Mars VP, Jen Contreras, on delivering change.
July 15, 2024

Mars VP, Jen Contreras, on delivering change.

Hints, tips, thoughts and ideas for delivering change

Jen Contreras, Mars VP & Jonny McCormick, Senior Director, LanciaConsult

Following on from last week's blog post, today we'll be sharing the second section of Change that we explored in our recent Fresh Perspectives webinar, "Master Change Leadership," with Mars' change-maker, Jennifer Contreras, VP of People and Organisation.

Here, we hear Jennifer's thoughts on delivering change alongside Jonny McCormick, our very own change-maker and Senior Director at LanciaConsult.

Read on or listen to the webinar recording for the answers in more detail here.

Jonny: One of the things that has always struck me about Mars is its corporate purpose statement: 'The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.' How does that feed into how you deliver change within your organisation?

Jen: There's an awareness to start how you wish to end, and if you want to impact the future of the business, and in our case, the world through sustainability, we've set a pretty high bar for that. You should think about the choices you're making today, particularly when you're in the small group under the tent. Your choices may be people's only information about what's coming or what to expect. Your choices have a broader implication; if you're not thoughtful, you may not realise that. A bit like raising kids right; "Is this going to matter in the long run, or is it okay to have one more piece of candy?" You wrestle with those things, and in the context of a change, will it be the one thing that matters? That's where, in our case, we learn how to use our purpose and principles; we lean back on some of those things to answer some of those questions. In the same way, in your own family, you may look to your values or your family's choices to do that. How do you echo back to those things that you'll lay your head on your pillow at night, feeling good that you stood by, and be okay with the ones you let go?  

Although our answer is always yes to the candy at Mars. Moderation, everything in moderation.  

Jonny: Given your experience delivering multiple transitions over your many years in people and organisation, what are some of the most common challenges you run into repeatedly? 

Jen: One that I've seen frequently is the need for certainty. This is particularly true if you have shared a vision but are not yet in design; there is this strong desire for certainty, and you can't give it.

What you can commit to is clarity and transparency. In the absence of some of the certainty that people want, as we said, what can you still count to be true?  

I think one of the others I find is people fall across the spectrum of "I don't want to go on your change, so no, thank you, I'm not interested" to "I want to, but we lack some of the capabilities or skills. I've got the will, but I may be lacking on some skill", and then you have a category that might be in both. Really starting to identify and be honest about where people fall on that spectrum empowers you to think about how you support them through that change.  

I think we want to assume that everyone wants to go on the journey or that they can and are willing to go on the journey, and that's a bit idealistic versus being a bit more honest about where people really are.  

I think recognising that there's a very human element, we're all often protecting something in this for ourselves, whether that be "I was the source of the data. I had the insight because I held this information in my spreadsheet" and now you want that to be dissipated. Or any number of very human factors that we often want to look past. Sometimes, those things can turn into resistance, and if you can help people find their own insight for 'why', you can help them also remove some of that tension. 

Jonny: What are some of the things you do whenever you're running into that really practical resistance of, "I know this is important to you, Jen, but it's not really important to me right now"? 

Jen: I think, understanding 'why'. So is it that leadership pulls them in a different direction, and they care about something else. Is it that behaviour is being incentivised in a different direction in some way, whether that be KPIs or incentives or other fill-in-the-blank. Because all those are things you can start to work on, and you can begin to go, okay, I've got a stakeholder problem, an incentives problem, etc. I'm curious about why and what we missed. What did we not know or understand? Being open to the possibility that you might not have fully heard or known something. We're often too quick to assume they don't want to get on board when, in reality, you missed something that you need to hear, something significant that needs to be addressed.  

Being open to that, actually, by the time you launch a change, you and the team under the tent and the leaders have been living with that change; it's no longer new, and you're comfortable. For others, their entry point is where you were at the very start of your journey, and reflecting on how you moved through that journey can help you think about how others can move through that journey as well.  

Jonny: How do you balance that sense of listening, responding with empathy, with a sense of firmness and commitment when dealing with resistance at the coalface? To acknowledge the hard-nosed reality of timelines, budget, scope, pressure and expectation?

Jen: It doesn't always change the answer. You need to be open that you might have got something wrong, and often, creating space and planning ahead means you will, as I said before, hear it upfront, or you're going to hear it on the back end. You're going to hear it one way or another. It will be shaped as resistance to be managed on the back, or you'll hear it as insight for forethought to be prepared for.

It's not necessarily that you have that or a timeline; I think it's how quick you want to get to adoption and how much you plan for that upfront and create productive spaces for it or where you let that play out in unproductive or less productive spaces that you're not in control of. So, there is some efficiency that can be created. It doesn't always mean more time.  

Jonny: If you were chatting with someone doing this for the first time, given your breadth of experience over the years, Jen, what are some immediate lessons that come to mind? Any pointers for what to watch out for or what to expect?

Jen: That's a very big question. One is to be wary that you're building capability, not dependence. In support spaces, whether HR or Change, you can inadvertently make people really reliant and dependent upon you, and you can become a single point of failure if you're not careful. How do you enrol everyone in a role here, be clear about their role, and build their capability to make this change?  

Recognise where you are on the journey; you may have your own points of resistance, which seep their way out in some way, shape, or form.

Be clear about what good looks like. Particularly in a large change, everyone shows up with what their definition is. What is success? And what are those agreements that can be made upfront? You might believe this should be a high-care situation, and we take the time to do this, and somebody else may say absolutely not; we've got a timeline to make, and this is what we need to do. But as much as you can, contract some of that upfront and push it into the room so your plan will have the impact everyone wants and agrees on.  

With change, you're not the only gig in town. You may be #10 in the line of successive programmes. How do you understand that context so you can adapt your methods and choices accordingly?  

Jonny: How do you build the required capability practically so people aren't floundering around when the change or programme team aren't there? 

Jen: Being clear about what I am building. What is it I want everyone to be able to do? Whatever that is, what is the thing I want to build? Being okay with letting others make the answers. When you put the burden on your own back, you teach people to look to you as the expert and to have all the answers, and sometimes that's appropriate, but there's a lot of knowledge and a lot of change that has such functional or system-specific nuance that their understanding can really enrich. You give them the coaching, and they give you the insight, which can be a really nice partnership.

So, not assuming or controlling, being a bit free means that you don't have to own all of the forums, content, check-ins, updates, and other things that a programme might need inherently. You can say, "I want you to tell me how your change bit is going," or "I want to hear from you how you think the organisation is responding." These are points that evidence their capability to do it.  

Want more tips and tools to help you manage the challenges in business change?

Check out the LanciaConsult Change Hub - a place dedicated to sharing tips, tools, and guidance on the challenges in change that senior leaders face today. Take me to the Change Hub.

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