Almost every awkward teenager goes through a phase of fervently wishing to be in with the ‘cool’ crowd (with the exception of those chosen few already at the top of the social hierarchy). And organisations such as accountancy firm Menzies, which are facing tough competition for talent, are increasingly experiencing the same social angst; a 2015 survey of Menzies’ clients revealed that, while it was viewed as solid and reliable, it was a little ‘bland’ and wasn’t distinctive in its crowded market.
“I could see pockets of immense talent that went far beyond the ‘reliable but boring’ label,” says head of HR Heather Garrett, who joined the firm in January 2015 after stints at Accenture, Sun Microsystems and Nokia. “But shining a light on these would mean a programme of intense change, and a redefinition both of our internal and external brands.”
Fortunately, says Garrett, “there was a real appetite for change – the business has been around for more than 100 years, so the ethos of the senior partners is to pass on the baton to the next generation. People were just lacking a degree of direction and guidance on what makes Menzies unique, so there was a fabulous opportunity for HR to play a pivotal role in driving the agenda of change and transformation.”
The combination of survey feedback and competition to attract talent gave the senior partners the impetus to drive change, starting with a fundamental revamp of their business identity.
The change programme began with the appointment of 15 brand ambassadors to work with HR and external consultants to redefine the Menzies brand and core purpose. Through a number of creative processes, together they overhauled the company logo and mission, and identified what makes Menzies stand out from other firms. “We kept coming back to the question of what made us different, and how we engaged with our clients,” says Garrett. “We eventually came to the concept of thinking outside the box: Brighter Thinking.”
With this idea in place, Garrett worked with the firm’s senior partners and a core team of champions to redefine their values around the Brighter Thinking mission: ambition, collaboration, resilience, integrity, empathy and imagination. The next challenge was to transform them into a series of practical working behaviours for employees dealing with clients, for their collaboration as a team and for achieving their individual best at work.
“We needed a culture change programme that would have an impact on everyone and help Brighter Thinking come to life for our staff and their behaviours,” Garrett says. “Technical competency was a given, so this programme is all about the ‘how’ not the ‘what’ – how you behave and build relationships with clients and staff.”
Branded ‘Brighter Thinking In Action’ and based around Mary Gober International (MGI) methodologies, the programme was designed to align Menzies staff with Brighter Thinking behaviours. Four Menzies team members were trained and accredited by MGI to implement the change, and set about encouraging the 450 employees to take greater ownership of and responsibility for their work, and adopt a more client-focused mindset.
“If you can change your language to become more conversational and more challenging, you will drive a different level of conversation with your clients,” says Garrett. “Our formula for success begins with having really inspired people in the company; if we have inspired people they will delight our clients, and those clients will come back for more, and tell their friends about us.”
As Garrett and her HR team embedded Brighter Thinking internally, Menzies’ marketing team focused on boosting the company’s external profile. “Marketing is about the external brand and HR is about driving the internal brand and the employer value proposition,” says Garrett. “Aligning these two vital business functions creates a marriage that many organisations don’t benefit from. It’s easy to have a conversation about redefining a brand, but your employees are the best ambassadors for your brand – if they don’t believe it, how will you convince the outside world?”
Since September 2016, more than half of Menzies employees have been trained in Brighter Thinking, which has formed a foundation for all its revised HR interventions. While engagement is notoriously hard to quantify, Garrett says subsequent company surveys have shown increases in overall employee engagement, and the HR team has responded to further staff feedback by rolling out a new range of employee benefits to match the firm’s new ethos and values.
Although the impact of Brighter Thinking is already making a tangible difference, Garrett stresses that the culture change programme is ongoing. “Change takes time and it needs to be led from the front, and supported not just by words, but by our actions,” she says.
Where does Garrett hope to see Menzies in five years? “I want people to be living the Brighter Thinking mindset at work, embracing the cultural language and mindsets they want with a clear career path, thinking about the future.
“The next generation of leaders will be much younger: in the last two years, the proportion of our staff who are generation Y has risen from 18 to 50 per cent. So I expect Menzies will still be here – but we will look and feel very different.”