Creating A New Way Of Working At Trustpower – An Interview with Karen Boyte

Being based in the Tauranga CBD, it was very easy to notice when Trustpower moved into town. The cafes and carparks filled. The buzz around town increased and remains a year after the official opening of their new building on 2 March 2016. Having been in the building a few times, I can confirm that it is truly remarkable.

Recently I had the opportunity to have coffee with Karen Boyte. Karen was the Project Executive for the big move into the Tauranga CBD. As we talked about her experience it became clear that the project was much less about moving office and much more about taking the opportunity to create a whole new way of working. I thought that the learnings she shared would be valuable for on a similar journey or facing similar challenges. Karen kindly agreed to be interviewed for this post.

Karen is now Director at Seachange Consulting, taking her expertise to several organisations nationwide.

Doug Maarschalk (DM): What created the context for a new way of working at Trustpower?

Karen Boyte (KB): In 2011 Trustpower embarked on two initiatives which culminated in the creation of the enabling environment which is now where the majority of Tauranga-based staff work as a community.

The first was to find a suitable site to enable a purpose built facility. The existing environment was becoming overcrowded and untenable. The second was to ask staff across the company to help develop the Vision, Purpose and our Story that would drive our future and describe Trustpower in 2031. In order to achieve our Vision and Purpose Trustpower needed to become more flexible, and more agile.

Our Leadership Charter was developed to recognise that the world around us was changing and that we needed to adapt to be able to grow the business and the Trustpower team to meet the future goals. Our Leadership Charter focused on being agile, collaborative, energised, and developing effective relationships.

Effectively we needed to transform our culture from where we had been to where we were going.

After signing an agreement to lease (ATL) for a purpose built environment we sought inspiration from others in how we could create a space that would deliver on the vision and goals and enable staff. Research showed us that Activity Based Working (ABW) would enable us to future proof the building requirements and support the change in culture we aimed to achieve.

The move to the new building was an opportunity to do something transformational that was too good to miss.

DM: What was your involvement?

KB: At the time of the signing of the ATL, I was General Manager, People and Culture (having held that role under its many different titles for over 10 years). The CEO asked me if I would consider taking the role of Project Executive and, as this was an amazing opportunity, I grabbed it with both hands.

My role was to identify and recruit both external and internal resources to the project and to successfully implement the construction, office design and required change management to meet the construction timeline and handover of the building. On time and in budget! This involved not only relocating staff from two sites to the new premises but also incorporating a contemporary office fit out and providing an efficient and flexible space to support our future growth.

We also embarked on the journey that would become Trustpower’s take on ABW to increase staff collaboration, connection, energy and fun. This involved changing from an existing open office environment with some senior leaders based in individual offices to a culture where everyone shares the spaces in the environment. They choose how, where and with whom they work to deliver results.

Another key role I played was to ensure that the vision and aspirations we had for the new environment and way of working was kept to the fore. All decisions made needed to align with the aspirations.

DM: What did you focus on? Any guiding frameworks?

KB: To achieve the aspirations for the new way of working we needed to focus on three distinct areas. Firstly, the physical environment and how that would enable the new way of working. Secondly, the virtual technology that allows staff to choose how, when, where and with who they work. The virtual component must support mobility and flexibility. Finally, (and the key to success) is the behavioural change – how people move away from their traditional way of working bogged down with paper and not sharing their own environment with others.  The change management across all three of these areas shouldn’t be underestimated.

From a change management perspective, we used the ADKAR change model. Awareness of the need for change; Desire to participate and support the change; Knowledge on how to change; Ability to implement new skills and behaviours; and Reinforcement to sustain the change. Our role was to deliver the first three, and then it was the business’s role to deliver the final two. The reasoning, until people actually work in the new environment and experience it, it’s difficult  for them to demonstrate the new skills and behaviours and reinforcement requires a longer term focus.

The ADKAR model also provides a framework for readiness surveys to understand where more focus was needed to allow staff to undertake the journey in their own way.

DM: How did you get people engaged with the change?

KB: I think the key focus here was about being up front and honest. There isn’t a play book to help you work through the ABW journey – its different for every organisation so the critical factor was to engage with staff from the outset and take them on the journey. Scene setting by the CEO and other members of the executive was critical – they need to own the change as much as the Project Team.

