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Making Collaboration Sweet: Insights from Mars’ Head of Digital

Jon Chong

Mars, Incorporated is a company with a proud 100-year history and a strong corporate culture. As early adopters of open offices, phone and video conferencing, you might think that moving to digital collaboration would be easy for Mars – but they have many hard-earned lessons to share.

Jonathan Chong, Director – Digital Workplace & Corporate Systems at Mars shares his insights into the importance of collaboration for businesses of any size, and reveals how collaboration is giving them the competitive edge.

Q: Why does a successful company like Mars need to focus on collaboration?

Mars is doing very well, but the business environment, the geopolitical climate and the public competitive landscape is changing and it’s extremely challenging. So we have to look for every bit of advantage that we can, and collaboration is one of them.

We’re trying to absorb and digest acquisitions, we’re trying to expand into new geographies, and really making the most of people’s knowledge, connecting them to other people, helping them be quicker and make faster decisions, that’s the way we’re going to achieve those objectives.

Q: What benefits have you seen from your collaboration efforts at Mars?

We see the value of collaboration being two-fold:

  1. Innovation

To be an entrepreneur you need to have access to resources and information, and in a large company like Mars it’s very easy to get lost. There’s no way you can be an entrepreneur if you’re really just trying to find the answer to simple questions, or if you’re just trying to find out who the expert is in a specific area. Our collaboration program helps enable this culture of entrepreneurship and innovation that is vital to our ongoing success.

  1. Increased customer focus

There’s a constant need today to be more and more responsive to our customers, who are our retailers and trade partners, and our consumers, who buy our products. And when a company become as big as we are – we have over 80,000 people, we’re a matrix organisation, we’re a geographical organisation, we’re a segment organisation – it becomes a lot harder. We have people complaining they get contacted by three different representatives of marketing, some of our customers, some of our retailers for example. We’ve got to get better at that, and that, again, is another way in which collaboration can help.

We can form virtual teams more easily who can share information and then work together to better serve the customer. At Mars we see the value in collaboration of the sales force, the “feet on the street” level, making sure that everyone knows what the latest display should look like and are able to share that with the rest of their teams.

Q: What advice would you give your former self on your first day in your role at Mars?

I would say one of the key ones would be honing in on the groups that are going to benefit the most: who are the groups that have the most interest in collaboration, who is going to be the biggest cheerleaders for what we’re trying to do? We’re doing that more and more as we go on, but I think I would have started doing that from the beginning. Really intentionally going out and systematically looking for three or four major sponsors – and not just at the top but at the grassroots level – who want to be examples, who want to help us shape the future at Mars, and driven those groups more strongly from the beginning. That’s probably one of the big things I would have done differently.

Q: There are many different groups that drive collaboration within organisations, who should drive this in your opinion?

I like that question because it’s not an easy one to answer, it depends from organisation to organisation.

I’m going to speak from Mars and I’ll say we haven’t answered that yet. I don’t think it’s just an IT or a technology play, you need partnership. The areas we’ve seen a lot of success in are internal communications or corporate affairs, that’s one team that helped a lot and in some ways should really take ownership for a lot of the collaboration platforms. Also HR should be involved as well, because a big part of this is enabling people, increasing capabilities, and potentially linking to learning and development. And of course there’s also policies, what and how you share and how you represent yourself and the company on internal and external social. If you have a knowledge management function, they can get involved as well. I don’t have all the answers but those are some of the groups we have had success with at Mars.

Q: Do you think a one-size-fits-all technology solution is best or a more integrated approach?

We are very much a Microsoft shop, we use a lot of the Microsoft 0365 Suite. One of the advantages we see with that it integrates fairly well, you get access to different functionality, so social, collaboration communication tools are integrated which helps with things like searching for information.

On the flip side, when you go with the one-size-fits-all approach you miss out on the tools that people are going to use anyway Trello, Smartsheet, Slack, Dropbox. The challenge is managing those tools. We’ve actually started to bring some of those tools into our portfolio to supplement our main Microsoft offering, and other times we’ve said, “We’ve actually got a better alternative you should use.”

It’s always a choice though: do you force people to use a solution, or do you encourage them to experiment and just try to have visibility of it. We’ve taken more of the latter approach.

The most important thing when it comes to a collaboration technology is not to approach it as a technology play. We’ve found that people have a bit of technology fatigue. Even if we have the best training approach in the world, if we market it and if we sell it to people as “Come and learn more about X tool,” you will get some people to show up, but they’re typically the ones who are all over it anyway. if you talk about it in terms the problems people are facing and how we can make them better, you easily triple or quadruple attendance and interest.


About the Author

Jonathan ChongJon Chong is Digital Workplace & Corporate Systems Director at Mars. Jon will be presenting Mars’ collaboration journey at Enterprise Collaboration Innovation & Tech Fest 2017 in Melbourne. For more information on his sessions, view the agenda.





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