What does it take to create enterprise-level business transformations? How does one understand and deal with the challenges of change? If you’re an ambitious entrepreneur who longs for the answer to these questions, then this episode is for you. Today, we discuss the most effective approach to transformation at the enterprise level with none other than James Clark, a transformational business leader with 20 years of experience in general management, sales leadership, and commercial enablement at some of the world’s most innovative and dynamic organizations. From understanding the problem to building a roadmap, join us as we take a quick but insightful walk through what it really takes to be successful with enterprise transformation!
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[00:01:42] Thank you, guys, for reading week after week, month after month, and year after year, for emailing me at Ben@YourBrandMarketing.com, and for connecting with me on LinkedIn. I appreciate you all. I’ve got a big announcement at the end of the show. Suffice to say, this is my last interview. We’ll talk about that a little bit more at the end of the show. Now, I am just ecstatic, like you wouldn’t believe, to introduce my last guest, James Clark. James and I have known each other for a good long time now. We’ve become very good Zoom buddies. He has come from the other side of the pond. We’re going to talk about business transformation and the challenges of change at an enterprise level. James, welcome to the show.
[00:02:30] It’s great to be here, Ben. Thank you. Nice to see you.
[00:02:32] You and I met through Paul Hevesy. We met through Stanley Black & Decker. There’s an organization going through some enormous changes and has been for a while now. It’s incredible to see from the outside. You can let me know a little bit more from the inside if you want. I don’t want you to give away any state secrets. How do those changes not only affect the organization but change the people inside the organization, the culture, the purposes, and the vision? All of that is fascinating. James, before we get started, why don’t you give people an idea of who you are, where you came from, and where you are now?
[00:03:13] Thank you, Ben. I’m James Clark, originally an engineer by trade. I grew up in systems engineering. I found myself in increasingly traditional senior roles in the world of operations management, sales management, and general management. I reached the crossroad a few years ago. I got drawn into the world of enterprise-wide transformation projects and changed management at Stanley Black & Decker. It took me down a path that I probably would never have foreseen.
It has been fascinating, is the way I would describe it. It has opened my eyes to some things I never realized before about how you lead transformation, how you think about the unique individuals involved, and keeping your eye on the ability to transform enterprise-level organizations. I am a Commercial Excellence Director now, living in a world of constant transformation or change. It’s the one constant.
[00:04:07] Before we get into it, what was the impetus for that change a few years ago? What was that a-ha moment, or who was that person that reached their arm out, dragged you in, and said, “This is a great place for you to be?” How did they sell you? It was a dramatic change from where you were to where you are and got you into that new thought of business transformation, change management, people management, and understanding the company on more of a macro level instead of a micro level where you probably were in even within senior management positions.
[00:04:41] At the time, I was working for STANLEY Security, which was part of Stanley Black & Decker. We were used to standing and saying we’re a commodity industry. We’re selling CCTV cameras. We’re selling access control and commodities in the marketplace. We felt like we were competing in a marketplace and that we were struggling to differentiate ourselves. I’d followed this very traditional path. There were some leaders inside the organization who were passionate about changing our perspective on the market. It’s important to recognize as well that Stanley Black & Decker, in terms of the landscape of that as an organization, is one of positive and constant transformation and innovation as an organization throughout history.
When I joined the organization, I was told it’s an organization full of opportunities driven by innovation and change. It’s also an organization that requires you to be incredibly resilient. That’s the landscape of the situation. I remember getting a phone call a few years ago, and they said, “James, you’ve been doing this job as a general manager, running install, projects, and customer sales processes. We want you to lead our pricing work stream as part of this global transformation project.” I remember thinking, and I said, “Are you sure? I’ve never done any pricing before. Pricing is not what I do.”
[00:06:02] It’s outside your comfort zone.
[00:06:05] As a predominantly commercially orientated individual and as a sales guy, my job’s to discount price increases away. Pricing is a finance job. It’s not a sales job. I tip my hat to those leaders because they said, “That’s exactly the point. We want you to come in and have a perspective on pricing that makes it relevant for everybody. How do we democratize to use the current buzzwords nowadays? How do we democratize pricing and make it relevant for everybody?” As soon as they said that to me, I said, “That’s interesting. Let’s see if we can make pricing understandable, relevant, and something people will embrace.” It was a strange conversation but ultimately proved to be a defining moment in my career.
