How To Deliver Rapid Culture Change: Richard Baker puts “The Chemists” back into Boots

A key task of the leader of a team or organisation is to set the tone in terms of the values and behaviours of the organisation. Many new leaders set up a ‘culture change programme’ to help make this happen, but a simpler, faster and more effective approach is possible.

As part of the research for my new book, First & Fast, I met with Richard Baker. Richard is now the chairman of Whitbread plc and DFS plc, but he was previously the CEO of Boots the Chemists. When he arrived at the business, it was in turmoil. The company was under trading pressure from grocers, particularly Tesco and Asda, and the previous CEO had been dismissed after wasting over £100 million on a failed initiative to turn Boots into a ‘wellbeing’ company. The organisation was short of confidence and short of direction.

Creating a new culture was as important to Baker as developing a new strategy. Set out below is a copy of a memo that he shared with his new executive colleagues on his first day as CEO of the company, back in September 2003.

To Ex-Co

From: Richard Baker

There are a few behaviours that I expect from myself and my teams. I thought it might help you if I provided an initial insight.

Integrity above all else – Integrity is how we behave when no one else is watching. It is saying what you think honestly and openly, with respect for others. It is killing gossip and seeing the good in others. It is admitting to mistakes fast ….good news can wait.

All of is better than any of us – Teamwork is the secret ingredient. We deliver on promises to each other. We put each other’s work ahead of our own. We debate in private and concur in public. We show trust. We talk each other up in the presence of others.

World-class leadership – We are all leaders in the company. We lead with our ears, not our mouths. We say thank you and we look for every opportunity to celebrate success. When success occurs we give credit to others. When failure occurs we take responsibility personally. We start and finish meetings on time and we set a stretching example to others at all times. Development of our people is a priority.

We set the pace – No on in the company will work faster than we do. We must demand the impossible, set stretch goals and be unreasonable to get the job done. Few people know the limit of their abilities. We will make decisions, not defer them. We will encourage brevity and simplicity. Complexity is the enemy of pace. Less is more.

You can see in that memo Baker’s determination to turn the business around and build the organisation’s confidence as well as its results. The memo is both clear and confident without being either overbearing or unnecessarily prescriptive. Some executives left, but most remained and helped Baker achieve his goals for Boots and, critically, the culture changed rapidly – almost instantaneously – for the better, as a result of Baker’s clarity, his ability to communicate his values and his discipline in ensuring that his behaviours consistently reinforced those values.

You can read more about how Baker put “The Chemists” back into Boots in First & Fast, but having and explicitly communicating a clear set of values was an integral element of his success.

I recommend that you develop and share your own memo about the values and behaviours you expect from your team. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been leading your team for months or years. It’s never too late to re-set your expectations, as long as you’re clear and candid about what you’re trying to achieve.

So, what would your memo say and how quickly could you deliver a new team or organisational culture if you shared it and then reinforced it through your actions?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.

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One Response to How To Deliver Rapid Culture Change: Richard Baker puts “The Chemists” back into Boots

  1. Pingback: Business Rocks – What’s Your Manifesto? | Cross Wires Blog

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