Interview with Sanne Hentze, Vice President, ConvaTec.
A number of plans and analyses were transformed into specific results and improvements. The strategies became effective in an absolute global organization – with up to 14 hours of time difference between the different plants.
– I can’t stand consultants, but then I became in need of someone like Lars Moeller from ResultPartner and their methods. And it worked – despite many prejudices and skepticism on my part.
Sanne Hentze is the vice president of ConvaTec, a global group, which manufactures medical devices for single use such as ostomy bags, urine bags, catheters and plasters. The revenue is approximately $1.8 billion a year.
ConvaTec acquired the Unomedical group in 2008. Sanne Hentze is responsible for the Unomedical units in Minsk, Malaysia, Mexico and Slovakia. Earlier, Unomedical was a Danish owned a company by Mærsk among others. In the period 1995 to 2002 the company was called Mærsk Medical. Today, ConvaTec is owned by Nordic Capital and Avista Capital Partners. The management and culture gradually became American following the ConvaTec-takeover in 2008.
A variety of national owners, many acquisitions during a short period of time, gradually moving out of Denmark and several newly established plants in distant countries with different cultures makes execution an obvious challenge. You must work hard and in an untraditional manner to achieve good results within a reasonable and acceptable period of time.
Sanne Hentze called herself the “mother” of one of the group’s two plants in Mexico. She was involved in the early establishment of the plant and experienced all the different cultures, values and habits that this entailed.
Today, the 49-year-old vice president of ConvaTec is mostly engaged in the production and the management. She is a master of engineering specialized in working environment and she graduated in 1992 from DTU, Technical University of Denmark.
– Originally, I wanted to be a chemical engineer as I’m against nuclear power.
She was one of those people who rode around on her bicycle with her baby in the backseat wearing a “Say no to nuclear power” backpack.
Working environment has always been and is still an important topic for Sanne Hentze. According to herself, she is a structured person. She lived in Texas in the United States with her husband and their youngest child for three years where she daily commuted back and forth across the border to Mexico to establish a new plant there.
The products manufactured at the ConvaTec plants compete fiercely with similar commodity products from other countries including China.
– This kind of products are put under strong pressure by China and are a problem for all plants that have that type of production because commodity products don’t require as much product development. Products have to be affordable and of high quality due to the fierce competition. You need to be able to deliver on time and the production must be wildly efficient. On this basis, a person like Lars becomes interesting. He can get the individual manager at each plant to come up with their own ideas and ambitions about how they can become better and cheaper. And it is far better and more effective to get the ideas and the saving plans from the bottom of the organization than from the top of the group.
– This way, the challenges can become very different from plant to plant within the group. From time to time, we experience that the manager of a unit can become very protective of the employees. But the protection is a problem if it means that the manager solves the problems for the staff rather than locating and eliminating the cause of the problem. And we need to treat the cause. This will help to develop the plant and lead us to be fully aware of and on par with the situation, says Sanne Hentze.
Sanne Hentze became aware of Lars Moeller and ResultPartner because he had carried out individual tasks for Unomedical in the past.
– Something had to happen, but to put it bluntly I’m opposed to consultants. I can’t stand them. And I have actually met several of them. Now, I guess I have to recognize that some are okay, but a clean out in the field is certainly desirable. Many consultants are far too inclined to humor the client. They have been called in to agree with the client’s opinions. They analyze and diagnose and then they create a report.
With ResultPartner’s Race®concept Sanne Hentze got a tool she could use.
– They don’t analyze. They implement. The concept is most certainly concentrated on handing out responsibility to those who actually are responsible. If you explore things in depth and find out who is truly responsible you’ll be able to get most things under control.
After working with Race®concept for eight months the plant in Minsk reached the number one spot on the list of the group’s 12 Unomedical plants. Slovakia also showed good results. Based on the positive experience from Belarus and Slovakia, ConvaTec’s Danish manager also “dragged” the concept across the Atlantic to one of the two Unomedical plants in Mexico. Here, the track record has been somewhat mixed.
– Luckily, I know how to swim. Otherwise, I would have drowned in tears.
