Unipart puts culture change on the agenda at Utility Week Live

Culture change is harder than ’rocket science’, but it’s fundamental to meeting the challenges facing the utilities industry.

That is the message from Unipart Chairman and Group Chief Executive, John Neill when he speaks to utility sector leaders gathered in Birmingham’s NEC at the Utility Week Live conference on May 18.

Neill outlined his keynote presentation for the conference describing the cultural transformation that changed Unipart from being part of an underperforming, state-run organisation, to be one of the largest private manufacturing, logistics and consultancy companies in Europe.

“We had to make a massive cultural transformation,” he said. “It’s my belief that culture change isn’t rocket science, it’s actually harder than rocket science.”

The message comes at a time when the utility industry is facing the need to drive improvements in standards, deliver ‘better than ever’ customer service, and achieve all of this while faced with demanding regulation. It is a situation not unlike the challenges faced by Unipart at its management buyout in 1987.

“From where we started, transformation wasn’t an option, it was a necessity. We needed to move from an organisation in decline to one that could succeed and control its own destiny,” Neill said.

“People often ask me for the three of four things that they should do to solve their cultural, performance or productivity challenges.

“In reality the scale of change and leadership required is far more demanding and pervasive than most organisations can conceive. It has taken more than 30 years of deliberate practice to change the way in which we see, do and think.”

“As part of our plan to create a new culture, 25 years ago we introduced what we called Our Contribution Counts Circles. Employees of all levels meet and solve problems and are continually being engaged and encouraged to do so. We have run over 18,000 of these circles saving our group millions of pounds every year.

“In 1987 we set our corporate goal to make the Unipart logo the mark of outstanding personal customer service and launched the Mark in Action Programme. Over the years, 2,500 people have received the coveted Mark in Action award.”

“After many years of unambiguous leadership coupled with intensive training we were sufficiently confident to brand our way of work as The Unipart Way. It is a carefully designed system integrating 30 years of learning. We know it works in every one of our operating companies, everywhere in the world.”

“Having developed so much knowledge on our own journey of transformation, we now share that knowledge with other organisations, which use our experience to get there more quickly and sure-footedly.”

Neill will also describe how companies in the utility sector are now using The Unipart Way. He recounted the story of how local repair teams in a major electricity provider worked with Unipart to reduce delays and cut time spent in re-planning. The result was an initial cost saving of £100,000 which, when shared as best practise across the client, is expected to save £6 million a year.

“Our way of working has enabled us to transform our factories from some of the worst in the UK to global leaders in terms of productivity, quality and customer service,” he said. “I believe that the lessons we have learned are relevant to any industry that is seeking to change the way it works.”