NZ Business - - FROM THE EDITOR - Re­becca Chen­ery is Water­care’s chief digital of­fi­cer, Paul de Quaas­te­niet is the trans­for­ma­tion pro­gramme di­rec­tor at Water­care, and Peter John­ston is a strat­egy, de­sign and trans­for­ma­tion con­sul­tant help­ing Water­care’s change ef­forts.

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.

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