Breaking down traditions with effective change
There are many companies that you wouldn’t expect to change. However, when markets and customer desires change, then organisations have no option but to at least go with the flow. For such companies, this change in focus, and even product mix, can be a daunting prospect. Not least because of ‘entering the unknown’ but also because of the potential impact on its people.
Companies that are hundreds of years old will likely have employees working for them whose father and mothers worked for them, and whose parents before them were also dedicated to the same firm. That’s a lot of tradition to tear apart.
One such company is Campbell Soup, the American Fortune 500 company and one of only 21 which are currently led by a woman. Its logo – a soup can design – says exactly what the company does. It’s known for making ready-made soups. That, though, is changing.
Leading change in a sustainable tin
Its CEO, Denise Morrison, is leading the company away from its roots. She wants to see her company less reliant on its major product, and with a better mix of offerings for a more discerning customer base.
Not only has she been leading the company away from liquid meals in a can, but is looking to build a more sustainable business model with greater ethical approach. Top of the agenda are items such as tackling child obesity, reducing waste, and decreasing its carbon footprint.
She has undertaken a two pronged approach to corporate change. On the one hand, Campbell Soup is buying up food and drink companies that operate within the healthier foods sector. In 2012, it spent more than $1.5 billion on Bolthouse Farms – the largest buy in the company’s history.
It has also bought baby food makers, cookie manufacturers, and other companies in attempts to reduce the proportion of revenues attributable to soup. And when it comes to its traditional product, Morrison is targeting younger buyers with more modern flavours and packaging.
Consumers tastes are changing, and Morrison is changing her company with increasing speed. As she has said, “The things that worked for us in the past were not going to work the same way going forward.”
Building community and creating effective change
One thing that Morrison saw as being glue for change was the fight against hunger and childhood obesity.
In one initiative, and seizing on the opportunity to help less privileged, she challenged Campbell’s people to help the Food Bank of New Jersey. Staff gave their time freely, and the company provided ingredients and jars, in efforts to turn tonnes of edible, but blemished, peaches into something edible. What they came up with was ‘a whole pro bono supply chain’ (as Morrison called it), creating peach salsa.
Food banks don’t often get foods made especially for them. The efforts used otherwise unusable fruit and vegetables, created community spirit among Campbell’s people, and engendered individual and team empowerment.
It is this sense of community that Morrison says is helping her to change the company from the inside out.
How Morrison spoon feeds change
Morrison attributes Campbell’s effective change to her background and the effect her upbringing has had on the way she leads. Her father taught her and her sisters business skills – her sister is one of the remaining 20 Fortune 500 company female CEOs. He saw the world becoming less sexist and opportunities opening to women.
Morrison said her father’s business ethics even invaded normal teenage life decisions. “I had to have a business plan to get my ears pierced,” she recalled in interview with the Guardian last year.
When asked what she saw as the most necessary traits of an effective change leader, it’s not surprising that Morrison drew on her own personal characteristics. These were the five traits she saw as being imperative to lead change effectively:
- Have a strong sense of self
- Have a personal and business mission
- Demonstrate the willingness to take risks
- Become involved, leading from the front
- Be authentic, and always willing to do what you ask others to do
When it comes to promoting change within an organisation, Morrison is a big believer in the value of the individual and the strength of teamwork.
She has instilled working practices that take her characteristics and moulds them in small teams, utilising diversified experiences of employees from different divisions and departments to examine consumer trends and behaviours and formulate ideas for everything from new products to exciting marketing plans.
At Campbell, under the leadership of Morrison, it’s not just the products that are changing – it’s the whole personality of the organisation as it moves ahead of the market in which it operates.