Look for ways to involve staff: we had a group of champions involved right from the outset – helping to define the workspace and communicate with their teams. We engaged with a team of Paper Chasers (focused on working with their teams to reduce paper), move coordinators to help prepare for the relocation and others at every opportunity to involve staff on the journey.

We involved relevant staff early in the detail and functional design to areas specific to them. We created a very basic example of the environment to use as a training and drop in centre. This helped us to demonstrate the benefits of the new way of working and support the collaborative approach to issues and concerns as they arose.

Early in the project we engaged with staff to name the project (Project Synergy), we built a project synergy intranet site that hosted all the information relevant to the move, updates, web cam of building progress, photos, blogs, FAQ’s, technology, timing of key events.

Staff were involved in choosing the colour palettes for the floors, in naming of floors, and in choosing the ergonomic chairs we would buy for the new building.

We also hosted site visit in May 2015 for staff to get a feel of the space, the building wasn’t completed or enclosed but it was an opportunity for staff to really be part of the process.

These are just an example of the processes we implemented to engage staff, there was also training, the rollout of technology and discussions about how leaders would led in the new environment where team members choose when, how, where and with who they work.

DM: What was a surprising challenge and a surprising success?

KB: I’ll start with the most surprising success- even though you have put all the facets of the project together – it’s not until people actually start working in the environment and are called on to demonstrate the new behaviours that you know whether you have prepared them well. From day one the majority of staff took to the new way of working in their stride. The transition to the building and the new way of working was incredible. That said, for some staff they struggled with how and when to make the choices and that is part of the continuous journey for them as individuals.

The surprising challenge was the result of Trustpower’s own success. One of the critical factors when moving to an ABW environment is to ensure the number of desks and other environments will support the work staff need to do. Make it too low and staff will find it difficult to make choices as the choices become limited.  This can lead to people trying to own space and for others saying that ABW doesn’t work.

The implementation of the multi product strategy and the accompanying staff growth meant we had to open up an additional space in the building that had been closed off with the potential for a sub-lease option. The decision to do this was made only five months before the building was due to be handed over to Trustpower for occupation.

Having developed a strong collaborative approach to the project with our builders, architects and fit out supplier, we were able to deliver an entire new space on time and within the existing budget.

Overall the project delivered on time and under budget.

DM: Any recommendations for anyone else going through a workplace change, including insights from other places you have worked?

KB: Firstly, don’t underestimate the challenges or the myriad of benefits you will achieve! There isn’t a playbook for how ABW will work in your organisation. It’s about your vision, values and goals together with the aspirations for your workplace and culture that will determine how you implement new ways of working.

Ownership of the new ways of working remains with the business not the project team. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of choosing the right project team members to create a collaborative and committed project team who are trusted and have strong credibility within the organisation (whether they are external or internal).

Set clear and definite outcomes, where you can, to staff and take every opportunity to involve staff and share problems when seeking solutions. Appreciate people may fear change but keep the message consistent. It’s a journey so the aspirations need focus and attention to ensure that they continue to deliver benefits.

Deliver change incrementally where possible and allow staff to experience or see some of the environment prior to moving (e.g. experience centres, site visits, orientations).

My final comments would be; after we had relocated to the building and adopted the new ways of working, many groups from other organisations came to visit to see what we had achieved (and still do today). Many of the comments I have heard tend to focus on – that works for Trustpower – we aren’t Trustpower (a commercial entity), we don’t have a new building or we don’t have the sort of money Trustpower had to do this. Or we are a group of different entities – we don’t have an overarching management team because we work for different organisations but share space.

Trustpower’s way of working is just that – its Trustpower’s and it is aligned to their vision, values goals and aspirations. Your way of working will be different. You don’t need to be moving to a new building – how effectively have you created an environment in your work space that enables your aspirations for the future – it’s not about the building – that is an enabler – it’s about the culture you seek to achieve in your organisation for the future.

I work with a range of clients who all have very different visions, values and aspirations for their work place including NZ Police and some not for profit organisations who are embarking on the new ways of working journey aligned to how they want to work in the future. These are very different organisations from Trustpower but they are embracing the changes and are excited about their futures.

In my role, I act as a catalyst for organisations to rethink the way they work aligned to their cultural and strategic objectives, by analysing current activities and utilisation of current spaces, assisting in the definition of the future workspace and the change management associated with the new environment, behaviours and technology to support this.

Doug Maarschalk is a trainer, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.