The employees have been frustrated. A senior manager, a plant manager and a production manager are no longer with the company. One from their own ranks have become the new plant manager and as most people know that this can be a somewhat “risky” approach.
Sanne Hentze liked ResultPartner’s in-depth method.
– Lars Moeller makes people to do something, create something. He concentrates on the employees’ own way of doing things and their own goals. That way, they have to take responsibility and then he can also get them to face each other and share what they have accomplished within an agreed period time. His coaching is of course based on their personalities.
– It is a true strength that he doesn’t accept excuses. I myself have tried to arrive as a manager at work places where I was shocked by the stream of words I had to go through. I always received a half hour long explanation and just sat there thinking that it wasn’t even the answer to my question. You see, it is human nature to explain and make up excuses. And as a manager, you often sit there thinking: Just focus on solving the issues instead of using so many words.
Understand the state of the employees
ResultPartner were chosen partly because the method is tailored to fit the individual organization. The concept was attractive because responsibility was shared among the people it belonged to. Sanne Hentze herself works hard on moving the solutions out of the head office.
– In a large company or group, it is the head office that takes the most initiatives. It actually happens in nine out of ten cases and that road is not negotiable. It does more harm than good.
Sanne Hentze considers it her priority to provide the individual units or plants peace to work. Paradoxically, this means that she visits and stays at each plant for two to three weeks at a time.
– If I don’t want the employees to see me as just another representative of the group, I have to get to know them well. Otherwise, I can’t help them. A visit lasting two days normally cost an awful lot of disturbance and is not useful. And two days does not provide me with a proper knowledge of the employee’s conditions and emotions. Things shouldn’t and can’t be the same at all plants. They are located at very different places and are founded on different cultures and values so I need to figure out how they are doing.
– I hate it when people make checklists just for the sake of the system. Then it is better to examine and figure out how people relate to things. Are they talking to each other? Are they happy? What stage are they at? Sometimes they are actually ten years back in time. They have no connection to the present.
The figures tell Sanne Hentze exactly how the employees are doing.
– Yes, I have a reputation for being in control of my plants and Lars Moeller feels the same way about the plant managers. We need to know what they are doing and the decisions must be taken where the responsibility lies. The alternative is that everyone simply pass things on. You experience that too often.
– Lars Moeller is constantly observant and his work takes a long time. Follow-up is his hallmark. It is especially important that he is constantly on his toes. To me it makes the whole difference that he is constantly aware that he is not only sent from the head office by Sanne Hentze. He must sell himself to the employees he meets. It must never turn into a “clever idea that Sanne got.”
In Minsk, for example, there was a great need of being able to count on what people said. They had a reputation of not delivering on time.
– It was a rough period. Lars and I had to bring them back to reality and we almost started to argue with the people at the plant in Minsk. Strangely enough, the bad reputation and the everlasting rumors about the plant in Belarus never reached the afflicted plant itself. Everyone else in the group knew of the rumors. Sadly, this is typical. In large groups, people can easily get the perception that some units almost are non-existent. They have performed so poorly for a long time and received such bad mention among the departments that they are considered and regarded as closed. They are out of sight and out of mind, says Sanne Hentze.
Fast and visible results
The results quickly became visible at the Unomedical plants, both in Belarus and Slovakia.
– They had overspent in Slovakia. Here, the money came rolling in at the bottom line immediately. It may very well be that all of it wasn’t Lars Moeller’s achievement, but we could see the results very quickly. It is hard to measure exactly how the results improved after the implementation of the Race®concept, but it is obvious that something happened.
– Things started to happen in Minsk as well. They learned to say: “Why can’t I do this? What can I do to get there?” They developed. The delivery times were considerably improved. The results were obvious. No one played victims anymore. Victims can’t do anything about a bad condition. But responsible people can do something about it. And they did so at the plant in Minsk.
Sanne Hentze has also experienced some sword blows during the cooperation with Lars Moeller from ResultPartner.
– You don’t hire Lars because you want a yes-man. You have to be a bit special to hire him. We actually argue every time we meet. He is terribly politically incorrect and can irritate me endlessly. This suits me very well as these consultants too often put on an act in front of the client. I can’t do anything with that kind of behavior.
