Building a culture for transformation: The Unipart way

This is a guest blogpost by Ian Wahlers, Chief Operations Officer SAP UK & Ireland

Last month, Unipart, a long-standing customer of SAP announced it is joining the RISE with SAP programme, aimed at helping organisations seize the advantages of cloud computing in their mission-critical, core systems.

On the face of it, talking about a cloud deployment may seem like a standard technology partnership – but if you open the bonnet and look underneath the hood, there’s far more to it than that.

In its 30 plus years, Unipart has itself gone through a series of transformations – initially as a spin-off from British Leyland in the 1970s, and more recently, using its experience in logistics and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to sell IT services beyond logistics, expanding a customer portfolio that currently includes Jaguar Land Rover, Sky and NHS Supply Chain.

Its focus is to redesign tools and methods for business transformation and business process re-engineering, to offer a very holistic and value-added service to customers in taking them through their transformation journey.

While every company has a vision – and that vision in turn creates goals, tactics, and a budget to achieve that – the key component of that vision is the cultural change, which is often the biggest barrier and has greatest impact on success. This culture foundation, the Unipart Way, is a great foundation for technology driven services.

Why culture is so important in transformation
We are, as SAP, celebrating being a 50-year old businesses this year – and as a business that has undergone a few transformations of its own in that time, it’s not been an easy feat when you consider the pace at which technology changes.

For many businesses, there’s a fundamental shift occurring right now. That shift is inspired by technology but puts people at the centre of the change. It’s about moving to a model that is more customer outcome focused, and leans on industry leadership, its partner ecosystem, and employees to make that change happen.

After all, behind all of the tactical work of transformation is the culture – a culture that wants to change and achieve success. Fifty years ago, many businesses were working on a restrictive error culture. Mistakes were to be avoided absolutely, which made companies rigid or inflexible.

But this approach is increasingly proving to be unfruitful in the digitalised world. Only a culture of openness is able to keep up with an increasingly dynamic market environment. The ability and willingness to build, measure and learn fast – or fail fast – is central to a successful digital future.

Central to this is a culture of learning and development. Every team member should always be looking for opportunities to educate themselves and improve their own work. A willingness to learn cannot be prescribed, but it can be encouraged and embedded in operations – Unipart is a great example of that.

What started as a parts supplier is now being transformed into a technology service provider.  A transformation of that degree relies on having a culture that can embrace the types of change required – and is why John Neill, the CEO, put in place The Unipart Way.

The Unipart Way – an example of cultural transformation
What is ‘The Unipart Way’? Ultimately it is a set of principles and values that mean when any employee joins Unipart, they immediately know the type of organisation that they are joining, and what is expected of them.

What began as a study into employee engagement has, for more than 20 years, been refined into a designed system that aims to engage every single employee within the organisation – from shop floor to top floor. More than a set of tools, it equips employees with the skills to diagnose problems, and create outcomes that make a difference to its customers, and the challenges they face.

While many companies may have a vision to guide them – Unipart has found a way to capture the beliefs about business ethics, how they motivate and set high standards of conduct and performance for its employees.

It’s about making small incremental improvements and putting them into action. It’s about “learning at 10, and then doing at 11” – in the idea that you have to be able to put into practice news ideas and learnings for it not to be forgotten.

For this to happen, you have to build a platform to allow this culture to thrive – resulting in long-tenure of proud employees that are part of that journey.

Unipart is a great example where culture underpins a vision and a strategy, and means when a business has to undergo any type of transformation – the culture piece, arguably the hardest to achieve, is already in place, and doesn’t feel like a forced change that employees don’t believe in.

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