image of nkd employees talking

NKD Connect: Driving Change in the Workplace

Emma Thelwell of NKD recently designed a project management system which integrates existing systems. We chat about driving organisational change.

In Conversation With…

Emma Thelwell

Emma is the Head of Customer Operations and has been working at NKD for over five years. She recently designed and implemented a project management system which integrates all existing financial and operational systems.

“In terms of the mindset change, you can ask people to do something until you’re blue in the face, but they need to use it every day until it becomes a habit.”

NKD: You’ve recently implemented a really big systems change. Tell me a little about that.

Emma Thelwell: Last year, I started looking into what we spend our time on in the business. From looking at our [timesheet] reports, I saw that a lot of people were allocating their time under the Admin category – some of which was neither billable nor productive. I also found, there was a lot of time against manual reconciliations of timesheets and budgets. When collating the reports, I found that these equated to over a Project Lead’s salary that we were essentially wasting a year. There was a business need for us to change something, so that we didn’t have to do everything manually and rely on manual data and peoples’ own accuracy. We contacted some companies, and Salesforce was the one that looked the best; it had the most capability and did everything we wanted under one roof. So, we chose them and started planning this change.

NKD: How was that going to impact people individually within the company?

ET: Originally, we looked into how we could implement a project management system just for our team so we weren’t wasting so much time and would have capacity to take on more projects. When we found Salesforce, and discovered the capabilities it had, the scope became business-wide. I had to make sure I was sitting with Finance, Content and Creative Team members, to see how it could help them as well.

NKD: So, that sort of communication with everyone upfront at the beginning was really important, just to actually understand the nature of the change you were going to do?

ET: Yes, it was unknown when we started talking about it, but the response from people was reassuring. They were saying, ‘actually, it would be really good to know what’s in the budget, what’s in the plan’. We do communicate that anyway, but probably not as much as we could. There was a sense in the business that the Customer Experience Team own the budget and the plan, which they are of course responsible for, but there’s a certain aspect of shared ownership that other people can take. Now people can see the budget/budget line with their allocations and see how many days they’ve got.

NKD: That transparency is really helpful, it gives a different dimension to the work that people are doing, because you can see it has a real impact – there’s a real business outcome related to it.

ET: That’s a key word that comes out in lots of employee surveys, but it’s hard to know what it means. So, in terms of transparency with projects, I think this is massively going to help – and it is already.

NKD: People are seeing their projects in a different light, which changes their approach and mindset. Has that come up in conversations you’ve had with people?

ET: We’re only in the first month, so a true mindset shift hasn’t fully happened yet. For me, it was really difficult at the beginning because I’ve worked in the Customer Experience Team for over five years now, so I’m used to old processes, old ways of working. I feel like I know how we operate inside and out. Just me getting used to it in the beginning was really difficult – and I’ve been working on it since last October. So, because I’ve been in it for such a long time, I feel like my mindset has already changed. All throughout the training we spread the message that people need to use it every day, they need to get to know it because otherwise it’s not going to become part of their everyday working life.

NKD: You mentioned running things like training which facilitated those discussions. What was really important for you to do in preparation before the system was finally launched? I know you ran a communications campaign, for example.

ET: In the run-up to the launch, we had business updates, I met with the Creative Team, the Content Team, to talk about how it was going to affect them. We did a communications campaign where we had some comms going out every two weeks, and then we had the Launch Party. Stepping back a bit, we also had about two and a half months of training. We mixed the training groups so we made sure that people could ask the right questions and bounce off each other – so someone from the Content Team could ask how best to brief in someone from Creative, and so on. Even though it was a formal training session, it was good that people could also put their views in. As the training went by we made tweaks based on peoples’ feedback.

NKD: I think those discussions between the different teams are really important because, in a sense, it reflects what Salesforce actually does in practice – it brings people together to see the same thing. It’s a different way of working, it’s across teams and isn’t just the responsibility of one team. But, people often don’t like change. It can be a tedious and difficult thing – people even struggle with moving their desks. What were you expecting from people when they were going through this change?

ET: When we were delivering the training, I was expecting some negativity, a lot of questions and some criticism. In terms of the mindset change, you can ask people to do something until you’re blue in the face, but they need to use it every day until it becomes a habit. So, it was exactly as we expected going through training – lots of questions and queries. Some of them were great and helped us to tweak the system. We’re only a month in, and some people have taken to it like a duck to water, but others are by-passing the system and not using it properly. It is such a mindset shift and I recognise we all need time to adjust.

NKD: It’s similar to what you were saying, it’s simple to ask people to do something, but unless they actually do it, they’re not going to create those changes. A mindset shift has to be based in actions as well.

ET: I think for a mindset shift to happen, you need to actually want to have the change. A lot of people don’t, they’re stuck in their ways. It’s tricky because you need to show people the benefits, but you need them working on the system to have the data to show the benefits.

NKD: It’s quite important to provide that bigger picture, so people don’t get stuck in asking why they’re doing it – they can see the overall outcome. Is there anything that you would do differently next time you were trying to implement a big change like this?

ET: Probably, get more support earlier on. Usually, businesses have external companies come in and train everyone. So, it was really quite difficult, and a big responsibility, to make sure everyone was trained up.

NKD: I think it’s interesting what you were saying about having an external team come in to implement it. What do you think the dynamic would be like if you had an external team coming in to implement it?

ET: I think people would take it more seriously if it were an external team delivering the training. With someone external being in the office all the time, asking questions, having a presence, it would make people see that something was changing. Whereas I’m in the office every day, I sit at the same desk every day – it’s no change really. You can run your comms campaigns, you can inform people about it, you can launch it, but until they get used to using the system, nothing changes for them on a day-to-day basis.

NKD: How are you going to keep these changes going? Have you thought about how you’re going to keep the momentum in peoples’ minds?

ET: We’re still running learning clinics, people are still asking questions which is great. In terms of making sure people are logging on every day, I can’t be sitting next to their desk making sure they do it – it’s not a Big Brother society. We have Force champions around the office, and use them as an example, if people see what they’re doing, they’re more likely to want to do it themselves. It’s more like Salesforce by osmosis, rather than telling people what to do, it’s about creating that environment.

NKD: Having champions works quite well, and it takes the pressure off the people who are at the centre of that change or project. Everyone’s contributing in some way to keep it going. I guess what you want is it to be happening naturally amongst people.

ET: The lovely thing about this shift with Salesforce is that everyone has ownership now. They have ownership of the budget and the margin – it also opens up those communication channels where people can give each other feedback or input on budgeting and time management. So, there’s a greater deal of responsibility for everyone in the office to be using it. I think the key with managing change like this is letting people know the responsibility they each have to make it a success, and creating an environment where they’re really motivated to make it happen.