Leading fundamental change: HR for the future

Counting down to the CIPD’s annual conference and exhibition on November 4-5, Relocate spoke to Inji Duducu, group people director at mutual healthcare society Benenden and seminar speaker, to get a taster of insights the 4,000 delegates at the two-day event will hear.

Team on stage delivering presentation
“Future-focused HR: Leading business success” is the theme of the professional body for HR and people development’s conference this year. Announcing the programme and explaining the importance of the future as its theme, Peter Cheese, the CIPD’s chief executive, said, "Advances in technology, globalisation and demographic changes mean the world of work is changing all the time.“With all the growing debate about purpose, principles, values and creating businesses that are truly sustainable in every sense of the word, HR needs to go back to its roots and really focus on the human in human resources.”A packed conference, workshop and seminar programme of over 50 presentations and 100 high-level speakers promises to spotlight HR professionals’ value as leaders in business transformation, with shining examples from the public, private and third sectors.HR for a new eraBenenden is one such company focusing on the reality of the years ahead and represented on the platform at the CIPD’s Manchester Central conference venue. The York-based mutual healthcare society is 18 months into a significant change programme and a new era in its 110-year history.Under the stewardship of its CEO Marc Bell, who took over in 2013, Benenden is moving into diverse insurance markets after focusing on just one product for the past 108 years. Benenden’s group people director, Inji Duducu, will be describing to delegates how the small healthcare provider is successfully developing an effective leadership culture to support the new strategy and the company’s future.Speaking to Re:locate ahead of the CIPD conference, Inji offers a snapshot of the importance of values-driven leadership at Benenden to delivering the changes, and how HR is working to develop the culture and capabilities that support the business’s new goals.Making an impactWhen Inji Duducu took up her role at Benenden in April 2014, the new commercial plan – radical in a company where its people have been with the company an average of 20 years – was already six months underway.“Two years ago, half of our products did not exist,” Inji explained. “When I joined, the product changes were coming thick and fast, but our organisational capability, culture and supporting infrastructures were wildly out of synch. We had to work hard to gain ground and deliver 12 months of change in six months. There was no alternative but to jump right in as the gap between the commercial plan and the organisation’s capability was too great.“As HR leaders in the company, we have a vital role in helping people to understand the changes. It is a big project and a huge investment. We had to be impactful from the start and get the sequence of events right. So, we got performance and leadership lined up first. Next on the cards are talent and succession, which will take us into next year.”Effective leadershipAsked why the focus first on leadership, Inji explained her belief that for leaders to be effective, there has to be alignment between what leaders say and what they do because this provides the context for HR and employees to achieve their goals.“There’s a great book called Walking the Talk [by Carolyn Taylor] that says if you want to look at a company’s values, look where they spend the organisation’s scarce resources, time and money. The mindset is a good indicator of what really matters.“In terms of what a good organisation looks like, what leaders do and say have to be congruent. People have to believe that people do what they say. That is hugely important and it is how leadership qualities are tested. Boards now are really getting that this matters.“Also vital is leaders doing what they say at the micro level. There’s another saying, which is ‘people join companies, but leave their managers’. It sounds obvious, but if managers aren’t very good, then people won’t have a good experience at work.“This is one of the reasons why in the first year of our culture change programme we started by looking at the broader organisational landscape, putting leadership development and a performance framework in place. Aligning our values with our behaviour framework is critical to our change programme. More than this, we are also asking our frontline people if this is how they are being led.”Creating a narrativeTo this end, Inji and her team embarked upon a rapid and broad communications programme. “I’m a firm believer in co-creation, so one of the first things we did was invite groups of people to a learning map workshop. This involved facilitated tables of ten in a 90-minute session that used a picture, a visual metaphor, for the commercial reality of the changes and the company’s new products in the company’s history. People responded really well and it overcame a lot of resistance to change.“Getting this broad view and encompassing everyone, hearing their feedback and answering questions or concerns was so important for making sure everyone was on the same page about the significant changes Benenden was going through.”Effective leadership in actionFrom this overview, the HR and directors were able to build out, as well as zero in, on various aspects of the company, its culture and practices. In the context of congruence between saying and doing, the next stage was to focus on line managers so that they could see what is expected of them.“Part of this involved revisiting the values of the company,” says Inji. “We amassed a huge amount of important qualitative data and feedback from the co-creation exercise, so we needed to distill that.“Benenden’s previous values such as respect, professionalism and fairness were true but they were not unique to the company or described what makes Benenden special. They could apply to any company. We therefore formed a focus group of volunteers from the business to update the values to ensure we keep true to our heritage while we change.”Benenden’s updated values – care, mutuality, sustainability and wellbeing – are, says Inji, much more meaningful to the nature of the business. Describing how the company does business, the values also encapsulate what Benenden expects of its senior leaders, managers and employees, and form a key part of the new performance framework.Sustaining momentum“There are always other things that a manager can do, but leading and caring about what you do is your job,” concludes Inji. “Being a leader is not a position. It is a responsibility and a vocation, as well as a relationship with a person as an individual with all their hopes, dreams and aspirations.”Reflecting on the process of building organisational capability during times of change so far, Inji is pleased with progress. “For us it shows how you are able to achieve change quickly if you put people at the front. Your people have the answer.”

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