The turnaround of supermarket retailer Coles began in 2008 when Wesfarmers acquired the Coles group of companies at a high premium just prior to the Global Financial Crisis. Wesfarmers were under pressure to turnaround the various Coles group businesses, especially the largest part that comprised more than 700 Supermarkets plus hundreds of liquor outlets and co-branded fuel-convenience stores.
To drive the turnaround, Wesfarmers employed Scottish retailer Ian McLeod. McLeod quickly assembled a world class group of executives and set about implementing a five year turnaround plan designed to transform the moribund poor performing retail giant into a competitive, customer focused outfit achieving yearly double digit increases in sales and profit.
The starting point for the transformation was challenging. Coles were a distant second to the main competitor Woolworths in all key measures. Typical business media reports on the relative performance of the two competitors were scathing of Coles and skeptical that the turnaround could be executed successfully.
McLeod and his team however had a plan to renew the majority of their stores and create a customer focused, innovative, change agile, and collaborative culture amongst 110,000 plus employees.
Gerard was initially engaged by one of the Coles Board Directors to assess the readiness of the organisation to successfully complete the $4B renewal program. Reporting the results of the assessment to the board, Gerard identified leadership culture as the most critical requirement to succeed.
McLeod then championed what became the primary organization wide program designed to explicitly address cultural change, one based heavily on his own personal experience of a major retail turnaround some 20 years earlier.
The program that McLeod introduced to Coles provided a lens for leaders to examine the predominant behaviors in the organization, including their own and determine whether they would enable or limit the success of the turnaround and future sustained performance. The program also equipped leaders with the skills and strategies that would enable them to influence the behaviors of others in the organization, promoting behavior change at a concrete and practical level back in the workplace.
Gerard was engaged by Coles to lead the program in Australia and deliver it to the top 250 senior leaders. The success of the initial workshops saw the target audience expand to more than1400 leaders, effectively engaging every leader from Store Managers to Board of Directors. Later the program concepts and techniques were introduced into emerging leadership pipelines, ensuring an ongoing exposure to the program of new leaders.
Twelve months following the initiation of the program, an Impact Assessment conducted by Coles in partnership with Gerard reported that the overwhelming majority of leaders found the program to be making a positive contribution to business success at a personal and organizational level.
To further support the culture change program, a team performance workshop was developed to support a move towards team-based working. Additional team development workshops were conducted with executive leadership teams in various locations around Australia, all designed to improve business results through high performance teamwork.
More than three years following the commencement of the program rollout, Coles continued to report ongoing sustained improvement in results, outperforming their main competitor in all measures. Employees continue to report significant shifts in culture and sustained evidence of a healthier and higher performing organisation. As further evidence of a sustained successful turnaround, Coles continues to be the main contributor to Wesfarmers superior share price performance.
Medibank is a market leading $4B health insurer in Australia. In 2012 they began experiencing disruption as competitive, economic, technological and social changes combined to create significant headwinds.
Recognizing that a different, more effective form of leadership was needed they commenced designing a unique development program for senior leaders that would build capacity to lead and innovate in a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment.
Having worked with some of the senior HR leaders at Medibank previously, Gerard was invited to contribute to the design of a leading edge multi-faceted program involving assessments, workshops, unique in-depth case studies and simulations as well as executive coaching.
Gerard was invited to be the lead facilitator and lead coach on the program, working with a highly qualified and capable team of thought leaders, executive coaches and learning professionals.
The initial program was extremely well received and subsequently has been repeated many times since.
In 2015 the program was a finalist and winner of a Workplace Excellence Award by the Australian Psychological Society in recognition of an outstanding approach to learning and development, and the delivery of a program that strongly supported the organisations strategy.
During the same period, Gerard was engaged by a number of senior executives in Medibank to coach senior leadership teams and support other leadership development activity.
In 2010 a resources boom was well and truly underway around the globe. Mining companies like BHP Billiton were finding it increasingly difficult to find and retain talent in critical functions like finance and engineering.
As a result the CFO of BHP Billiton requested that a global high potential leadership program be established for the finance function. This was in response to significant shortfalls in the leadership talent pipeline and leadership capabilities being demonstrated. In other words, the Finance Leadership Team were struggling to find from within BHP Billiton the quantity and quality of future leaders required to provide sustainable leadership of the BHP Billiton strategy.
Gerard was engaged to advise on the design and act as the Lead Facilitator of the program.
The Finance Emerging Leaders Program (FELP) was designed over a nine-month period with first program commencing in early 2011.
The purpose of the program was to provide a deep pool of functional talent with the right skills and in the right place to lead, operate and grow the BHP Billiton business. The program was also an initiative designed to accelerate the readiness of our emerging high potentials.
The program was also designed to prepare participants to move from highly skilled individual contributor specialist positions towards people and business leadership roles.
Participants explored their leadership style and capability through feedback, action plans, simulations, thought leadership workshops and coaching. Participants were also challenged to analyse and solve real business issues and refine decision-making and judgment skills. These skills and behaviours were developed during workshops and back in the workplace, supported by the facilitators, external coaches, internal business mentor and senior managers.
A unique characteristic of the program was the action learning projects that dealt with real and substantive business issues around the globe, involving material investments and requiring significant stakeholder engagement.
The initial program was so successful that it was expanded to incorporate other closely related group functions and repeated every year until the current time (2015).
In a 2014 organisation-wide review of learning and development programs around the globe it was noted that the FELP program stood out as a “bright spot” in the organisations practices.
In late 2014 a study was completed that showed of the 45 participants in the FELP program, many had been promoted into significant senior roles with a large number of lateral and global transfers. Only three of the participants had left the organisation, indicating that the talent pipeline was robust and healthy.