GPT.

Case study

Building the Culture for Growth in a Property Management Company

The challenge

GPT is one of Australia's largest diversified listed property groups. The Group has more than 38,000 investors, is one of the top 50 stocks by market capitalisation and has $16.7 billion in assets under management and around 500 employees. The Group’s 40-year history of success was jeopardised by a loss of strategic clarity exposed by the global financial crisis.

CEO Michael Cameron arrived in 2009 with a 3- stage plan: stabilise, optimise and grow. His first task was to restore investor confidence by making a series of early decisions to stabilise the balance sheet.

After this initial phase of stabilisation, it became clear to Cameron that the culture of the organisation was not going to allow a lean and efficient operation from which the growth phase could emerge.

Over the years employees had developed a sense of entitlement, divisions were operating in costly silos and there was low accountability. In 2010 GPT moved to an integrated property management approach that is aligned to a goal of the strategic allocation of capital.

This produces synergies and efficiencies across GPT’s $8bn+ property portfolio, but requires collaboration, innovation and accountability to be successful.

But employee surveys showed that employees were still mourning the past, and had not engaged in the new approach to growth in the future. Cameron, together with a small team put in place to consider the results of employee surveys, considered an important question. How could they change the culture and re-engage the workforce, optimising the business in order to position the company for growth once again? GPT decided to seek outside help.

The approach

GPT had employed consultants to provide surveys, and knew of a range of consultants who could coach the executive team, but their assessment concluded that only the Walking the Talk Culture Management System offered the strength in implementation that they considered essential.

The team found no other proposal with a strong and practical execution orientation. They found in Walking the Talk a process that would engage employees in designing their own future, while building the internal competence and ownership they needed to sustainably manage their culture.

A team of culture champions were selected who proved to be key to the success of the process. The best emerging talent was nominated and the process gave them the strength and support they needed to speak up in meetings where they would previously have remained silent, challenge the status quo and adopt attitudes of responsibility, collaboration and trust.

They were trained in the Walking the Talk methodologies and given the task of building a plan to establish the culture that the business needed to ensure its future growth. The team designed a culture of accountability (Achievement). Recent employee studies have shown that accountability is now firmly embedded as a value of the Group.

The culture plan was completed and culture is now rigorously managed as an integrated part of the company’s business planning process.

A year after the process commenced, several key interventions are judged to have contributed to the change in the culture.

 GPT case study - process

  1. Sessions to define the target culture using the Walking the Talk tools, where interactions between the culture champions and the executives demonstrated that they shared similar aspirations for the company. Accountability was defined as the highest priority behavioural focus for year one. The process built trust between these two groups and gave the confidence needed by the champions to themselves own the business and culture goals and advocate them with their peers.

  2. ’Mike at the mike’: regular open dialogue between the CEO and employees where gradually the questions got bolder and the responses more open.

  3. A workplace redesign with a free desk environment, true mobility and paperless management broke down barriers between teams.

  4. Intensive work with the executive team on their individual behaviour and their ability to think and operate as a team. This included leadership assessments, coaching and team development sessions.

  5. Walking the Talk culture planning process, which prioritised a series of Year 1 initiatives to close the gap between the current and target culture. These included leadership development programs, a redesign of the performance management system and a new talent management process.

  6. A governance infrastructure was put in place, establishing a Project Control Group to ensure that culture was managed with the discipline required to produce results.

  7. A large conference where the cultural goals were communicated to all and the direct-link was established between strategy and the accountable culture.

  8. Strong involvement and support from the board for the culture change process.

The results

As the company started to operate more effectively together, they have been able to think more radically about how they can run the business. In an August 2012 investor briefing:

CEO Michael Cameron lifted GPT’s forecast for full-year earnings growth to 7 per cent from 4 per cent (or CPI +1) and said that the company has now been able to “capture the financial benefits of all of the work conducted over the past two years”.

The second of the originally defined phases, optimisation, has now been successfully completed and the company is moving to the third phase of growth. With the work undertaken on culture, the CEO now believes he has an organisation that is fit for growth. Symbolically, key executives have been moved into a newly created Growth Team.

As an example of change, a recent restructure was handled – and received completely differently than in the past – with transparency, full communication and with managers offering more cost savings than they were originally asked for. COO, Michael O’Brien said, “Now people are running to participate and be more accountable. We have achieved the tipping point”.

 

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