Frontline Ltd is the UK’s leading magazine sales and distribution company owned by four publishers, Bauer Media, H Bauer, Immediate Media, and Haymarket Media. The business provides sales and logistics services to the publishers of over 160 magazines. Frontline delivers around 400 million magazine titles to 55,000 retailers across the UK every year.
For the last decade, Frontline had undergone significant change, including several managing directors – each with their unique mission and vision. This was also a time of great change in the publishing industry, with increasing usage of the internet for media consumption, which triggered the company and its publisher owners to rethink their size and shape. As a result, Frontline reduced its workforce by approximately one third, and also had employees transfer into Frontline from the publishing companies.
Frank Straetmans was recruited to take the role of Managing Director. He recognized a couple of key issues. Because of the downsizing and series of changes, the organization was tired, potentially cynical, and ultimately not running at its optimum efficiency. Additionally, over the years, the company has become more focused on the increasing power of the big retailers, since they have the largest share of sales in the market. This had moved the focus away from the objectives of the publishers/owners who perceived their needs were not being considered enough in the management of the supply chain.
Quite early into the tenure of the new Managing Director, the Executive Team went through a strategic visioning process. They talked about the industry, marketplace, changing customer and consumer needs, and about the culture, values, and behaviors needed to create change within the Frontline business.
“The Frontline Executive Team really understands the importance of culture and the need to provide clarity of the desired state to the organization. They agreed that the cultural transformation toolkit would provide a clear framework and tracking mechanism, as well as a robust platform for planning and communication with the business,” shared Tess Cope, the Barrett Certified consultant who facilitated the process.
The Executive Team was eager to shift the organization to the vision and culture they desired, and in turn, they conducted their first Culture Assessment.
Their first survey revealed that they were operating with 25% Cultural Entropy®. Given the significant level of change and reshaping that had taken place in the business, it was not surprising that cost reduction was their number one value. Most of the limiting values were at Level 3, indicating issues around systems, processes, and performance.
The Executive Team also invited the publishers to participate in a Customer Survey. The participation was disappointingly low suggesting that the publishers were disenfranchised and confirmed that Frontline needed to focus more on their relationship with them.
The Executive Team took the following actions as a result of the first Culture Assessment:
In a marketplace that has been in an overall decline in the last three years, one of the key business measures for Frontline is market share. Frontline has achieved a market share gain and demonstrated its ability to outperform competitors – a significant success on behalf of the publisher owners.
Another Frontline KPI is operational effectiveness, a metric focused on getting the product on sale at retail outlets in line with the published-on sale date. This is quite a challenge when distributing around 40 million copies of magazines per month to 55,000 retailers throughout the UK. In a two-year time period, there has been an 88% improvement in this critical KPI. “This is one of the most striking examples of progress, demonstrating teamwork and an ability to think the impossible – a target originally thought too ridiculous to even express,” says Mark Churchill, the Supply Chain Director.
In addition to the business metrics above, there is an energy and buzz back in the Frontline business. The culture is moving quickly. The element of feeling weary and tired from change has evaporated. The publishers are very happy with the changes and are enjoying the emerging relationship.
This buzz is evident in some of the metrics around people. In the last year, 45% of all vacancies have been filled internally (creating a significant cost saving in recruitment), and 25% of vacancies have been filled through the “recommend a friend” initiative, a testament to the fact that Frontline employees believe they have a great place to work.
Greg Hayden, Head of Information Services comments, “There’s no question that this process has been worthwhile. In addition to the significant progress in our business metrics, there’s a whole new level of dialogue going on in the organization. Concerns are being aired and addressed quickly.”