CASE STUDY

FRONTLINE

A Values-Based Path to Collaboration

Media, Distribution, Supply Chain Management

Industry

130

Employees

£400 million

Revenue

United Kingdom

Location

THE SITUATION

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.

THE PROCESS

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:

    • They reviewed the feedback from employees (quantitative & qualitative) in regards to their core values, vision, and mission and created this values statement: Creating value for our publishers…Through a can-do attitude…And working as One team.  This addressed the need to focus more on the publishers and emphasized their positive value of teamwork represented in both their Current Culture and Desired Culture. It also addressed the need for positivity and a proactive approach in their culture.
    • They held a company meeting to share the results of their Culture Assessment and their vision, mission, and revised values. This transparency and clarity demonstrated a new and different approach.
    • Frontline conducted follow-up workshops with their line managers to fully engage them in the revised values. Line managers were asked to provide proposed behaviors linked to the new. These values and behaviors were then utilized to provide 90-degree feedback for all managers, including the Executive Team. This helped to establish individual ownership of the new values and consequent behavioral change, where appropriate.
    • In addition to providing proposed behaviors, this group of managers was also asked to identify any blockages in the business that would delay a successful implementation of the vision, mission, and values. Because so many of the issues were at Level 3 (related to systems and processes), these managers very quickly identified approximately 30 operational blockages.
    • The ‘operational issues’ were presented to the Executive Team by the managers with recommendations, and the Executive Team created project teams to work on the list. They wanted to “get real” about these operational issues, with energy and attention directed towards how to deal with them. As a result, there was an amazing amount of quick wins that released energy and trust. In addition to the manager workshops, the Executive Team created a range of different initiatives to work with their culture, for which they created a brand identity – The Transform Program.
    • Identify ‘roadblocks’ & address them quickly– these were mainly issues relating to systems, processes, decision-making, and cross-functional work geared towards addressing the value of silo mentality in the Current Culture. Managers from this group were selected to be part of an ongoing Project Steering Group to facilitate cross-functional working beyond this initial phase, and on key business projects.  This has been received very positively.
    • They launched new KPIs developed to foster a “publisher as a customer” mindset, determined by what the publisher saw as a success.
    • The Back to Basics initiative was established to create an emphasis on getting the product to market as efficiently and effectively as possible and was also linked to the publishers’ objectives. It ensured that teams were working together to achieve these objectives.
    • Equip our People included the launch of a new learning and development plan, leadership development, and manager workshops.
    • The new values and behaviors were incorporated into people processes, including the key processes of recruitment, induction and appraisal.
    • Frontline Focus involved setting up “Top Cat” informal briefings for the whole business to focus on publisher specific topics such as new launches or promotional incentive plans.
    • A social committee called Frontline Mojo was created to host social activities both during and after the workday to strengthen relationships and goodwill. This has been extended to involvement in charities chosen by employees.
    • Communication Platforms was a range of initiatives around communication, including “no email Mondays” encouraging people to get up and talk to each other; a dashboard on KPI’s is available to all and strategically placed around the building; regular team meetings instigated for field-based staff; and continued use of Canteen Forums where the whole business is briefed monthly on performance and any important issues.

THE SECOND CULTURE ASSESSMENT

    • Frontline conducted its second Culture Assessment and saw significant changes. Cultural Entropy dropped from 25% to 19%.
    • The values matches between their Current Culture and their Desired Culture has increased from three value matches to seven value matches.
    • The second assessment indicated that there had been significant progress with the reduction in the degree of potentially limiting values and notably increase of Level 5 values.
    • Qualitative feedback was set up as part of both surveys. In this second survey, a few localized issues were raised, which were investigated thoroughly through face to face interviews – again demonstrating that the Executive Team is listening and wants feedback.
    • In addition, a Cultural Survey Initiative team (CSI) was introduced to dig underneath the vast quantity of qualitative data to uncover a number of focus areas. This group surfaced a few issues that were so entrenched and had been festering for some time. Collecting the data in this way was found to provide a reasonable channel for the issues to be expressed and handled appropriately.

OUTCOMES

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.”

Media, Distribution, Supply Chain Management

Industry

130

Employees

£400 million

Revenue

United Kingdom

Location

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