Jessica Barber: Five Vital Steps to Enable Business Transformation

Jessica Barber

Jessica Barber was appointed BHP Billiton Iron Ore’s first female Mining Manager at its Mt Whaleback Mine in the Pilbara. She was the recipient of the AFR BOSS Young Executive of the Year Award in 2012 and WA winner of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards Business Woman of the Year. Her presentation at Mainstream Conference in Melbourne and Perth, she explains why your people are the key to changing the organizational culture and transform business performance. 

You can follow almost any transformation process or model you like and deliver immediate results for your business, but if you truly want your transformation to be a sustainable one where the culture of the organisation is transformed into one where everyone lives and breathes a continuous improvement mindset, then you have to recognise that it is the people who are going to change the organisational culture and transform business performance.

I encourage all senior leaders to tackle their business transformation by looking through the lens of their frontline workforce. Only then can you truly understand the bureaucracy that exists in a business, what waste exists in your processes, and what is required to empower the workforce to be able to make positive change and continuous improvement.

“Continuous improvement is not about the things you do well — that’s work. Continuous improvement is about removing the things that get in the way of your work. The headaches, the things that slow you down, that’s what continuous improvement is all about.” ~Bruce Hamilton

Culture Does Not Change Because We Desire to Change it
Frances Hesselbein summed organizational culture up nicely when she said, “culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” And unless during a business transformation we change the way people work together, we absolutely won’t transform the culture into one of continuous improvement.

Therefore creating an environment where it is safe and encouraged for employees to bring forward their great ideas and share them with their peers and leaders is essential to creating an empowered culture.

“Confidence and empowerment are cousins in my opinion. Empowerment comes from within and typically it’s stemmed and fostered by self-assurance. To feel empowered is to feel free and that’s when people do their best work. You can’t fake confidence or empowerment.” Amy Jo Martin
Here are my five steps to enable successful business transformation:

1. Communicate the vision and the ‘what’s in it for me’ to the people
“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” –Jack Welch, General Electric

It is imperative that for any business transformation to be successful, it must start out with the broader business context being shared with the frontline employees who are going to be the ones leading the change. Only when they understand the role they will play in the change, will they be truly able to be engaged into the journey.

2. Actively get feedback and ideas from the front line
“The task of leadership is not to put passion into people, but to inspire and elicit it — for the passion is there already.” –Ty Howard

You would be foolish as a leader to assume that you had all the answers as to how to transform your business. The answers lie with those who work at the front line and see how the business operates each day. So allow this knowledge to come to the surface and drive the initiatives which will deliver the most value to the business.

3. Truly empower your people to implement their ideas
The turning point for our transformation was when we truly started to trust and empower our people to deliver on their own ideas. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” –General George S. Patton.

When we pulled people out of their roles and gave them the time, resources and support to implement an idea they may have had for a while, the delivery times and outcomes surprised even the biggest skeptics.

4. Have cadence around delivery speed of delivery and an escalation mechanism for roadblocks
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” –Theodore Roosevelt

We have been very clear with people about the stretch targets, the process we will follow, and what is expected of them each week. Once we set out those expectations and empowered people to take action, the job of senior leadership is simply to hold to that cadence and dedicate time to removing roadblocks so our people can continue to deliver immense value.

5. Celebrate both the successes and the willingness to ‘have a go’
“You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.” –Zig Ziglar

The celebration of successes has been one of the more rewarding parts of this business transformation, but more so, taking the time to find the people who have been brave enough to try something completely out of the box, even if it wasn’t 100% successful, has truly been where we have seen the culture shift and our people now know that it is safe to speak up and bring new ideas to the forefront.

“People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.” –Howard Schultz, Starbucks

It is your people who are going to change your organizational culture and transform your business performance, so make sure as you plan your business transformation that you consider the impacts from the perspective of the frontline employees and empower them to help you drive sustainable continuous improvement into your business.

Jessica BarberSince 2009 Jessica Barber has worked with the production planning, mining execution, mobile maintenance and transformation teams across BHP Billiton Iron Ore. In 2011, aged 29, Jessica was appointed BHP Billiton Iron Ore’s first female Mining Manager at its Mt Whaleback Mine in the Pilbara. She was the recipient of the AFR BOSS Young Executive of the Year Award in 2012 and WA winner of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards Business Woman of the Year in the Corporate & Private Category in 2015.


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