Organisational culture has long been a topic of importance and interest for business leaders. It’s often referred to as the backbone of business success and resilience, and is critical in enabling a dynamic response during periods of uncertainty and instability.
But it isn’t always easy to execute and, as we close in on the end of 2021, the importance of culture has never been higher.
For Jules Radford, VP of Financial Operations at Inmarsat, creating a “revolutionary culture” is imperative to business success. A world leader in mobile satellite communications, Inmarsat made multiple acquisitions and business changes that created a “culturally challenging work environment”. Since then, the business has turned itself around; transforming through a focus on culture that has shifted priorities from process to people. With a new CEO at the helm, Inmarsat has been encouraging connection and communication with its people and customers at the centre, leveraging it to drive it’s simplification and customer centricity agenda.
What are some of the challenges with maintaining a positive organisational culture that fosters engagement?
Ensuring our people felt stable in a period of unprecedented instability and change was a huge challenge to navigate. With almost 2000-people in the organisation, the pandemic had a huge impact and forced us to make difficult decisions around our people last year. Headcount in Financial Operations reduced by almost 25 percent and as a result, we had to change our way of working to meet the increasing demand to deliver more for less.
Investing more in digitisation and speeding up implementation has been a huge focus for the team as a way to meet this demand. For finance, it’s meant that roles and responsibilities have changed dramatically as more processes become automated. And while this is beneficial for the organisation overall, from a people engagement perspective it can be a tricky space to manage as employees raise concerns about their purpose and future.
We wanted to tackle this head on to make our people feel safe and engaged in their evolving roles. We have always presented technology as an enabler and so it’s been important – and a challenge – to position this consistently as so. Communicating this in a remote world has also had its own challenges. As we settle into a hybrid way of working, we’ve had to focus carefully on explaining the ongoing changes that continue to reshape business. It’s crucial to strike the right messaging, and one way of achieving this effectively has been through a bi-weekly vlog. This has proved effective in providing a clear vision on what the plan is now and in the future, while also injecting the human element into the message in order to manage some of the concerns and anxieties of the team.
A big challenge for us now is attrition. As turnover reduced to an all-time low during 2020 and early 2021, we’re now facing the opposite challenge as we experience changes such as The Great Resignation. Like many businesses, experiencing a dramatic shift in people will inevitably impact the culture you’ve built, but recognising that culture is constantly evolving helps us to keep it on track and continue to steer it in the right direction.
What have been some of the decisions Inmarsat have made to drive a revolutionary culture change and keep people engagement high?
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We wanted to put initiatives in place that showed our commitment to our people. One of the ways we did this was to launch a finance people plan at the beginning of the year, with the purpose of keeping people motivated and engaged. For us, happy people equals happy customers.
The plan included more detailed and structured training designed to equip people with what they needed to be successful in their evolved role. Training on new technology and understanding how they interacted with a lot of the new automation was one of the key areas we wanted to cover.
We also launched a finance passport to improve our onboarding and through life experience, as we know that’s often a pain point in finance in particular. What this does is give our new starters – and those who have been in finance for a while – a suite of training to make sure they have the right tools and skills to succeed. It also provides them with an understanding of where their role fits into the wider Finance and Inmarsat organisation while also enforcing the message that their role is critical to the success of the organisation and our customers.
This year, we have encouraged people to think differently about their development and to make use of a new and interactive self-assessment leadership development framework which covers separate questions for team members, managers and senior managers. The framework asks whether the individual and their line manager believes each attribute is a strength or a development area, allowing room to build a tailored development plan around this. This has been incredibly successful and has facilitated much more insightful conversations and stronger development plans.
We have also launched smaller, informal initiatives that have really helped encourage communication and relationship building over the last 18 months. As an example we’ve started a leadership lunch which involves discussing a recommended podcast, aimed at group learning as well as encouraging conversation and connection with others. For our wider team, we have put on quizzes and chat roulette – where people are randomly partnered in a virtual room – which all contributes to the feeling of belonging and networking.
Finally, we recently launched what we call the Fix, Improve or Stop programme which is all geared towards opening the way for conversations to drive our simplification agenda throughout the business. It’s already sparked discussions and decisions to cut down on some steps within processes to facilitate a more streamlined and efficient process.
What have been some of the outcomes you’ve seen at Inmarsat that have positively impacted your culture?
I think the most important outcome of our decisions was showing our people that we’re serious about improving their experience and time at Inmarsat. In a virtual world, it’s harder to gauge how people are feeling and responding to what you’re doing, and it’s important to us that our people trust our commitment to actioning change rather than only discussing it.
We have relied on our people surveys to understand where we are excelling versus falling short. Engagement with these surveys are generally high (90%+ response rates) and through the scores we can see how some of our decisions are impacting our employees, while also taking ideas on board for how to shape the business for the future.
Overall, we’ve seen our ability to deliver better operationally than we were pre-pandemic, and with less staff. Our people are for the most part, engaged, motivated and feel empowered to make their own decisions at work, and I think our commitment to simplifying processes has helped to drive a high performance culture that has so far been very successful. Of course, there is always more that we could and should do!
What have been some of your key learnings so far, and how will you take these into the future at Inmarsat?
As a leader there are always things you would do differently when reflecting on a year of immense change. Firstly, for me, there is a fine line between empowering the team to deliver and providing support to specific issues. Managing some of the challenges that came with implementing automation into FinOps would be something I’d do differently by getting more engaged with some of the issues earlier on.
Secondly, I would have encouraged people to go back to the office earlier. It’s nerve-wracking to deal with yet another change, and of course it’s important to manage different people and comfort levels, however, seeing my team in person again and having that free dialogue in one space has been hugely helpful in re-establishing connection and relationships. If people are comfortable to return to the office then I would definitely encourage more of it.
Thirdly, seeing the early successes of the Fix, Improve or Stop campaign and how revolutionary it’s been to the way we work, has been great to see. It’s played a huge role in driving our simplification agenda and I think a key learning would have been to roll this out earlier. When considering people engagement for finance, really opening the floor for those honest conversations on how to relieve workload, create capacity and gain further efficiency is imperative to keep people motivated.
Finally, as an organisation we’re continuing on our journey of flexible working, we are currently launching compressed working hours (a 9 day fortnight) to give people further work-life balance, helping to drive engagement within the workplace and also make Inmarsat an even greater place to work. Our ultimate goal is to continue having ecosystems of empowered teams that are fully engaged and excited to help deliver the vision for the business with our customers.
Jules Radford is a senior leader and energiser who generates confidence by focusing on value creating outcomes through an empowered, culturally strong and continuously improving team. Jules heads up Financial Operations with a team of over 100 superstars, enabling profitable revenue for Inmarsat through effective and efficient processes covering purchase to pay, order to cash and record to report.