[00:06:51] That’s an interesting thing. It’s that bold leadership to sit there and say, “Wait a second here, we’re missing a piece of the pie. We know we need to differentiate. We know we need to change. We know that the status quo isn’t working for whatever reason. We may not even know why the status quo isn’t working, but we know that we need fresh faces, fresh voices, and fresh ideas to be able to make the changes that we need to change in order to get from where we are to where we want to be.”
That’s a bold place for any leader to be because change is an extremely scary thing. A lot of companies sit there and go, “That’s risk. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If it’s working, just keep doing what you’re doing,” but you never innovate that way. You never grow that way. You never become a leader in the industry that way. What were the things you learned along the way that enabled you to sit there and say, “These are the things that I’m seeing and what I would like to see?” How do you get from being that fresh face to being somebody that is a voice at the table?
[00:08:00] I came into the exercise, and I was really open to the concept. I looked at the principle of pricing, but it could fundamentally be anything. I realized that I, as an individual, didn’t understand it. I was never going to admit I didn’t understand it. It’s easy to say that salespeople often struggle to, as a good friend of mine used to say, park their ego at the door. They’re never going to put their hand up and go, “I don’t understand it.” We used to make decisions as salespeople that, in our mind, a 5% discount is easy, or we’re going to go and take this path rather than this one. It was intuitive. It was a gut feel. It wasn’t based on data. It wasn’t based on fact. It wasn’t based on being well-informed.
Ultimately, you would never convince me or many others that there was a different path because we struggled to park our ego. We didn’t want to admit that we didn’t understand something. I came into pricing. I came into that transformation project. What I saw was I was doing pricing, there were people doing growth, there were people doing supply chain, and there were people doing IT. There are multiple work streams in this transformation project. Fundamentally, at the heart of it was the same issue in the sense that we had an organization where there were so many incredibly smart people across the organization at multiple levels who had some great ideas, but there were also a lot of people who didn’t understand the fundamentals of certain things outside of this work stream.
We had to find a way of giving people a voice but also being able to enable people to be more self-aware on their terms, rather than us saying to them, “You don’t understand this.” What we had to do was create an ability for them to have that a-ha moment and go, “I don’t understand this.” I don’t need to admit I don’t understand it. I can just step into this so I can embrace it and be incrementally better than I was previously. Let me give you an example in terms of pricing. If you talk to 1,000 salespeople and say you’re going to teach them the principles of pricing, they might perk up their ears.Rather than saying to people they don't understand, create an ability for them to have that aha moment where they realize that they can just step into it, embrace it, and be better than before. Click To Tweet
However, if I turn around to you and say, “I’m going to teach you the principles of value-based sales so you can add value to your customers. I’m going to help you negotiate more effectively to be a better version of yourself as a salesperson,” your chances are you get a lot more people who, all of a sudden, take an interest in that. I’m still talking about pricing, but what I’m doing is I’m turning it around and delivering a message based on the needs of the recipient of that message. You’re saying it to a salesperson in the language they want to hear. All of a sudden, then, you’re not forcing anything. What you’re doing is creating self-awareness for them. They go, “I’m interested in that. How do I do that, James?”
You take them down the process of self-assessment so they can self-diagnose where they sit and fit into that broader spectrum of change and transformation. What you do is expose them to resources and capability building that enables them to be a better version of themselves. The other thing that was increasingly important was don’t try and set unrealistic expectations for people. If you say to someone, “I’m going to make you 20% better,” it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll believe and achieve it.
When we did value-based sales training as an example, at the end of it, we used to say to people, “Do you think tomorrow you’ll be 1% better than you were yesterday?” I would say probably all of them at the time will say, “Sure, I’m going to be 1% better tomorrow.” For an organization like Stanley Black & Decker, if you can have 1% more margin on every salesperson’s deal yesterday in comparison to today, that’s a big number. That classic graph that shows the cumulative effect of lots of 1% is enormous. It was incredibly powerful, but ultimately, what you get from that is you get momentum. You get people going, “Okay.”
