Buy-in Time: Bupa

Bupa Patricia_Nunez_2014So Patty, some people may be surprised to see BUPA speaking at a retail event, what’s the story?

The reason I was asked to speak was because of my experience in change management, getting board-level buy-in and getting stakeholders on board for digital projects that the organisation knows it needs, but at the same time, because this is often new stuff, where the ROI may not be immediately obvious, and there are no guarantees.

So I’m actually going to talk about some of my failures to get stakeholder buy-in and the lessons learned from that. Sure, Bupa is a financial services company, but there are a lot of parallels between the stuff I’ve been doing for the past six years here, and the way retailers are having to reinvent themselves to take account of changing customer behaviour, with respect to showrooming, social sharing, peer reviews and just the different approach we all have these days to shopping.

So what experience do you have of this?

So as I said I’ve been at BUPA for six years, and the financial services industry is very conservative, very traditional so it’s very hard to push change through, and I think the biggest failures I’ve had are where I was too focused on the delivery and not focused enough on bringing people along with me. No matter what vision you have for a project, it’s hard to deliver if the organisation does not feel they are part of that vision and that each part of the organisation is contributing to it. The biggest mistake you can make is to think that your excitement about the project and your ability to deliver it is enough.

Is age an issue? After all, you tend to think of people running large business as being in their 50s or older, not what you would call digital natives, so will it get easier as the digital natives rise up the ladder and start to take control of companies?

It will get easier because digital natives think differently and learn differently, but it would be a copout to say you can’t successfully bring about digital transformation now.

So how do you go about it?

It’s important to build confidence in the stakeholder group, and to do that, you have to establish your own credibility and build alliances within the organisation. If you’ve previously worked in a more innovative environment where your disruptive ideas are encouraged and supported, it’s difficult when you come into a place where they don’t understand the value of what you do and what you’re trying to achieve, even if you’ve been brought in specifically to effect change. So you have to talk to them in a language they understand, so if you’re in a financial services company, show them the numbers. Data really helps in getting the message across.

If you have the data. As you said earlier, there are no guarantees when you’re doing stuff that hasn’t been done before. Don’t they have to take a leap of faith to a certain extent?

I’ve definitely had that conversation a few times in my time here, but you have to show the organisation that it can work. When I was the regional head of our Latam operation, they struggled with a highly intermediated market and did not understand how investing in digital could help them attain more competitive positioning. So what we did was to establish a bunch of small pilot projects, with an agreement that if they delivered on their KPIs, they would commit to the full project. The pilots showed how we could use the web as a new channel to market and a way to engage deeper with our customers, and as a result, we went from having a limited digital presence to having a full eCommerce site.

OK so bringing it back to retail, you’re a retailer reading this, you know that, for example, your stores need to change, you need to start offering mobile payments in store, you need to kit sales staff out with iPads so that when an item is out of stock in the size the customer wants, you don’t lose the sale, maybe you need to refurbish your changing rooms so that customers can share what they are trying on with their friends on Facebook and get feedback before they buy. This is all disruptive and costly stuff, what’s the one thing above all else you have to do to get projects like this through?

Stakeholder management – you have to get the relevant parts of the business to feel that this is their solution, not one being imposed on them by you; it’s almost like crowdsourcing the solution among the stakeholders. There needs to be a sense of interdependence and ownership across the business. And by stakeholders, I don’t just mean your peer group and management upwards. In a retail business, operations, the people on the shop floor, customer-facing, are the crux of the business. If they don’t understand the value of what you’re doing, if they don’t understand the tech you’re bringing in, you’ve failed.

Patty Nunez, global digital operation lead at Bupa, is speaking at the Mobile Marketing Retail Summit in London on 23 April. For more information, head for the event website.