Interview with Peter Pribl, CEO at Weco Travel International, Czech Republic.
Market conditions were difficult. Weco Travel had lost both revenue and market shares. Still, they managed to increase sales by 29 percent in one year. An autocratic manager turned into an empowering leader.
– The man knew nothing about the travel industry. How could I take him and his concept seriously?
Petr Pribl, CEO of Weco Travel in the Czech Republic, virtually retreated into himself when he was presented with ResultPartner’s Race®concept. That is how he describes it.
The travel manager is 40 years old, married and has four children. He has worked in the travel industry for many years, including in the Czech carrier, Czech Airlines.
He and his family have lived and worked in Scandinavia for a period of five years.
He felt comprehensively informed, well prepared and able to handle crises and bad times at work. Nonetheless, budgets, figures and job satisfaction had been ailing for some time at the travel agency in Prague. And they sent a consultant from the head office in Copenhagen.
– I was skeptical in advance to put it mildly. I’m a proud person. You may as well admit to that, if you are the manager. No one goes for senior positions if they aren’t proud and self-important. So yes, defeat is the first thing that comes to mind when an outside consultant and moreover one from another country comes rushing into the office, says Petr Pribl.
The background is not much different than it might have been at most business travel agencies in recent years. Competition on travels is tough. Net gains are fragile and small or close to zero for each sold travel product.
– When looking solely at our results, they weren’t completely off the mark but in conjunction with a financial crisis things were about to go wrong. We could not reach the high goals. We were simply too slow and needed more speed to get some new business and business areas. We needed to become stronger.
First and foremost, the travel people at Weco Travel’s Prague office needed to be better at executing.
– The motivation was fortunately fair; so on that front there was something to work with.
My own challenge was to establish some clear personal goals. And at the same time I had to help motivate and set goals for the other immediate managers and employees in the company. The recipe sounded simple enough. We drew up goals and budgets, that each manager and employee came to feel responsible for. But of course it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
– From the beginning we were afraid, because we have had very bad experiences with consultants. We had at least experienced them as people who suddenly appeared and issued some directions and action plans, after which we didn’t see much of them again.
The different approach to each employee was particularly appealing to Petr Pribl.
– Of course, human nature varies from person to person. That ought to be obvious. For once, this was also taken into account. Lars Moeller from ResultPartner coached us based on this way of thinking. The talks didn’t concern a general approach to how we should act.
The coaching focused entirely on the individual having to change behavior and act in a way that suited him or her best. It was our own views and our own background that mattered. As long we performed the tasks we had been involved in agreeing. Naturally, this also meant that you didn’t just have to await orders, but rather had to take responsibility yourself.
Petr Pribl, CEO of Weco Travel in the Czech Republic need to establish clear personal goals. And at the same time he had to help motivate and set goals for the other immediate managers and employees in the company.
For Petr Pribl the new ways thinking weren’t that difficult to adopt, but in the beginning there were difficulties in convincing the others in the company.
– It wasn‘t difficult for me to understand why. After all, I have lived in Scandinavia for five years and tried a more open, self-determining style. In the Czech Republic it sounds more along the lines of: “I’m the boss. Do this and that.” And then there was usually no further discussion on the relevant subject. This form can feel more comfortable and also exists outside the Czech Republic but in this way not much is done for individual development and thus the company’s development. And the result is often absent.
– I tried to introduce a more open way, and here it was a good thing that I got help from Lars Moeller of ResultPartner. I’m not sure that I alone could have brought the employees to the level, where they themselves set major goals and take responsibility for these goals.
It is easier said than done and in that particular regard Race®concept was a super tool.
Sales increase of 29 percent
Employees at Weco Travel in Prague needed a lot of persuasion on the correctness of setting their own goals.
– Actually they were against anything new before Lars Moeller came down and explained about Race®concept and the benefits of introducing it into the daily routine. The people at the level just below me changed a lot. They did so especially in the area of realizing that all people are different. And therefore they were also taught to treat their people differently when changes should be implemented.
– It was important for all of us was that we learned to listen and have dialogue.
Perhaps we haven’t been very good at it before Race®concept, because on all levels we have been afraid of losing power. But we didn’t lose any power by delegating the responsibility. You still retain respect as a leader. That was actually a surprise to us.
The process did at one point in time result in a little uproar, redeployment and a few lay-offs.
– But it was done properly. Two employees were simply not able to follow their own established goals and they were well aware of this. For the remaining employees your clearly feel that everyone would prefer working toward their own goals.