Instead of you having to force programs into people see it and go, “I’m interested in being involved in that. How do I get involved in that?” and you build value cases internally, which then ultimately leads to momentum, increased value cases, and increased opportunities to engage with people collaboratively across the organization. It snowballs. It is incredibly powerful to watch that happen. What it also enables you to do is if people don’t think they have the need, that’s fine too. There are always people that will see the need, so you move on to someone else and continue to build capability. It’s this principle of incremental improvement across an entire organization that has such a sustainable impact. It was incredible for them.
[00:12:54] It’s a business transformation with a human focus. It’s sitting there and saying, “What do these people need in their minds to be successful?” It’s tapping into they all know that there’s something within them that is keeping them from getting to whatever the next level is. Not everybody is going to be the top salesperson. It’s taking the bottom salesperson and bringing them up 1% a day. It’s taking the middle salespeople and bringing them up 1% a day, and the top salespeople are giving them the ability to go from good to great. That’s the psychological thing. It’s looking at the business transformation from a human point of view and realizing that we’re dealing with emotions, fear, aspirations, and the ability not to feel stupid. We truly undersell the idea of how important it is to not make people feel stupid and less than others.
[00:13:54] One of the things that we often thought and talked about and did was taking our experienced sellers and salespeople working with external customers and applying it to internal customers. When you’re out selling, you don’t intentionally set out to make any of your customers feel stupid. You build value propositions that resonate. You think about their needs. In a B2B environment, it’s about, “How do I improve their revenue and reduce their costs?” It’s a real, tangible impact.
If it’s in the B2C environment, you’re thinking about all those things, plus emotional context. We know that as salespeople. As we moved into this world of transformation and put the people at the heart of it, we went, “Let’s build value propositions for internal customers as well as external customers, so we understand their needs based on them as unique individuals.”
We expose them to the resources that are available to them. We quantify the benefit to them as individuals, teams, or organizations so that they ultimately make an informed decision. You harness that human effect. Rather than what historically would happen, you get the vision from the top, “This is what we’re going to do.” Often it doesn’t work out as you expect, but that’s because no one really understood the human effect here and here. You didn’t take the time to understand what these people thought, and when it fails six months down the line, all of those people go, “If you’d asked me, I would’ve told you it was never going to work.”
We built an approach that was, “This is the value proposition that’s defined by the president or the vice president or whoever it is.” Often it’s a hierarchical position, but then we went and tested it through real simple surveys and asked people what they thought. It gave people the ability to contribute to the conversation and feel like they had a voice. It strengthened the value proposition. Most importantly, as the project progressed, people, as we used to say, had their hands in the blood. They were part of the process. If people started to go, “Hang on a second, maybe we should try and do this. This is what I see,” it’s such an incredible dynamic you see when you apply that human principle to transformation and change.
[00:16:40] We’ll pick on the salespeople from now, but it could be anybody within the organization. To sit there and embrace change is just as difficult for leaders who have been top-down command and control type leaders who are used to do what I say and don’t question it. To understand that there has to be a different way of doing it, there has to be that listen to, understand, and value people and realize that just because you think of it this way and the data tells you this and because that’s what your perception of it is, doesn’t mean that everybody interprets that same data or understands the data the same way and is going to act the same way that you think that they should. How do you help leaders get beyond their ego and enable them to understand that the world doesn’t necessarily think, act, and react the same way that they do?
[00:17:33] It comes down to a sense of subtlety. For everyone, they don’t want to feel stupid, either. They’re often in a position that can feel exposed. They’re expected to be that leader that leads the change and leads the transformation. “Historically, this is what we’re going to go and do. Let’s go and do it.” We saw some incredible examples of leaders who had, first and foremost, a growth mindset. They understood they couldn’t possibly understand everything. They were open to understanding what people genuinely thought. It’s that principle of bottom-up planning. They also had the humility to understand what people did think of the vision that they were defining and had the awareness to be prepared to change it and adapt it as they went.
