Mars Incorporated

Leadership Team Alignment

Mars Incorporated

When Paul Michaels became president of Mars Incorporated in 2004, he knew that the company needed to achieve far greater growth and financial return. But he faced internal organizational challenges every bit as daunting as those he faced in the marketplace. The top team at Mars was siloed and replete with unspoken agendas. Members didn’t see the benefit of working as a team; they were only concerned with the success of their own region. There was some infighting, but mostly people just left one another alone.

Michaels believed that the horizontal model represented the best bet for the future. To drive his horizontal vision though his organization, he first created a burning platform for the change, which centered on business issues; he then shrewdly hooked his vision into Mars’s core values.  “Mars has five guiding principles,” he explains, “one of which is efficiency, and high-performing teams are by far the most efficient way of operating. Without going through the process of creating high-performing teams, you may eventually get the same results, but it will take much longer, and you will make a lot of mistakes along the way. By using this process, teams quickly begin having authentic conversations, in real time: dealing with issues and not dancing around them. You see the impact quickly; people either step up or opt out. It becomes very evident where your issues are, who your players are, what you need to do to change the shape of the business. This model can speed up progress in these areas by years.”

Past experience had taught Michaels that functional thinking and hidden agendas are classic behaviors exhibited by non-high-performing teams. More than a burning platform was needed to counteract old habits and the natural tendency toward stand-pattism. Michaels’ solution was to take his team through an “alignment”—an essential step in the transformation process to great business teams.

In Michaels’ case, his team spent two intensive days in heated discussions about what they needed to accomplish, who was responsible for what, and who had the authority to make which decisions. They called one another out on unacceptable interpersonal behavior: failure to share information, lack of follow-through, riding roughshod over others, unilateral decision making, backbiting, and subterfuge. Michaels made it clear that he expected to be treated like every other member of the team. He wanted direct feedback and insisted on being held accountable for commitments and results. By the end of the two days, Michaels’ team was on its way to becoming great.

Michaels had relatively little difficulty getting his senior team to buy into his vision of a horizontal organization made up of empowered teams. His direct reports understood the business case for growth and profitability. They also understood—if not before the alignment, then certainly after it—why he felt that going horizontal was the best way forward. Now that Michaels’ team sees the power of working horizontally, they are passing the torch to colleagues. Their goal: a great organization, made up of great teams, on every level.

Designed & developed by Greenfield/Belser Ltd.