Slice of life

Brave, dynamic people are the
top of every organisation’s wish list. But rallying talk aside, how can you
actually make it happen? Sarah-Jane North examines the experiences of
SaraLee/Douwe Egberts

Consumer goods empire Sara
Lee/Douwe Egberts has a proud and dynamic history. The world-famous Douwe
Egberts coffee brand will be 250 years old in 2003 and its operating parent is
renowned for its aggressive and entrepreneurial approach to buying and selling
brands.

However, when the company
realised that the entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism which have been such a
key to its past success were in danger of being stifled by other company
policies, head of training and development Wim Heine acted swiftly.

Heine’s main task was to
convince the workforce that a move to centralise and streamline business
processes, among them marketing and sales, provided as many opportunities to
innovate as it posed perceived threats to creative freedom. Indeed, Heine
believes that centralised, simplified processes can create a freer environment
in which to work and be entrepreneurial.

“It is a mindset that
integrated processes are limiting and restricting. They can also allow
freedom,” he explains. “The space in which people operate may be smaller, the
boundaries may be tighter, but there is still a very large space left in which
to show creativity.”

In fact, challenging the
behind-the-scenes processes and systems is a key element to entrepreneurship in
Sara Lee/DE, according to Heine. The theory is that with the back office
processes aligned internationally, managers will be free to focus on
entrepreneurial opportunities in the front office, where the vital link to
local clients and customers is made and new trends develop.

“We have been good at things
such as speeding up the forces in the marketplace and identifying new
opportunities in the market, but we have been less good at challenging the back
office systems,” says Heine.

“The new entrepreneurs are
those that can challenge these systems. We have to find new ways of identifying
the barriers and blockers that prevent entrepreneurship.”

As part of a drive to encourage
more entrepreneurship, Heine commissioned occupational psychologist firm Pearn
Kandola to look into the influences on entrepreneurial behaviour and the
organisational structures that would support it.

Pearn Kandola made a series of
recommendations to ensure that people’s talents do not go to waste. These
recommendations included remodelling the company’s existing leadership style,
re-designing the standards used in recruitment and renewing the methods
employed to foster talent.

In March, Heine presented a
strategy to strengthen entrepreneurship in Sara Lee/DE to the management board.
The strategy included a proposal to assess potential managers on their capacity
for entrepreneurship, with the intention of identifying a group of pathfinders
and change agents to take the company forward.

To achieve this Heine has
conducted a series of workshops aimed at establishing the enablers and blockers
to entrepreneurship within the organisation’s structure.

Work has also started on
re-designing all the necessary human resources processes, including overhauling
the performance management system and almost all assessment and leadership
programmes.

The eight-point competency
framework, which is the international standard against which all employees are
assessed, is also being revised.

In addition to the established
indicators relating to risk-taking, versatility in a variety of business
situations and keeping abreast of trends, more emphasis is being placed on
understanding markets and customers, driving change and innovation, managing
knowledge and learning.

Corporate training programmes
are being adapted to focus on self-learning, supported by electronic tools such
as the company’s Intranet.

Heine has top management
backing for the development programmes he has devised to foster company
entrepreneurs.

“This is a top management
initiative. An important element of developing entrepreneurship is to increase
the management board’s exposure to people at different levels of the
organisation to increase their contact with young entrepreneurs,” he says.

A one-day seminar will also be
held so that the top management team and around 50 to 60 selected in-house
entrepreneurs can exchange ideas about removing barriers to creativity and
initiative.

But what about the remaining
staff, those not labelled entrepreneurs? How will they feel about be left out
of such high-level discussions?

“The prima donna effect is
certainly a danger when you single certain people out as entrepreneurs, but we
do not consider it to be a real problem for us. Our backbone people [in
administrative and support roles] understand that we need to harness the
potential of everyone in the organisation for the benefit of everyone in the
organisation. However, maybe we have to work to improve that understanding.”

Research:
action learning boosts careers

“When Orson Welles was signed
by Hollywood, he knew nothing about movie-making. But the studio told him to go
away and make a film and he produced the greatest movie ever made [Citizen
Kane
],” cites Binna Kandola, partner in occupational psychologists Pearn
Kandola, as an example of the entrepreneurship that can be achieved when someone
is given the freedom to explore and experiment.

Kandola also gives another more
recent example of the way in which fostering entrepreneurship can bring
benefits to business. In spite of the many bad practices employed in the dotcom
sector, the one element these fledgling companies had in common, regardless of
their subsequent success or failure, was the spirit of enterprise they
engendered.

“The most exciting thing about
the so-called ‘new economy’ was their let’s-have-a-go attitude,” asserts Kandola.

Pearn Kandola’s research
revealed the following findings. To create an entrepreneurial working
environment, people believe they should, and are allowed to:

– Be free to
associate with whomsoever they please

– Network both formally and
informally inside and outside the organisation

– Have access to the company’s
information on the job they are carrying out, to enable them to detect
entrepreneurial opportunities

– Freely, yet supportively,
challenge anyone in the company

– Respect each other as a
coach/mentor because of their specialised areas of expertise instead of as
bosses or authority figures

– Change

– Want extrinsic (ie monetary)
rewards for their performance

– Want intrinsic rewards (eg
recognition) for their performance

Pearn Kandola
concluded from its research that entrepreneurship becomes fundamental to an
organisation if the need to achieve new and better ways of working is greater
than the need for security and comfort.

Entrepreneurship is therefore
more likely to be encouraged by:

– Charismatic
leadership

– A “can-do”, blame-free
culture that recognises success and failure go hand-in-hand

– A fast-moving exciting
business environment

– Rewards and systems that
motivate people

– Employing the right people

– Commitment to gaining a real
understanding of marketing, strategy and teams

This
feature is from the June 2001 edition of Training. To subscribe, click here.

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