Questions for Jen at Mars
July 2, 2024

Questions for Jen at Mars

Mars' VP Jennifer Contreras shares how to set yourself up for change success.

On June 19th, we kicked off our brand new webinar series, Fresh Perspectives, with Jennifer Contreras, VP of People and Organisation and Global Experience Owner at Mars. Jonny McCormick, a Senior Director of Change and Transformation, joined Jennifer, and it was a captivating and inspiring session with two seasoned Change leaders.

Jennifer generously shared her time and a wealth of wisdom on approaching change initiatives, managing the challenges and leading through change with vulnerability and courage. We learned a lot about how Mars, a global business with a reputation for people-centricity, manages organisational change.

Our session explored the three main stages of change: designing, delivering, and sustaining change. Jennifer shared principles and practical techniques for engaging, communicating, and supporting leaders and associates through the change journey. In this blog post, we're sharing Jennifer's answers to Jonny's questions about the first phase of change, with a focus on setting yourself up for success.

Here, we hear Jennifer's thoughtful views on dealing with uncertainty, creating a shared vision, and managing resistance with patience and understanding.

Read on or listen to the recording of the webinar for the answers in more detail here: Link here

We really recommend it.

Jennifer Contreras, Mars VP P&O and Jonny McCormick, Senior Director, LanciaConsult

Jonny: As leaders moving through the design of a transformation, you're often inherently constrained in a way because of the relatively small group of people who are probably privy to the change or inside the 'change tent', and yet you're trying to come up what the future might look like. Given Mars' reputation for being such a people-centric business, how do you ensure that you remain genuinely people-centric as you design a transformation initiative? 

Jen: One idea might be to challenge your assumptions about how few people need to be in the tent, which can be uncomfortable when stepping through. Could you be more open? Could you be broader in some of your conversations so you can solicit some input? 

One of the recent approaches we've taken, which was unique for us, is starting with the voice of the associate and running a deep diagnostic survey to understand what was desired to be changed. Really asking, what did people want? It's been powerful for us to think about where we need to go first. Being able to echo back to those people, you asked us to change this, and we will deliver on that. Grounding it back to those insights from the people living and breathing the day-to-day versus getting a solution and then sense-checking the solution with the same population.

Jonny: That strikes me as something quite courageous to do, that you're letting so many people into the tent and allowing them to define what the future might look like. Did you have anything where it would have been easier not to ask the question because perhaps you didn't like what you heard?

Jen: My belief is we would have heard it at some point. You're just getting the benefit of that much earlier in the process. It would eventually come out in the wash at some point, whether that be in resistance or reaction to something. So why not be able to benefit from that now and shape accordingly? Having the benefit upfront is super helpful.

Jonny: Many of these change programmes or initiatives happen over an extended time horizon, generally over 12/24/36 months. How can you create a vision or a narrative at the beginning that has sufficient flexibility to accommodate the changes you experience? 

Jen: One of the things I've found helpful is not actually addressing the change but what won't change. What can you expect always to be true? For us, by leaning on our principles and our purpose and drawing from those things that won't change, you can count them to be true even when you don't have all the answers or when the pivots happen—being open about 'what do you know now that you didn't know then?'. Transformation is morphosis; you're always learning something you didn't know in the beginning, and that transparency can also build credibility and currency as you go.  

I had divestiture that we had to declare we were moving forward without being able to answer all the questions that would come behind it for many reasons. Just being honest and saying, here's what we know, here's what we don't know, and here's when we will know it, and you'll be the first we come to. Being able to share some of these pivots isn't always a bad thing.  

Jonny: Can you tell us about your experiences bringing groups of senior leaders on a change journey quite early, particularly when they feel pressure and have high ambiguity? 

Jen: Whether you're leading on the change journey and a driver of the change, you're also a participant in the change, and I think, 'Would I want to adopt the thing that I'm putting out there?' What would my reaction be if I weren't in my seat? And challenge leaders to do the same, opening a different level of empathy or thinking about why people feel the way they feel inside the change. Another thing that's been super powerful for me is, 'What's your leadership currency to this group?'. If you've never visited a site or a team, if you've not had a relationship in a moment of change, you may not be that helpful because they don't have that relationship with you. Think about how much credit in the bank you have and what your role should be as you think about guiding through that change. It's tough at times, but it's also essential that change isn't about you at that moment, it's about the people who are going through it and being the best service to them.  

Jonny: What are some ways you have found to put currency in the bank and build the relationships with people you will need to drive this change? 

Jen: The level of honesty and transparency, and sometimes that transparency is to say, 'I don't have all the answers.' I also operate under; people are grown-ups, and when you do that, you make different assumptions about how they can co-create part of the solution. They can be a participant in this conversation, handle 'fill in the blank' changes that might come their way, or have better ideas about how we do this than what we came up with. Being willing to listen, willing to hear, and willing to engage in some of those places is I find a currency builder. And showing up, ideally, well before the change. Showing up and building that relationship helps you. Showing curiosity about their change, their team, or whatever that is, curiosity is a helpful reason to show up. It certainly pays dividends later, and you learn something about the process as well.

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.

Next week on the blog, we'll explore the second stage of change: delivering it. Don't miss it!

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