Grasping the Change Nettle: How Vodafone got it Right

Jason made a solemn vow never to lose his mobile again…

Someone recently asked me: “What percentage of your time do you spend on strategic projects versus time spent on A&E type stuff?” Because Tandem Consulting are primarily in the Organization Development business, I would like to have responded that it’s about 80:20. But it would have been a lie. The reality is the other way around. Most projects are shorter-term, problem based. Why? Because most organizations operate on dipped headlights. We work alongside them trying to remove immediate roadblocks. That’s fine as far as it goes and our team is happy to work on whatever clients set as the agenda (they pay the bills). But, it’s difficult not to hanker for the long view, to wish that now and again, an organization would flick onto blinding blue-beam headlights and look further out the road.

IBEC Conference: On Thursday, 11th October I was at the HR Leadership Summit in the National Convention Centre. It’s a good forum to shake hands with old buddies and to keep an eye on competitors. Vodafone presented one of the sessions, with the CEO and the HRD taking to the stage. Here’s a summary of their story…

Tired Brand: In the last couple of years, there has been a huge amount of competitive activity in the Irish telecoms marketplace. It had been costly (advertising) and confusing for the punters who found it hard to differentiate the offerings (you’d need a PhD from MIT to figure out the ‘special offers’ in text and talk time). In this turbulent space, Vodafone had been slipping in the performance statistics.

Perfect Storm: When the company hired a new CEO Joroen Hoencamp and Director of Human Resources, Rachel Mooney (no relation), they decided that something radical was needed. What happened next was a textbook example, a Masterclass in how to deliver fundamental change – way beyond tinkering at the margins. The presentation ran through a number of detailed changes around leadership, performance management and annual hours – too numerous to recount here. One element called ‘Project Soul’ asked staff “what’s it like to work here?” and “what could it be like?” and ended with an overhaul of the physical building. I was amazed at the radicalism of this solution. How many CEO’s would really give up their corner office and hot-desk along with everyone else? In my experience, even when organizations shift to open plan offices, the CEO space is usually about the size of the pitch in Croke Park. Not here.

Key Elements: There were a number of noteworthy elements. Firstly, it was good to witness the confidence displayed by the executives, which never spilled over into arrogance; while proud, it didn’t veer into ‘this is how we changed the world’. I liked the fact that they were open about how difficult the journey was – certainly no walk in the park. I really liked the fact that they invited people to come and see the results for themselves (prediction: Vodafone HQ will become a site for industrial tourism). I loved that they proved their case by showing a range of before and after metrics. And the ‘revamped building’ solution was a perfect fit with the Vodafone brand (working on the move). It probably helped that the CEO is from Holland (readers with an interest in Sociology will already know that the Dutch culture has the lowest ‘social distance’ scores in the world; while not completely classless, it’s miles away from the traditional hierarchical forms of organization where many of us served our managerial apprenticeship).

Beautiful Thing: So often we hear or read about misguided leadership. About management failures and underperformance. About snail-paced change programmes that don’t deliver real change. This was the opposite. A great turnaround story, told exceptionally well, with a positive, proven outcome. Even the cynics in the audience seemed impressed. Great leadership is a thing of beauty, something to be celebrated.

Central Question: The question posed for the rest of us is simple. Would you have the guts to take on something this big, this complex? Could you tolerate the ambiguity, leaping off the side of an existing (but underperforming) mountain into a ‘managerial unknown’? Perhaps you are hoping to do things just a little bit better, ignoring the fact that when the world changes radically, yesterday +10% is not going to cut it. One of the other presenters at the conference, Professor Derek Mowbray, summing up the need for organizational alertness, used the phrase: “Complacency is Cancer”. Some organizations are already on message. Are you?

Paul Mooney

PS: Lighter Note: Are you addicted to your Cell Phone? Ask yourself these questions.

1. Do parts of your body tingle when you get free mobile phone minutes?

2. Does raising your children interfere with programming your speed dial?

3. Do you have long-distance conversations while sitting on the toilet?
4. Does the term fashion statement mean matching your outfit with your cell phone carrying case?
5. In a car accident, is your first response “Can you hold on a moment, I’m hemorrhaging?”
6. Do you use the menu light for reading in bed?
7. If you forget your phone on a night out, does it drive you insane that you can’t check messages (with a dreadful feeling that perhaps you will miss a call from Bill Clinton)?
8. When receiving a phone call, do you ask the film projectionist to lower the volume of the movie?

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact paul@tandemconsulting.ie and we will add them to the mailing list. If you’d like to have a discussion about management or organization development, give me a call on 087 2439019.

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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