As we went and did this exercise and explained the principle of defining a value proposition, we didn’t exercise one of our industrial businesses looking at the redefinition of their customer service organization. The leadership of that organization had probably hundreds of years of experience across their mindset, but they recognized that in the last few years, everything had changed. The world was a completely different place because, for our customers, the way they want to buy has changed completely. We did an exercise with them where they said, “This is our expectation. This is our vision.” I said, “Let’s build a value proposition for your organization that steps through seven relatively simple steps that help build a value proposition. Let’s go and test it, see what people think.”
What they got was hugely positive, but what it also gave them in a safe environment for them as leaders are some feedback that made them go, “Hang on, I hadn’t thought of that. That’s great,” and it’s come from 2 or 3 levels down. “Let’s tweak our vision.” What they did is they shared a vision, “This is what we think,” and in a way that was very safe and didn’t make them look stupid. They then went, “We’ve listened to what you said. Our vision now looks like this.” That vision became the value proposition for the process. The engagement they got from people throughout the organization went up 20% or 30% just because they did it in a safe and secure manner. I’d never seen people do that before because historically, what happens is, “Here’s our vision for change. Here’s our vision for X, Y, or Z. This is what we’re going to go and do.”
[00:20:02] “Go execute. Period. End of story.”
[00:20:04] “End of conversation. I don’t want any discussion about it.” The greatest leaders of this generation have those things in them, humility, a growth mindset, collaboration, and willingness to realize that they can’t have all the answers all of the time, and they want to use data-driven approaches. One of which is surveying your team around the vision for the change. That’s fascinating.
[00:20:30] That’s important because it’s ongoing communication. It’s creating feedback loops. It’s creating the listening loops. It’s being willing to sit there and say, “Wait a second here. We thought we were going in this direction. We all agreed we’re going in this direction. Something came up. Whatever it is, there’s a monkey wrench in here somewhere. Everybody, let’s focus on this and come up with some good ideas.” Those ideas can come from anywhere. “We figured that out. Awesome. Now let’s go back and communicate what we’ve changed, why we’ve changed it, how we’ve changed it, and what it means out to the field,” and be able to continue that along the process.
Change is messy in the middle. It truly is. Every single time I work with an organization with change, I say, “It’s going to be messy in the middle. It’s going to be frustrating in the middle. People are going to get mad. They’re going to get frustrated. There are people that are going to want to throw their hands up. It’s going to happen. You’re going to yell at me. It’s okay.” It’s moving beyond those frustrating points. It’s being able to step back and allowing a wide variety of voices to be heard. It could be the machinist who’s actually been running that machine for 30 years that comes up with a great solution.
Unless you ask that person or at least be open to an idea from that person, you’re never going to come up with a solution that’s going to truly work and move you beyond wherever setback you are. As leaders and people who lead change, we need to not only be aware of this, but we need to enable this at all different levels of leadership. That’s a challenging point because, in a lot of organizations, we call it the permafrost, the mid-level management.
Things don’t get brought up, and things don’t come down because people are so worried about their job and their perception. They don’t want to speak truth to power, whatever the concept is. A lot of the information doesn’t make it down to the rank and file, or from the rank and file, it doesn’t make it up to the C-Suite. Using business transformation, how have you been able to create more of a democratized communication method to be able to make sure that the right people are hearing the right things at the right time?
[00:22:50] I got a piece of advice about two months after I started that transformation project. I walked into the pricing transformation project. I was this global workstream leader. It started to feel good. I got some advice from the general manager of our French business. I went into his office in Paris, and we were running this bottom-up planning process where they’d brought a lot of people from across the organization, and anyone could contribute ideas to this transformation. He pulled me to one side and said, “I don’t need you to lead these people. They understand our business much better than you do and much better probably than I do as well.”
He said, “What I need you to do is dig in, sit beside them, and help them. Act as a coach. Help them work through the principles. We need doers. We don’t need people who are just going to collate information and report out.” It was so powerful because it was true. How often, when you go into those roles, do you sit and gather the insights and information that have been fed to you? You don’t test them. You don’t understand them. You don’t validate them. You have no concept of the benefit and the value it’s trying to bring. You just report out. Multiple times, those things fail. We’d never do that with the customer. We’d ask an external customer, “What are your needs?”We need doers. We don't need people who are just going to collate information and report out. Click To Tweet
We understand their needs and how we deliver it. We don’t do it. That was the greatest piece of advice I ever had. When I talk about roles in transformation now and my ambitions for the future, one of the things I always say is, “I don’t want to be in a solely hierarchical position.” If I am in a hierarchical position in transformation, I’m going to fail. I have to have the ability. You ultimately sometimes have that for responsibility and accountability, but if you’re going to lead transformation, you’ve got to have a means of being able to get to 1 level down, 2 levels down, 3 levels down, and sit side by side with these people and understand their needs.
