Mars, Inc. Latin American Division

Leadership Team Alignment

Mars, Inc. Latin American Division

When Brian Camastral took over Mars, Inc.’s Latin American Division in 2005, the 3,000-associate operation had been consistently underperforming. The region was comprised of four business units: Two were losing money, one was declining, and the fourth was growing incrementally.

People operated in isolated silos, and associate engagement was in the 20th percentile, according to the Gallup employee survey. The region was known for missing financial targets, year-end financial surprises, and a weak talent pipeline.

By the end of 2009, the region had been transformed into seven engaged, interdependent business units with local focus and accountability. Associate engagement had reached the 80th percentile. Financial results had exceeded expectations for four consecutive years: Growth had accelerated from 5 percent to 17 percent, and earnings had tripled.

How did Camastral transform an underperforming organization into a standout? Not by using traditional organization development (O.D.) methods such as reengineering, business-process redesign, TQM, Lean principles, or even a deep dunk into training and development. And although he began by dividing the three lumbering operational segments—South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean—into seven smaller, more focused business units, the changes he made went far beyond restructuring.

Camastral reinvented Mars Latin America by sweeping away the old hierarchical organization model and replacing it with a horizontal, high-performance one. The transformation began, as it usually does, by aligning the top team in five key areas: strategy, operational goals, roles and responsibilities, protocols, and interpersonal behaviors.

“It had always been my intention,” says Camastral, “to build a high-performance organization. I knew that I had to start by building a strong top team.” Camastral’s team, which includes seven business-unit heads and five functional leaders, went through its first alignment in 2005, and over the next two years it met several times a year to realign, reassess its progress, and acquire additional skills. During this time, the 12 senior team members aligned their own business units or functional areas at least once a year, and in some cases twice.

As the business started to turn around, Camastral and his team found themselves facing a new set of challenges: “We were beginning to create lots of new opportunities, but we didn’t have the resources to take advantage of them. One high-performing team at the top wasn’t enough to handle every issue. We needed to pass the responsibility down in order to score more wins.”

The solution: Embed the high-performance model further down in the organization by conducting a multi-tier alignment.The horizontal, high-performance effort had been going on for two years. The five functional heads and seven business-unit leaders on Camastral’s team had aligned their individual team at least once and had provided skills training. Now, for the first time, each of the seven business units was going to be aligned with every other. . . . We were trying to connect everyone with each other in order to create win-win relationships among all those who interacted.”

“The point wasn’t to tell people what to do,” explains Camastral. “It was to expose them to the ideas, to get them thinking strategically so that when we went into break-out sessions they would have a framework for discussing the region’s future. In basketball, there are lines painted on the court, and you have to play within those lines. After the presentations, everyone knew where the out-of-bounds lines were. Within bounds, they could decide what plays to run. We gave them the framework and set them free.”

As an emerging market, you would think Mars Latin America would be importing talent from the rest of the company, but it is now exporting it to the U.S. and Europe. And says Camastral, “The rest of the Latin America Division is so enthusiastic about how the region is now working that the high-performance model is being cascaded down to additional levels. People are more engaged than ever before. It’s amazing. It’s fun to be part of a transformation like this.”

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