At Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) the UK Pre-Sales team had traditionally been organised into Product teams. The Director, Clive Freeman, realised that they could be more effective if teams were aligned to market segments rather than products. He also realised that to make it work, he would require the team of consultants to behave differently and came to Brilliant Minds for help with that.
This project was relatively light in terms of Brilliant Minds involvement and costs to the client. The entire project involved:
- Five LAB Profile interviews
- Three coaching sessions
- A 1-day workshop plus half-day Review meeting
- A few hours of consultancy time to write reports etc
- At 2020 prices this would cost around £10,000 or $12,500
A measurable increase in productivity. Clarity about the shift in culture and support from the entire team to achieve it. All accomplished in under five months.
How it all happened…
The story begins with an email from Clive Freeman, EG UKI Chief technologist & Pre-sales Director, to me, Dianne Lowther in which he introduced himself and explained:
“…as we seek to make significant changes in the way my team of 80 or so pre-sales consultants work with their customers. This sort of large-scale cultural change is outside of my ken…”
A senior colleague of Clive’s whom I had met a few months earlier – we were fellow speakers at an event for senior IT professionals – had recommended to Clive that he contact Brilliant Minds for some help. At that stage, Clive was looking for some coaching for himself and maybe also for his management team of five people.
We talked on the telephone, and agreed to meet and scope out a coaching programme.
Creating a plan…
29th January: initial meeting
The initial meeting was mostly conducted on a staircase and outside of the office on the street during a fire drill. However, these inconveniences didn’t hamper our discussion at all. Clive covered a lot of important background information and we agreed that, in addition to his coaching, a workshop with his leadership team would be the way to approach the project.
This is my summary of the key background information:
- The Enterprise Pre-sales division is made up of around 80 people working in 5 teams: Global Accounts, Commercial & Public sector, Small- and Medium-sized business and Technical. Nearly all are permanent employees and many have very long service with HP.
- The current culture reflects a predominance of introvert and analytical personalities who enjoy working to established processes but lack common procedures or a unified approach.
- In line with the overall Vision of the organisation, there is a need to shift from a product focus to a solution focus and to engage with customers much earlier in their buying process.
- The Enterprise Pre-sales senior team will be the key to driving the shift in culture.
In the usual way of large organisations, it took a few weeks to get the necessary sign-off but by the middle of March contracts had been agreed and dates fixed.
31st March: first session
When Clive arrived for his first session he also brought the news that two of his managers had resigned. It wasn’t entirely unexpected in either case and it wasn’t a disaster as he already had identified successors. It was just inconvenient timing.
As part of this first coaching session I did Clive’s LAB Profile
14th April: second session
By the time Clive came to his second coaching session he had arranged the succession of two new managers to replace the ones who were moving on and was ready to start building a new team.
Leadership Team Workshop
13th April: Managers profiles
In preparation for the workshop, I had a telephone conversation with each of the 5 participants – this included 2 new appointees to the Leadership team, the two people who would take over from the Managers who had recently resigned.. The purpose of these conversations was to build relationships that would enable the workshop to ‘hit the ground running’ and also to conduct a Language and Behaviour (LAB) Profile interview with each person.
The LAB Profile is a set of 14 questions which form the basis of a profile interview conducted by an expert interviewer. The questions are constructed to highlight the patterns of communication and behaviour favoured by the interviewee in a specific context and enables the interviewer to predict certain patterns of behaviour arising from the profile.
The LAB Profile is not a personality profile. It provides insight into a person’s style and preferences in a particular context and is therefore particularly useful for Senior Teams, where the style required of a person as leader of their own division, department or team may not be wholly effective when they are working with their peers as part of the leadership team.
Having done all 6 profiles, I was able to draw together a profile of the team which informed the design of the workshop.
16th April: Workshop
The primary purpose of the workshop was to clarify the cultural change required and agree an action plan to achieve it
The workshop achieved results in several areas: Firstly, the explanation and feedback around the LAB Profiles added a new dimension to existing working relationships and helped to integrate the new managers into the leadership team.
We then worked through a process to profile the current culture of the pre-sales organisation and also the culture that would be required to deliver the strategic plan. The gap between these two clearly identified the behavioural changes needed and Clive was able to highlight two areas in particular that would deliver the shift in culture that he was seeking.
These two areas related to specific patterns in the LAB Profile:
Specific to General
The pre-sales consultants in Clive’s department were all experts. When the department had been organised in relation to product, they were nearly always advising clients on products of which they had full, detailed, expert knowledge.
With the shift to aligning teams with markets, consultants were more likely to find themselves in situations where clients needed advice about products about which the consultant did not know everything. The consultants were clearly reluctant to give advice, even to have a conversation, about these other products. I should make it clear, not being ‘expert’ didn’t mean they didn’t have relevant knowledge. It just wasn’t to the in-depth level of their main areas of expertise.