Such is the situation today. The very best thing about Race®concept is that action plans, meaning the planned activities, are as closely linked to a weekly follow-up. This way, you will not forget the new work method. You have to make corrections if your performance has not been efficient in the past week. And we hold on and do so faithfully week after week. We’re following up on each other, on whether we are doing what we need to.
The results were tangible and they came in a relatively short and reasonable period of time. Sales efficiency increased enormously and one of the focus areas, which concerned getting new customers, developed significantly.
– The individual figures quickly improved. Overall, I can conclude that the estimated sales figures, for example have been improved with 29 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Sales efficiency at Weco Travel in the Czech Republic was examined – and solutions were found.
Sales efficiency increased significantly at Weco Travel in the Czech Republic. The estimated sales figures improved with 29 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Professional separation of professional and private life
Petr Pribl sensed from the first day that ResultPartner would be thorough.
– I immediately thought that there were many inconvenient aspects of this.
In the beginning it was highly unpleasant looking at your own behavior.
We were all forced to look inward. It was strange. I think that would apply to everyone because normally we look at the person next to us. I never thought much about before being introduced to Race®concept, but that is the way it is. It is a very psychological, but healthy psychological – method. When you look inward, the next step is to prepare to admit mistakes. And the next step is then to be able to admit mistakes without world coming to an end because of it. That’s a very important part of the concept. And an unpleasant part, as long adaptation stage is in progress.
Petr Pribl had occasional conversations with employees who needed clarification on themselves or the change situation.
– Lars Moeller is a professional. He does actually get into the brains of people, and that can feel provocative. The important thing for me was that he separates the professional and personal part of those he coaches. And he does. He is not focusing on private issues or feelings. For me it is essential, whether you will agree to change in the workplace with regard to your workflows, responsibilities and goals.
– I would highly recommend others with problems like ours to adopt a concept where you establish goals take responsibility and make corrections along the way. And the first skepticism about industrial knowledge is swiftly left behind.
It is a classic problem that you are distrustful of consultants because of their lack of knowledge of one’s field. But that is not important. The important thing is whether they can change your way of thinking and sense of responsibility towards the project and achieve results. ResultPartner could do this for us.
– It was for example very hard for me to put aside my pride and sense of honor, but among other things I learned to listen and be at having a dialogue with people. And then our results were improved. That was the whole point and the reason to hire consultant assistance. Today, I openly admit that outside help was necessary, says Petr Pribl.
Industry experience is a drawback
Lars Moeller from ResultPartner felt opposed by the Czech manager from the start.
– This was probably due to the fact that I was sent from the head office. However, I quickly found out that some of the opposition was motivated by the manager’s pride, which in reality meant that he wasn’t very adaptable. His reluctance was further cemented by the fact that he discovered I had no industry experience. But I prefer not have any industry experience as two people with the same industry experience quickly end up in an academic discussion about who is right. And I don’t want that, it the focus should be on helping the manager by adding something that he didn’t have to begin with. If I must have an academic discussion, it should be with other consultants, says Lars Moeller.
– Of course it is important that you understand the business model, but basically you can say that one of us is redundant in this process, if I had the same knowledge as the counterparty.
Here, your goal is to break the deadlock position that is caused by knowing your industry so well that you also know all the explanations. When you get the meaning of something, you get a lot of opportunities, but will also tend to focus on what is possible and what isn’t possible. Thus, you need an “external” consultant to tell what can be done. I’m not belittling experience or knowledge of the industry. But sometimes experience can be the ticket for the train that has left. It is also during the development work that irritation may occur.
The Czech country manager was like so many other managers provoked by the fact that I challenged his views. He knew what was right and wrong, and I asked all the questions that moved by his view of the world. His many years of experience had created the abundant attitude: “That’s the way it is in this industry.”
Sales and results spiked
A total of 20 employees, including 10 in the management group, were involved in ResultPartner’s change work in Weco Travel’s office in Prague. With fewer resources in the sales department we managed to increase sales.
– The conclusion may be that they simply weren’t diligent enough to begin with – or perhaps haven’t worked appropriately in terms of both quality and quantity, says Lars Moeller.
– How quickly did you realize this?
– I’m not making an analysis of where things are terribly wrong. I saw that last year they had revenue that constituted an amount of millions, concluded that the revenue wasn’t big enough and decided together with the management team, how big it needed to be the following year. Once we had decided on the revenue, we divided it into the relevant goals of the individual segments and branches and set up subsidiary goals. And then we made a specific plan for how the increase in revenue should be generated. ResultPartner raised the ambition from a current sale of 286 million Czech Koruna to 376 million Czech Koruna.
The increase of 32 percent was achieved simply by gaining more new customers and by making broader sales to existing customers.
– We also helped the company in Prague in establishing an online sales channel, which only influenced future results and didn’t count towards the 32 percent increase.
