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The insider guide to behaviour change at Mars

The role of any capability initiative is to deliver behaviour change that helps the business achieve its goals. Liz Lacovara, Global Director of Mars’ Demand College, describes it as changing how people work to ‘unlock trapped value’. In this interview she reveals how Mars has innovated its capability-building approach.

Q. What are your key behaviour change priorities at Mars?

I think the whole definition of ‘behaviour change’ has evolved in capability-building. Interventions used to focus on building greater expertise. Now, we all operate in worlds that are so much more complicated and complex which means that expertise is harder to come by and in some topic areas, you’re never really ‘done’.

Our initiatives are designed to work on two levels – helping our Associates (how we refer to our employees in Mars) operate with greater confidence and competence in their functional domains but also shifting the mindset about capability. Our focus is on the capacity to keep testing and learning. Leaders and managers need an enterprise mindset, greater agility, and the freedom to make choices and execute on them in a world where outcomes are hard to predict.

Q. How are you going about delivering behaviour change?

It’s critical to start with the ‘why’. Ensuring our key stakeholders internally understand the context for change is fundamental for behaviour change to be a success. We can have the best content in the world, delivered in the most innovative ways, but if we can’t build a desire for Associates to try new ways of skill-building and champion it in their teams and networks, we’ll have failed.

Lasting behaviour change requires a range of reinforcing mechanisms, and only some of those are within my sphere of influence. Personally, I focus on having a strong connection to business leaders, championing the business strategy, and articulating a clear point of view on how skill-building will contribute to the shifts we need. I also have a responsibility to manage expectations about what it really takes – processes, tools, systems and reward and recognition approaches that all work in harmony. That’s the Holy Grail, and we’re not there yet. I feel incredibly optimistic though because Mars truly makes choices for the long term and believes our advantage will continue to come from our people.

Q. What’s new about the approach you’re taking?

We’re applying more design thinking principles. We need to be faster at bringing our offerings to the market and much more user-centric about how they fit into the rest of our audience’s lives.  For many people, the boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘home’ are blurring and that presents opportunities for micro learning during a commute or waiting in an airport, for example. We are creating more opportunities for just in time, just enough interventions.

Q. What gets in the way?

Two of the biggest barriers are common to anyone who is trying to drive change. The first is about noise. Most organizations have massive transformational agendas, so the initiatives are competing against a number of other business activities, processes as well as day-to-day business pressures. We get more traction when we’re able to link our work to other changes and when we use the discipline of change management including strong stakeholder mapping and communications planning to get heard.

The second is about line manager support and reinforcement on the job. We have a commitment to Great Line Management including measuring a line manager’s impact on areas like the teams’ formal development. That means we design our programs to make it as easy as possible for line managers to role model and support application. While that’s the intention, I know my team and I could get even better at measuring whether that’s really happening.

Q. What has surprised you along the way?

More things than I can list! One that I feel strongly about is the risk of false consensus and the need to pressure test stakeholders’ intent and understanding. Words like ‘digital’, ‘agile’ and ‘capability’ are big words that can mean so many things. Combine that with the fact that everyone is working at such a pace, you have a recipe for misunderstanding and not delivering on expectations. 

Q. Finally, what 3 learnings can you share with other organisations who want to create sustained behaviour change?

  1. Build your skills in change management and think of yourself as change leaders. You have to build awareness of why change is necessary and a desire to change before even starting on the how. And then you need to keep reinforcing because change is hard even when someone wants it.
  2. Challenge your stakeholders on what’s going to be different when the new behaviours are embedded. What’s it going to look like and feel like? What are people going to be able to stop doing? What will it make possible? This crystal clear, tangible articulation then becomes the filter through which you assess design and early results to be able to course-correct.
  3. Use examples from people’s lives outside of work to create commitment to what you’re trying to do. When we started to talk about ‘The Netflix of Learning’ we got a lot more energy for My Mars U, our new learning experience platform.

I think Netflix is an incredible example of leading change. Not only was it a disruptive business model but everything seems focused on the user experience, powered by both data and content. It keeps me, my family and friends coming back for more.

Get in touch to learn more about how Brand Learning can help your marketing and sales teams deliver behaviour change to drive growth. 

To find out more about how you can personally innovate your capability-building approach, go here.


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