To achieve the desired culture, we needed to find a way to encourage consultants to speak in a more general way about a wider range of products, instead of only discussing the ones where they ‘knew everything’.
Convincers from Do to Hear
The Pre-Sales Consultants, with all their in-depth knowledge, were used to being able to recommend a product because they had personally installed it for other clients and knew exactly how it was going fulfil the client’s needs. I other words, their recommendations were based on personal, first-hand experience.
The new way of working was going to require them to be willing to recommend solutions of which they might not have first-hand experience. The cultural shift that was needed was for consultants to share their experiences and to trust each other’s judgement about what worked.
Neither of these cultural shifts was out of the question. It was simply a matter of encouraging people to take a new approach.
The final stage of the workshop focused on ways in which the leadership team could encourage the required changes in behaviour. Some of the ideas involved programmes of action from all managers; others were simple insights into the best way to phrase a question in order to foster a specific style of communication, or how to reinforce examples of the required behaviour. .
The workshop ended with the team very clear about the task ahead and having a shared framework and language in which to discuss it.
Following the Leadership Team workshop, I compiled a report showing the LAB Profile of the leadership team as a whole and of each person individually. The report highlights areas of strength and also some of the possible pitfalls arising from the profile and how to avoid them.
There was a good balance of different preference across the team and it was evident that the new members had important contributions to make.
The ‘All Hands’ event
I had no involvement in this event, Clive and his team were completely in control of it and used the time together to describe the specific changes required and the strategy for making it happen.
They also took the opportunity to have people share their success stories, to begin the establishment of the principle that it’s okay to recommend something because you know your colleague did it and it worked well.
Clive said his main objective for the event was:
“To bring the team together so they can grow as a team, rather than a set of individuals. Within that we wanted to give them some new perspectives on the technology they work with, and encourage them to share what they personally knew with the others in the broader team – and learn from the sharing of others.”
He was completely open with the whole team about the changes they needed to make and how they intended to support people in making those changes. One of the key strategies for making the shift from Specific to General conversations was to encourage consultants to take ‘entry level’ qualifications in other products. As an expert they might be qualified up to 8 or 9 levels in one product and none in others.
Once it was explained how it would be useful to do the first level qualification in other products, consultants were enthusiastic about undertaking the learning.
23rd July: third session
In Clive’s third coaching session we spent some of the time debriefing the Leadership team workshop and the ‘All Hands’ event. We talked about the team and how to maintain the momentum for the changes.
In preparation for the Review meeting, I asked each of the members of the Leadership team to prepare a 15-minute ‘report back’ to summarise the results in their own areas.
Clive and I put together the outcomes/agenda for the meeting and it looked something like this:
- ‘A plan that is being worked’
- Things we need to change? Are they the same for everyone?
- What have we been doing?
- Proposed road map for next 6 months
- Ensuring a shared view
- How to make the changes with specific individuals?
Meeting 12th August
The ‘report back’ sessions included details of many and varied successes. Here are some highlights:
- One manager reported that the understanding of profiles had made it easier for him to engage with his colleagues and with Clive
- At a recent technical conference, Pre-Sales consultants were spotted attending sessions that were relevant beyond their own areas of specialism
- Feedback from the ‘All Hands’ event had been excellent and had been structured in a way that helped to drive the change.
- The team of consultants were showing less cynicism, being more proactive and were generally more open. The question, ‘what should we really be doing?’ had been asked
- Two of the leaders had read ‘Words that Change Minds’ the recommended reading on the LAB Profile
- An understanding of the LAB Profile had helped in tricky situations – how to word a sensitive message and how to focus consultants on the customer agenda
We spent some of the meeting discussing how to engage with people who were reluctant to change and some specific individuals who had not yet been won over to the new approach.
The Leadership team also committed to making the culture shift an agenda item for their regular meetings, to maintain the momentum and focus.
How do you measure Culture Change?
Ideally, we would have repeated the diagnostic exercise 6 months later, but that opportunity was missed.
The reality is, as a leader, if you know that something needs to change, you also know when it has. I know that we all like to see facts and figures, but human behaviour can’t always be reduced to numbers. We saw plenty of evidence that the strategy was working and although he wasn’t able to share the actual numbers with me, Clive was able to measure improved productivity across the team:
On 14 August at 09:36, Freeman, Clive (Enterprise Group UKI Chief Technologist) > wrote:
We can see the results, too: we’ve been given very positive feedback from the teams that we support, and we can show concrete data that show significantly improved productivity across the team. Without your support this would all have been much harder work, if it had been possible at all.