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Cornflakes and culture

Belinda TumbersThere is nothing corny when it comes to culture at Kellogg.

After 19 years with the company, Kellogg Australia boss Belinda Tumbers knows a thing or two about the culture of century-old cereal and snack business.

“The culture, on a day-to-day basis, depends on the leader at the time,” Tumbers tells Inside FMCG. “I have seen some great culture during those 19 years, but I have also seen some not-so-good culture.

“Inherently, I still think the values of the company remain in place. Kellogg’s is a family-based organisation with very strong values. Even though we are doing business globally, you still get that sense you are in a smaller, less hierarchal organisation.”

Tumbers, who joined the company in 1998 after realising a career in hospitality was not quite the right fit, is now on a mission to reset the overall company culture – and believes the results speak for themselves. Here she details the journey, as well as the challenges along the way…

Inside FMCG: You started the culture journey when you stepped into the role of managing director at Kellogg. How would you define the culture there today?

Belinda Tumbers: We are trying to create a culture that reflects the soul of a start-up. By that I mean we are encouraging an owner’s mindset; so, we want people to take accountability for decisions as if it was their own business.

We work for a 100-year-old company and it is steeped in a lot of tradition and process, so we are trying to get people to work with more speed, and take a slightly different approach – challenge processes that are not adding value, and look at the way we’re innovating to make us get to market a lot quicker in line with start-up companies.

That’s the culture we’re trying to create. It should also be one that is inclusive, diverse, fun, accountable, one that collaborates, and one that has no silos within it.

Inside FMCG: What have been the challenges of shifting from a more traditional culture to this start-up approach?

There are always challenges whenever you go on a cultural journey, as there will always be people who like the current culture and those who are resistant to change.

To me, it all starts at the top with my leadership, and that of my leadership team. It is important we role model the change we’re looking for. We haven’t seen too many challenges because we have a very clear plan. We have identified five workstreams to go after in order to address the culture change, and we have been very prescriptive in including people from across the organisation at all levels to be part of that process.

Inside FMCG: Have you seen a direct relationship between people and culture and profits?

Absolutely. In the time I have been in the role, we have seen a direct correlation between our business performance and getting the right people into the right roles and transforming the culture.

We re-strategised the business, and changed half of the leadership team. I recruited in the people I wanted to drive the agenda forward. We have also created a far more collaborative environment … with renovated offices to bring them up to date with what employees were seeking in a workspace, and also to break down silos.

We also brought fun back to the workplace. We have a lot of social events now compared with the past.

Our business is now seeing the midterm return on the back of those changes. We have gone from a couple of not-so-good years to now seeing a much better business performance for the second year in a row. We have started off this year very strongly as well.

Inside FMCG: What difference has this made to the employees?

We see employees being far more engaged, and willing to work alongside you to deliver results. They are far more positive and far more accountable. If you have a culture that is not working, the business has a lot of inherent negativity.

What I really like about the culture we have created is that people are not afraid to come to us with the bad news, because at the same time they provide a solution on how to get us over it. There is a significant difference when you have a good culture in place.

Inside FMCG: Flexibility is a hot topic. Do you believe it is becoming necessary for businesses to consider?

Yes, it is. I think it is equally important for both men and women. There is often a lot of general conversation that companies need to give more workplace flexibility to working mums, but I think it’s something you need to give to both men and women equally. I think it is important, but also overplayed a bit by the media.

Inside FMCG: How do you plan to improve diversity and make the business more transparent?

We have now moved to a leadership team that is a 50/50 gender split. That is a massive change for us as a business, and we are seeing a real shift in the dynamics of the team, and an improvement in overall effectiveness as a result.

We have an initiative we call Women of Kellogg, but both men and women drive our diversity agenda within the business, so they try to find ways to create a far more inclusive, collaborative and transparent organisation. I think that is important as businesses evolve – you need to be diverse to meet the change in consumers.

I think it is so important that a team has diversity, not just regarding gender, but also race, ethnicity, whatever the case may be in order to take the business forward. Without that, I believe you get stuck in the way you have done things forever and a day.

That is a big point for me, and I don’t think it is happening fast enough. I don’t think companies have clear diversity agendas nor the real intent to make the changes necessary.

Inside FMCG: What is the focus of your culture journey for the next 18 months?

We have made a lot of progress, but there is still more work to be done. We are currently moving to a more flexible operating model. This means that as roles become vacant in the organisation, we assess where that role/head count would be best suited.

Having such a flexible structure will help the business meet customers’ needs as they evolve.

Inside FMCG: In three years’ time, what would you be hoping employees are saying about the culture at Kellogg’s?

I hope they will say we have a culture that is entrepreneurial, agile, inclusive and collaborative, and that they have accountability and the right to make decisions, and can learn from mistakes.

I would like a culture with no silos, where everyone gets along. We have hard conversations, but we resolve the issues, and people enjoy coming to work every day and are passionate about what they’re doing.

Inside FMCG: Outside the culture journey, what is on the cards for Kellogg’s?

We have a big change agenda still happening outside of just the culture transformation journey. We have a full and exciting innovation agenda bringing foods to market that are more on trend with what consumers and shoppers want. Big data is obviously something we are getting a handle on. It is a massive focus for us in terms of how we can optimise in real time, and learning through things like social media that we can apply to our business.

This story was first published in the April issue of Inside FMCG. Subscribe here. 

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