There’s no doubt that as a company Mars, Incorporated is doing very well. But the fact is, like all companies, we still need to be competitive. The business environment, the geopolitical climate and the public competitive landscape is changing, so we have to look for every bit of advantage that we can get.
We see enterprise collaboration as being one of the best ways to gain this competitive advantage. We have a huge number of employees (at Mars we call them Associates), over 80,000 people. We place a lot of investment and value in our people and in return we expect great things. We started with a very entrepreneurial culture, and we’re constantly looking at how we can maintain that while enabling growth.
Our answer to that challenge is collaboration.
Collaboration as a Strategic Pillar
We’ve had a big cultural shift with a new global president put in place two years ago. He’s made it very clear that to succeed we need to be disruptive and customer-focused, and to achieve those things we need to be more collaborative.
We’re trying to absorb and digest acquisitions, we’re trying to expand into new geographies, and making the most of people’s knowledge, connecting them to other people, helping them make faster decisions is the way to achieve those objectives.
Collaboration Baked into Culture
We’ve really baked collaboration into our culture. We have an Associate-centric view of the world and being empathic to what they’re experiencing is key to this collaboration culture. So it’s not just saying, “Well, our president wants to do this,” or “We’re trying to drive this change”, that’s a little bit esoteric for people.
When someone sits down on Monday and says “What am I going to do today? I have lots of deliverables and my boss is breathing down my neck,” people don’t really care about top level change initiatives. So for us it’s been about understanding that, making sure we know what we’re asking people to do differently, and then spelling out why it’s going to be better for them. And that’s definitely one thing that’s worked.
We’ve also made our physical artefacts like office design complement this culture of collaboration. We don’t have any offices, everything is glass so you can feel that transparency, there’s a real lack of visible hierarchy anywhere is our offices.
But, it Doesn’t Come For Free…
Mars has always been an innovative company and an early adopter, both culturally and in some ways technologically, but this doesn’t mean that collaboration has come easily. Being a large, matrixed, geographically diverse company comes with some challenges. The two main challenges we face when it comes to collaboration are:
- A Mix of Generations:
With such a large number of people all over the world, we inevitably have different generations of people in the workforce, and that makes collaboration a challenge. It’s not a one-size-fits all strategy. And we’ve found you can’t just generalise and say they’re a Millennial, they’re going to pick up a new technology better than a Baby Boomer.
- Breaking Through Ingrained Behaviour
Being an established company with many of our Associates having years of service under their belt, ways of working often become baked in and they’re much harder to change. So any time we’re trying to upgrade collaboration technology, there’s definitely a huge change management effort needed to change the way people work, and effectively to enhance the culture.
Collaboration is Giving Us the Edge
Collaboration in itself is a valuable thing, but it’s not always enough to prove the real value of your hard work. At Mars, we see the value of collaboration to be two-fold: driving innovation, and increased customer focus.
At Mars, we’ve had a long history of entrepreneurship which has helped get us to where we are today. What we need to now do is extend that history into the present, and bring innovation to reality on a large scale. 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 just trying to find the answer to simple questions, or if you’re trying to find out who the expert is in a specific area. This is where collaboration technology can make this link seamless and take out the time consuming guess-work to let innovation flow.
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 becomes as big and complex 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. This is where collaboration can help.
Through collaboration technologies, 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. And this is what’s going to give us the competitive edge.
About the Author
Jonathan Chong is Digital Workplace & Corporate Systems Director at Mars.