You talked about continuous improvement. We built a commercial excellence framework, which is a transformation framework fundamentally. It’s got two sides to it. The right-hand side is full of resources. It’s things like learning, development, sales, analytics, market intelligence, and all these wonderful things where we connect people to resources. That’s not even important. What’s on the right-hand side changes day by day, week by week, and month by month, based on the needs of the organization or the individuals at that time. The most important bit is a bit on the left-hand side.
It’s about how you create self-awareness throughout the organization. How do you create the ability to self-assess throughout the organization and understand levels of maturity? How do you truly collaborate with unique individuals with different perspectives? External customers don’t buy based on their company’s beliefs. They buy based on their own beliefs. They’re based on their unique makeup as human beings. You have to be able to do that. The world is full of constantly changing best practices. You have to have the ability to adopt best practices in a very agile way while at the same time collaborating, continuously improving, making sure people are self-aware, and making sure people can assess.
If you build a community that can do that on the left-hand side of any transformation framework, the right-hand side does itself because you then are just connecting the dots for people based on what they actually need. It ultimately comes down to those people. I always go back to that advice from the GM in the French business, “Don’t stand, collect data, and report out. Get in, sit by the side of people, coach them, help them translate, help them uncover the value, help them see the potential, and do it while you’re sat side by side.” It’s so powerful.
[00:26:47] I call it leading from the middle. Certain people need a little push, and some people need a hand back, but most people just want to see shoulder-to-shoulder with them and know that you’re there and listening and that you understand and value them and you’re part of the solution. You’re not just somebody sitting behind a desk with a closed door that you have to knock on the door and feel bad every single time you bother them. That’s really important. Here’s my last question because I want to be conscious of your time. It’s an important one, which is dealing with data.
Organizations nowadays live and die by spreadsheets, dashboards, or whatever. My question is, how do we make sure that we don’t go group think, data blind, and absolutely trust data without verification? I’m a big believer of trust and verify, go out into the field and question to make sure that what the data is telling us is truly what it is. How do you enable leaders to understand that data is not God? It is one way of looking at things. It’s one way to understand what the world is telling you, but it needs to be verified.
[00:28:04] Here’s the back end of the story I told, which links to a certain extent. One of the lessons I learned, and we’ve talked about this, is the concept of listening to understand rather than listening to simply respond. That’s part of how you get through those layers in an organization. It’s also important in the concept of using data. My opinion is that we need transformation to be data-driven. It needs to be. The world is full of data. It is informative. It’s helpful. Technology empowers us, provided it’s not the first thing we go to. We talk about things such as the democratization of data. We talk about machine learning. We talk about artificial intelligence.We need transformation to be data-driven. The world is full of data. It is informative. It's helpful. Technology empowers us. Click To Tweet
They’re all words a little bit to me, like the pricing was a few years ago. It would be wrong with me to put my hand up and go, “I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re talking about.” What happens in the use of data is we go to technology, go to data, and it becomes deeply technical and quite complex. Maybe you will lose 90% of the organization because they don’t understand how they’ve gotten to this point. They don’t trust the data. They don’t understand the technology. They don’t understand how they can make things better or use it to generate insights that help lead change and transformation.
We did a lot of work in terms of sales analytics at Stanley Black & Decker. It was the age-old thing where sales didn’t trust the reports that were produced. The reason they didn’t trust the reports is because they didn’t put all their data in because they didn’t realize why they had to do it. They thought it was big brother watching them. No one had ever taken the time to define a vision for what we were trying to achieve. What’s the value proposition of you as a salesperson or HR or finance having better data? What’s the part of governance? How do you then ensure that core operational functions inside the business understand the role they play in good quality data that supports the vision?
