, the company’s vice president of human resources, was to build a backbone of standard global business processes and information systems that would support Barilla’s double-digit growth. The switch to an SAP platform impacted 70 percent of the company’s roughly 470 employees.

Knowing a technology implementation can be painful even under the best circumstances, Birk said she wanted to proactively manage the change, instead of managing resistance to it later. She said there are several elements to leading a successful organizational change.

Build a strong change team: That may require learning leaders to pull in people from across the organization. To enable standardization of Barilla’s business processes and systems, Birk said she convened a group of technology experts, peer advocates as well as the most likely resisters to meet every other week throughout the change process. The standard agenda included the following questions:
• What worked well last week?
• What challenges have we bumped up against?
• What’s coming up in the next couple of weeks that we are not thinking about?
• How can we mitigate these or other change concerns?

Involve everyone: Another important strategy is to include everyone being asked to change their behavior in the actual change process. Birk said she told her people:

“In order for us to be successful, I need your help. I know you have a day job, but everyone is contributing to this strategic priority, and this is where I need your help. You know your team much better than I do. You can be their voice and make sure that we are hearing their voices in planning this change. You are really the engine behind whether this change will go well or not.”

While leaders may be able to move quickly in the early stages of a change, if they use a more traditional top-down approach and ignore employees’ questions and concerns, it will be difficult if not impossible to get the large-scale buy-in required for success. Instead, leaders will get compliance, not commitment.

Be clear on a communication strategy: Barilla’s communication strategy was high touch, low technology. One of the key tactics Birk used was regular face-to-face “Ask Ed” sessions led by the overall project leader. In these sessions, employees at all levels had a safe forum to voice questions and concerns, learn what was going on and what was coming next. While the company could have communicated via technology — after all this was a technology change — Birk said that wouldn’t have developed the same levels of trust or outcomes.

The sessions also allowed the change team to express its optimism for the process and the outcomes, which include: no employee turnover during the implementation process, which comprised a two-year timeframe, and no upset customers — none were even aware Barilla had made the switch to SAP. Employee response rates in subsequent change readiness surveys revealed that employees were pleasantly surprised the organization continued to seek out and act on their feedback throughout the change process. Survey response rates increased over time, and feedback got clearer and more actionable.

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