Besides increasing revenue, it was also decided to double the market share of the business travel segment. Weco Travel got a much bigger piece of the pie in the Czech travel market than they had before the change process started.
– They established a very systematic pipeline management and then they standardized their sales methods. There had, for example, been a tendency of spending lots of time making PowerPoint presentations for each individual customer. It is of course a good idea to have tailor-made solutions, but they didn’t get enough added value. The tailored solutions took up too much time compared to the gains of visiting more customers. Onsite managers and employees reached the conclusion that they spent too much time in the office making tailored customer presentations and that more standard solutions would be more effective.
They even came to see that it was necessary, and it was one of the initiatives that made a big difference. ResultPartner also adjusted our organization so that some focused more on selling externally and some focused more on selling internally. Some needed to be more on the go.
On the other hand, others were best at talking to people in a phone so they came into the office.
Reorganization took place so that the work matched people’s psychology and skills better. I had talked to these people individually in the sales department and made a personal profile on them. They were now challenged strongly on whether they actually used their talent correctly. This led to a discussion and reorganization of the sales department. Often all the work and the entire workflow aren’t combined properly in an organization.’
CEO as the sole focal point gives poor results
Experience in solving consultancy tasks in the old Eastern European countries always points in the direction that the CEO knows best.
– Managers have been turned into the central focal point. This isn’t just due to themselves and their own being. Culture has also turned them into focal points. This complicates the consultant’s work, because the entry into the company goes through the manager.
I first had to convince the CEO Weco Travel in Prague before I could convince his managers. He literally shielded the entire organization. He knew best, and later this would become a huge obstacle because he was involved in everything.
– We always encounter this challenge in Eastern European countries. The fact that it went as relatively easy as it did in Weco Travel in Prague it is because the CEO could recognize this participatory approach from the four – five years during which he was residing in Denmark. After all, at one point in time he began to wake up and say, “Maybe we shouldn’t take this for granted. We’ve practiced the arguments for so long that they have become the truth.”
The CEO had long since made himself the focal point, and thus he became a limiting factor. In the course of ResultPartner’s work with him, he discovered that all employees in fact performed at a lower level than their potential. For he was the one who knew best. He was the talented CEO who was supposed to approve everything. So the organization was actually waiting for him.
– It was a great revelation for him to see that the organization suddenly moved forward, and that they could do it without him having to be the focal point for everything.
A conductor isn’t supposed to play all instruments, but he must ensure that each individual plays their instrument correctly. It may sound trite, but it is very important to understand this when working in the old Eastern European countries. You won’t succeed if you in terms of delegation and management take the stance that is known from home, as this background isn’t present. The consultant needs to take his basis in reality and not believe in the “one size fits all” mindset.
The Czech CEO found out for himself that motivation was much bigger to do something about the work and the results, if employees and managers themselves were allowed to come to a realization. He learned that it was wiser to let the employees themselves reach the intermediate results and come to the conclusion – instead of him having to reach the conclusion.
The motivation of the employees and managers became much larger this way, but senior managers in the old Eastern European countries have even greater difficulties in looking at people’s differences than senior managers in most other places in the world. The CEO in Prague even said to me at one point: “When you have been accustomed to not having any influence on anything, then you make sure to decide everything once you get in charge.”
This attitude represents a stage of development but also a certain culture. And it is important to be clear, if we are to solve execution tasks in the Eastern European Countries.
– The CEO found out that he is must lead and that there is a difference between leading and dictating. Afterwards, he felt really good about it. He is one of those who have understood most in depth. The entire organization will run faster when he leads instead of spending his time dictating.
– Basically, you say that the sales strategy wasn’t implemented because people were talking about it, but because the organization was involved in finding solutions and implementing it. Move the generation of ideas to employees and managers. Don’t tell them how it should be done; let them figure this out for themselves. That’s where the execution should take place.
The most difficult and most important change is often at the top of the organization.
– The greatest skepticism can be found here and the biggest obstacle in the beginning was the also the CEO. He also admits that he somehow was an obstacle.
– How difficult is it generally to get the CEO to admit these weaknesses?
– Perhaps I’m surprised that he even turns his pride into a theme. It is quite rare to have senior manager admit that it is the one who stands in the way. What’s interesting is the fact that he didn’t do so to begin with. He admits it afterwards. I had to fight and struggle every time I visited the Czech office. He is a brilliant example. I wish that other managers could see that they stand in the way when they make themselves the focal point of the entire organization. Hopefully, the Czech CEO can help others to look inward and become aware of the fact that they often stand in the way of the development of an entire workplace, says Lars Moeller.
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