Once you’ve done those things, is everyone data literate? That doesn’t mean that I, as a commercial excellence leader, need to be as data literate as a data scientist, but I can be role-relevant data literate so that I understand what I need to understand. I taught the same language in an appropriate manner so that all the way through there, you have vision, governance, and literacy that supports a community and an approach to using data to lead transformations.
The last step in the process is technology. What technology do I use to support that? There is some incredibly cool tech out there that drives incredible process automation, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial. It’s incredible. The problem is often people go, “I love the cool tech. Let’s go straight to that,” and they miss the proceeding three stages, which undermines all the value you could get from the use of data.
[00:31:20] It’s showing people at their level, and this is coming full circle with the conversation that we’ve had, is that if you can get people to understand why it’s important to them, they’ll embrace it and if we can get people to understand why they should be data literate at their level. As you said, I can’t ever be a data scientist. That’s not me, but I need to be able to understand data as it’s relevant to me. Salespeople need to understand data as it’s relevant to them.
The marketing department needs to understand data as it’s relevant to them, and so does HR, legal, and customer experience. If we can sit there and realize that not everybody is going to understand data at their own level, but they’re going to understand it to a point where it matters to them, and it helps them do their job, we’re going to allow for business transformation to happen far more effectively. We’re going to allow for challenges to change to be far less,
[00:32:14] Ultimately, we apply the logic we applied by carrying sales reps. I’d walk in, and I needed to understand the customer’s needs. What is it I could do to add value for them as an individual? If you apply that principle to all customers, whether they’re internal or external customers, you are a long way closer to being able to uncover their potential and add real, sustainable value through any transformation efforts you deliver.
I strongly believe it. I sometimes think we pay lip service to the principle of internal customers. If we can find a way, as we said right throughout this conversation, of bringing it down to a human level where we truly understand the needs and wants of the individual on the other side of the table, we stand a much better chance of getting it right more often than we get it wrong. We’ll certainly be listening to understand rather than listening to simply respond.
[00:33:13] Amen to that. Let’s leave the conversation there because you summed it up beautifully. James, you’ve been an incredible guest. We’ll make sure that people can get in touch with you over LinkedIn. That’s probably the best way for people to get in touch with you. Before I leave you and say goodbye, I want to let people know what’s happening. After several years and 325 or more episodes, I’ve decided to sunset the show at the end of 2022. There’s a new show coming, and it’s all going to be about things that are going to be fascinating to people. Stick around over the last two episodes. I’m going to do a retrospective next episode. After that, I’m going to let the cat out of the bag about what’s next.
I want to thank everybody for being here. The episodes are not going anywhere. They will live on forever. They will be available at YourLIVINGBrand.live show. They are on my webpage at YourBrandMarketing.com. I want to thank you all for being such an amazing audience and for being with me. I can’t wait to have you join me when we start talking about what’s next. James, thank you for your time. Thank you for your passion. Thank you for all that you’ve done for all the people within Stanley Black & Decker and elsewhere around the world to be able to make this world a better place and enable the business transformation to happen and make sure that people are part of the change process and not be just being affected by the change process.
[00:34:44] Thank you, Ben. It’s been a being here. Congratulations on the years. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
[00:34:49] I’m excited to let everybody know. Everybody, have a great day.
About James Clark
‘I am a transformational business leader with 20 years’ experience in general management, sales leadership, and commercial enablement at some of the world’s most innovative and dynamic organizations.
Up until 5 years ago I considered that I was following a traditional career path. My ambition was to achieve increasingly senior positions within the organizations that I worked for. A chance opportunity took me down a path that would reshape my perspective on my career and how I add value.
I am passionate about leading sustainable and expansive business transformations that enhance the core and help shape the future of an organization, its employees, and its customers. I constantly strive to develop the capability of all stakeholders in the value chain through the development of understandable, targeted, and data-driven approaches which encourage collaboration, the agile adoption of best practices, and the awareness of your customers’ situational context.
I have developed into an avid listener and consider myself to be a collaborative partner who is driven by collective stakeholder achievement, is resilient to obstacles and challenges, and is committed to uncovering the current definition of excellence.’
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