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Change Case Study (Wellers)

The following case study was written by Chris Sykes, the Managing Director of Wellers

Client:

Wellers Auctioneers, founded in 1866, are a Surrey based auction house employing around 50 people, turnover around £1.5m

Background:

The sale of Wellers HQ in Guildford forced us to both move our business to Chertsey and to abandon our principal business activity, livestock auctioning, that was started in 1886. Four managers and a handful of staff (6) re-located to Chertsey and the rest (70+) were made redundant. Management was given a loan (160k) to get the new business started, and a 25% interest in the Equity Share Capital. In the first two years of operation substantial losses were sustained, and by the spring of 2002, the company was close to being insolvent. A chance conversation between a director of Wellers and a partner of Baker Tilly led to the first of a series of meetings with Richard that focused on the need to plan change - the central theme of this process being that a Ďdecision not to planí was in fact Ďa plan to failí.

The Problem:

The management team was in crisis mode and worked around the clock in an attempt to solve the problems associated with managing the changes required to alter the direction of the business. In particular the following issues acted as a brake on progress:

The auction software was not working well for the new business.

The management team was exhausted as a result of working too hard. They were also demotivated and felt that their modest 25% ownership was insufficient reward for the effort involved in turning round the business. Several of them were also unsure as to their own roles.

Meetings were only held on an occasional basis, and partly because of this, were unstructured; items of crucial importance could, and were, very easily eclipsed by the relative trivia and managing meetings became an issue. As a consequence of this, priorities were not established and insufficient progress was made in key areas. This led in degrees to a collective feeling that the destiny of the business was being controlled by events rather than by our management team. Working even harder was seen to be our only remedy to fix this!

The Solution:

Our first meeting with Richard concentrated on each of the management teams personal goals, and ensuring alignment between these. The next stage was to align the corporate objectives of the company with these personal objectives, and identify the obstacles to Change that stood in the path of the progress required. Finally we prioritized the strategic aims and concluded the meeting with an action plan. The process did not end there, as Richard was insistent that we needed to immediately make progress on at least one of our action points, that was to have a regular management meeting. Strangely, you might say, but holding these meetings was undoubtedly the single biggest lever to change that the management team employed over the last 5 years. They became a forum for all decisions, made all members of the team feel valued and empowered and acted as a navigator in recording the progress made in effecting Change.

The Results:

Since then, we have held two regular six-monthly planning sessions with Richard to monitor, clarify & refine the achievement of our longer-term goals. In the main, these have focused on strategic issues.

Recently, we begun work on our next 5 year plan. As part of this process, we have defined our mission statement and core values. These define what we are all about and help us in communicating to both staff and customers, and will be the cornerstones upon which our future success is based. We have now shared these with our middle management team who we are grooming for expanded roles and succession. Up until now, we have held one of these sessions with Richard & the middle management team each year, but we now plan to increase this to allow for the natural expansion of the business.

Within 4 years from our first meeting with him we have already achieved our personal goals and four out of five of our major corporate goals. In particular with good planning we have:

Probably even more important than any of these achievements is our self-belief that we can now adjust our sights by tripling our income over the next 5 years and obtaining along the way an AIM listing and a quantum of wealth that at one stage would have been dismissed as a foolish fantasy. A key component in this success story has been Richardís help, support & facilitation.


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The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choices words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech. - Edwin H. Friedman

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