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Mead Johnson's Formula for Organization Change
25-Feb-05 [ by Larry Chao ] 24508 Read and 2 Comment

Larry Chao talks with the president of Mead Johnson Philippines about how sharing best practices across the Region can shed light on helping companies achieve organization change here in Thailand.

As the doors open and 400 participants enter the darkened ballroom‚ a dozen dancers dressed in black greet them‚ gyrating to the rhythmic beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You." Laser lights prance across the walls and floor‚ creating a dramatic effect. Minutes later‚ the music fades and the lights brighten‚ signaling the beginning of the conference.

No‚ this is not the opening of a show. It is the launch of Mead Johnson Philippines corporate game plan for 2002‚ dubbed "Innovate to Dominate." During this one-day event held last month at the Shangri-La Makati‚ all MJP employees learned about the company's strategies and change programs that will drive its business over the next couple of years.

"We invited all our employees to share in understanding the new direction of our company‚" explained Kasper P. Jakobsen‚ MJP's 40-year-old president‚ who took the helm last June. Previously‚ Jakobsen was Mead Johnson International's global marketing director based in Thailand‚ responsible for marketing strategies outside the U.S. "While MJP management developed the strategies and supporting change programs‚ we could not accomplish our objectives without the commitment and energy of our whole company. 400 heads are better than one."

Indeed‚ underlying this unconventional conference opening is the need to do things differently - to focus only on activities crucial to the success of the business. Jakobsen begins the conference by reviewing first quarter results‚ which have exceeded target. But‚ he warns‚ past success does not guarantee future success. He then spells out the company's new strategic priorities and five supporting change programs that span across MJP's $100 million business.

During the rest of the day‚ participants are divided into separate groups and rotate through five rooms‚ each room set up to provide a learning experience that demonstrates the need for each change program. "Our aim was to bring the change programs to life by having participants learn by doing‚" said Jakobsen. By the end of the day‚ everyone has a crystal clear picture about why each program is important and what the company is doing to ensure their success.

Mobilizing workers with this launch‚ however‚ was only one step in MJP's change journey. Behind this launch was a rigorous step-by-step planning process aimed at creating hard hitting change programs that would drive MJP's strategies. "Strategy must guide the development of organization change programs the whole way through‚" said Jakobsen. "Otherwise you lose focus and become distracted by activities that do not affect what your business is trying to achieve."

This is the fate of many organization change efforts‚ where strategy is poorly tied with change programs‚ creating a gap between expectations and execution. To be effective‚ strategy and change programs need to be inextricably linked. In MJP's case‚ strategy served as the foundation on which they designed their entire organization change effort.

MJP's change journey began late last year when its board of directors defined the key strategic initiatives. With these initiatives in place‚ the next step was to involve broader management in developing the change programs supporting these initiatives.

Much emphasis was placed on developing programs in three areas: growth‚ productivity and developing people capabilities. For example‚ successful product innovations within the company's core infant formula business have contributed significantly to sales growth. The question is how can MJP discover more of these growth engines and quickly introduce them into the market?

Gains in productivity such as reducing product returns from customers represented another opportunity. Last year nearly $2 million were spent in product write-offs‚ a big chunk of this coming from product returns.

With respect to people development‚ efforts to open up greater two-way communication in a culture that has historically preserved the chain of command is the challenge‚ according the MJP's human resources director Thelma Menes.

By defining clear strategies‚ aligning change programs and mobilizing his entire workforce‚ Jakobsen and his team have created a focused organization change effort. "There is no shortage of enthusiasm and spirit in our company‚ said Jakobsen. "The challenge is to harness this energy in specific areas that can have significant impact on our business."

Larry Chao is the managing director of Chao Group Limited‚ a strategic change and training boutique

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