– Race®concept can also seem expensive – at first. You see, he needs to be here at lot and for many hours at a time. But the efficiency compensates for what may look too expensive. Lars Moeller doesn’t just implement by himself and then leaves. He gets the management group to implement, to adopt the necessary initiatives. So naturally we saved money by hiring Lars Moeller.
Difficult and easy
Sanne Hentze characterizes Race®concept as an easy method. But then again….
– Race®concept seems trivial, but is in fact quite complex. Therein lays the actual strength. It is human nature to make excuses, but in reality you are asking to become a little fool when you make excuses.
– It is not because you are not allowed to say that there is a problem. It is not a taboo, after all. The manager in question just has to show that he or she takes responsibility by being one step ahead of things and by informing the staff right away if problems arise. You don’t have to apologize for something if it is the result of your activities, i.e. actions. And then people spend too much time focusing on whether they themselves did something or others did something. This must be stopped. It sounds so simple, but is very hard to live by. Lars Moeller breaks with the whole passive victim role and the fact that he gets rid of it is his greatest strength, says Sanne Hentze.
Helps managers develop for the sake of results
For ResultPartner, the case with Unomedical has been success story as they have made the group’s different plants in distant countries to work better and produce much better results compared to the starting point.
– We discovered many uncut diamonds in the beginning and that most certainly added a lot to the commitment. The uncut diamonds are typically young people with enormous potential that have just not been developed yet. People hiding in corners. It is our wish to spot, work with and make a success out of these people from the start. It is in those cases you come to love you work, says Lars Moeller.
ResultPartner helps managers to develop for the sake of results opposed to the many cases where management training is being introduced for the sake of manager development.
– Many managers are focusing only on the fact that they have invested a lot of money in management training. They wonder what they have gotten out of it. Management training actually requires a lot of the way in which you approach the task. Management training should not be the primary objective when you start.
At ResultPartner we work on the areas that ultimately will lead to results. If you only focus on management training there will be a tendency to measure whether the manager actually becomes a better manager. But a better manager is not always a guarantee for the ability to create better business results. One can say that with ResultPartner’s method you get better managers as a valuable side effect – but the results are still the key element.
– You see, the managers get the desire to continue to create better results. Over and over again we experience that achieving better results is the most uplifting thing for managers. As part of our process, we have developed and worked with the good and great opportunities that these people possess. And then the results will naturally come easily, says Lars Moeller.
– It is quite obvious that Sanne Hentze has used Race®concept to introduce accountability and credibility amongst the various managers. And then she has been very focused on and exploited the part of the process that deals with the banned excuses. And that is precisely one of the key elements of our concept although it is also the biggest obstacle every time we start at a new place, says Lars Moeller.
It is important for ResultPartner to explain directly to the employees and managers what it is about right from the start.
– It is not a goal in itself to argue with people, but when you express yourself accurately and ambitiously at the same time you always risk that the recipient takes it the wrong way. Some say that I go straight to the line, but I also gladly cross the line if I feel that it is what it takes to help these people develop. It is important for me to emphasize that you have to push people out of their comfort zone in order to improve them. What matters is that you do it for a good cause and with your heart in the right place. The trick is to tell them that they are not performing well enough and then get them to say thank you afterwards.
– Unomedical has used consultants on a global basis. They had decided to run a winning-culture project in all of the group’s companies. We were invited in because Sanne Hentze could see that we could rub the winning-culture or high-performing-culture into the organization. The company had a culture, after all. Culture is just not developed in a classroom, but as a part of the daily work. We never work in classrooms. T-shirts, caps and collective pep talks doesn’t contribute to anything. In our opinion, excursions, intensive courses and bunny slaying don’t make a business successful. People need to believe that they can contribute to the success of the whole company. One of ConvaTec’s assets is that you have to be accountable, trustworthy – be reliable. But you don’t become this by attending a course. You become it by showing it during the daily work. And you need to follow up on it all the time.
Turning strategies into reality
– Today, businesses spend a lot of money on strategy seminars where the pedagogical methodology is to place people in rooms and teach them to do all kind of things. As a senior manager you will end up thinking that you have paid an awful lot of money for it and you will say to yourself: “At least I have done something now.”
