HOW TO LEAD A SHIFT IN COMPANY CULTURE
Auckland based Watercare is 11 months into a two-year transformation project where it is shifting a precision-based engineering company towards being customer-centric in its culture, in how tech enables it and in giving front line staff the right tools and power to act quickly for customers.
Watercare is New Zealand's largest company in the water and wastewater industry. Management asked those involved in leading its twoyear project – Rebecca Chenery, Paul de Quaasteniet and Peter Johnston – how they are going about this accelerated transformation effort and what other leaders could learn.
Why did Watercare set out on this strategic transformation; what is it aiming to achieve?
Watercare knows that life has dramatically changed for our customers over the last decade. Aucklanders now have instant access to information, products and services at the click of a button no matter where they are. Aggressive technology advances have completely changed how utility services providers could, and should, run their businesses, manage their assets, interact with their customers and motivate their workforce.
Watercare is tackling these challenges head-on with an accelerated transformation effort. Our aims are to: • Provide one-click, frictionless services for our customers, allowing customers to do everything for themselves, wherever they are, in a single interaction.
• Build a future-fit workforce with the right skills and attitudes to flex to these new demands. Our workforce aspiration is that every employee has the right tools, the best processes and can make insight-informed, fact-based decisions with confidence.
• Leverage data as an asset. We have an incredibly rich array of data at our fingertips that we need to better harness to run our asset base of $10 billion and service our customer base of 444,000 Aucklanders.
• Increasing organisational agility. Building on our proud DNA of engineering and capital projects, Watercare now also needs to create a culture and operating model of customer centricity, flexibility and adaptability to change.
• Increasing efficiency and productivity and decreasing business risk are front of mind and underpin the transformation roadmap.
Can you explain the process you've gone through to get to the point you are at now?
Watercare’s transformation journey has been underway for quite some time and has focused on building a customercentric, high-performing and agile culture.
We have very intentionally focused on building our leadership capability and taking our people on a cultural transformation journey to make sure that we have the right foundations for subsequent improvements that we want to introduce.
Our transformation has been initiated from the top down, starting with strategic alignment across the executive team, identifying what we needed to be able to do now, and in the future, based on a number of external influences such as customer expectations, changing technology landscape, changing workforce, etc.
A big part of this included learning from other industries like retail, transport, banking. We then mapped our customer and workforce journeys using Human Centred Design approaches, working with a partner.
This was a real tipping point for the transformation, getting 60 influential and energetic people from around the business engaged in shaping these two critical areas. We made a decision from the start that our vision would be experience-based.
After all, we exist for our customers, our workforce exists to serve our customers well, and our management and leadership teams exist to support our workforce. It’s a simple concept but often forgotten. This was a tremendous way to gain real buy-into the vision and purpose of what we were setting out to do.
Work on the people, skills and culture side started early and is continuous. Organisational agility, design thinking, user experience, working in cross-functional teams and continuous planning have all been massive learning curves for Watercare people.
And we’ve found that significant investment in this learning pays off – improvements in pace, teamwork, quality and value delivery are visible every week. There’s been a huge positive shift in these new ‘digital’ skills since we started.
We’re now in the midst of the delivery phase, providing solutions across our core Watercare business areas – operations and maintenance, customer, and planning and construction.
What are the key strategic principles you are working with?
The aims of the programme outlined above will accelerate Watercare’s aspirational vision to be “Trusted by our
Auckland-based Watercare is 11 months into a two-year transformation project where it is shifting a precision-based engineering company towards being truly customer centric in its culture, in how tech enables it and in giving front line staff the right tools and power to act quickly for customers.
communities for exceptional performance every day” and they align strongly with Watercare’s strategic priorities which are customer focus, business excellence, financial responsibility and [being] fully sustainable. Being faster and more agile as an organisation underpins all of this.
How is it working so far?
Adoption of new ways of working – agility, design thinking, customer centricity – has worked tremendously well amongst the teams involved in the transformation.
The steep learning curve has been met with plenty of grit and courage by the leaders and teams tasked with this big challenge.
We’ve seen examples of setbacks and things going not-quite-as-planned. Knowing this is a fact of life when innovating, we’ve deliberately created an environment that expects setbacks and instead of finding blame, calls out the learning and encourages teams to then get on with it.
This means performance and learning continues to sky rocket and effort continues to focus on the right things – delivering value to Watercare customers and the business.
What would total success of the project look like?
The customer experience will be faster with more digital self-service, the workforce experience will be data and insight-informed with cumbersome processes eliminated or automated, and overall Watercare will be a more efficient, productive and reliable organisation.
Most importantly, Watercare will be set up to continuously drive and adapt to changes in the market and in our industry. These changes will only increase and we will be ready for them.
Are you adhering to the agile principles and if so, in what way is this defining how your employees work?
We set the programme up drawing upon the principles of successful large scale transformation, which saw us adopt several different but closely related sets of principles and practices – particularly agile, design thinking and change management. We’re definitely not agile ‘rulebook evangelists’ but in combination with these other principles and practices we’ve found that agility as a mindset and culture is going really well.
Our people are working in such diverse teams of technologists and other functional areas and specialties. This fresh exposure to new skills and disciplines is motivating, mind expanding and will help their careers into the future.
Are all your staff on board?
About 140 of our 1000 staff are core transformation team members but all staff at some stage will get involved.
This might be at one of our six weekly ‘showcases’ (large staff transformation communications events where turnout is between 150 to 250 staff), as part of a design thinking team sketching and prototyping new digital solutions, or as part of pilot groups receiving and
deploying new technology.
Those already involved are right in behind what we’re doing. This will expand as the reach of the transformation spreads.
What could other senior leaders learn from the process you have been through?
Our advice to leaders embarking on transformation is: • Don’t follow a rulebook and instead do what’s right for your organisation. Your own organisational context and culture is the most important consideration for what you do and the approach you take. Frameworks and structure are helpful to get started, but sooner rather than later you need to start trusting ‘what’s right’ for your people to get the work done. Nobody can tell you how to do this. • Don’t underestimate the need to invest in new skills and in deliberately creating the right environment and culture for growth and innovation. Having the right physical space to collaborate is a huge success factor. Building the new leadership skills – for us 'product ownership' was brand new to the organisation – is a big undertaking and don’t take it lightly.
• Engage the right partners from the start but lead your own transformation. Trying to DIY critical specialty areas just doesn’t work. But maintain genuine leadership accountability for the transformation right up at the executive level.
• Measure the most important things to keep the transformation on track. Sure, business benefits metrics are hugely important and this measurement must be done. But we also measure the cultural factors that are shown to produce results – trust, safety in teams, dependability, role clarity. We measure these ‘people factors’ continuously as we know it’s these dynamics that can trip us up if left unnoticed. After all, transformation is all about the people.