– This is called “Edutainment” – part education and part entertainment. The truth is that the all the knowledge only transforms into actual actions on a minor scale. Most people who deal with adult education know this fact. Most of us know the kind of feedback given after a course: “It was a good seminar. The food tasted really well. And oh boy, did we get drunk in the evenings.” And the classic cafeteria scene that follows is also well known. A few middle managers with t-shirts, caps and badges with slogans from the company’s new strategy will be sitting there stating: “They gave us this and that, so naturally they must be serious, but let’s see. In three months time the caps will probably contain another slogan.”
In Unomedical’s case, the company had signed an agreement with another consulting firm on the conduct of training the employees in winning-culture. Afterwards, they bought ResultPartner’s services to make things happen.
– In most cases, we at ResultPartner are asked to execute the things that the company has already paid for, but not benefitted from. The money is often wasted if the company doesn’t invest in getting the concepts and strategies they have already invested in to work in the practical reality. Generally, this is called encapsulated learning. You have learned something that you just don’t use. ResultPartner’s task is to use the money already invested to create results.
Performing because you want to
ResultPartner don’t analyze, they execute. This requires a trustful and open relationship to the client.
– For example, Sanne Hentze wants to hear something she didn’t want to hear to begin with. To her, it is not just about being right. And at this point, my approach actually becomes very humble. I can’t conceal anything. This is what shapes my integrity. The problems can become too big for the clients if you don’t speak your mind. Being allowed to express your honest opinion on things is really something that makes major demands on a good cooperation.
– We all know the feeling that a professional relationship is equal to a commercial agreement with a task and some money between the parties. But to have a really good cooperation, you need to set the usual mindset aside and see and tell it like it is. When the client shows you the trust of letting you express the truth, it actually reflects great cooperation. This is when every bone in your body wants to help these people develop in the direction they are dreaming of. You can’t control this kind of relation in a contract. This is where you begin to perform because you want to. And this is where the good clients become so trustful that the consultant can tell it exactly like it is. And nothing is concealed.
– How do you get to that point?
– ResultPartner doesn’t turn down a lot of clients – perhaps because the clients turn us down before we turn them down. Sometimes they will think: “oh, isn’t he a bit too dangerous for this organization?” It usually happens in the more political organizations where everything must be turned upside down and truths almost become lies. Those kind of people aren’t the ones we are most happy about working for.
– Doesn’t a consultant have to start with an analysis?
– Not really; there are many consulting firms that are super talented at analyzing and identifying the market. They design business cases and you have to fully respect them for that. We are good at putting the analyses into use and making them reality. That is our strength.
– Therefore, I sometimes approach the client and quite boldly ask: “Do you have a strategy? And is it even something you believe in?” It is important that the client believes in the strategy. We will succeed in getting it implemented whether it is good or bad. If your strategy is wrong we will help you to hit the wall faster – as we basically don’t decide on whether it is right or wrong.
ResultPartner occasionally performs strategy reviews and identifies whether the organization is experiencing the strategy as wrong. If the organization feels that it is wrong, this will stand in the way of the execution.
– In the beginning of the process, we can end up using a great deal of time on sorting that out. If that is the case, we will go back to the senior management and say: “They are not really in on this”. Then it is not our task to correct it. The conflict may be related to communication issues or disagreements within the organization. Then it is our experience that they have to make adjustments and then we will typically return within a few months. It is a very fruitful process as you really can’t get people to do something they believe to be wrong deep down inside. However, it is more the exception than the rule that they have to correct it. Fortunately, most consulting firms are quite thorough and quite talented at using these analyses.
ResultPartner would prefer that a company would use the strategy work to think more in the lines of how to subsequently execute the work.
– It is important to involve all stakeholders as early as in the development stage. People don’t consider this enough. Many people will become a little cross if you deliver a fully finished plan. In these cases, people haven’t always thought of how to make it work in reality. At ResultPartner we have seen it when we encounter the intermediate results after the strategy is completed. It is situations and processes that no one took into account in the analysis and strategy work. It is often due to the simple fact that you haven’t thought of how fast the world is changing. A strategy created a long time ago can’t be executed when it is supposed to as things have changed so much in the meantime.
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