When Seco Tools set out to restructure resources across their European markets, they knew the project would involve many difficult conversations, complicated by a short time frame. Despite being well-versed in virtual working, the company decided to get Black Gazelle on board to help streamline the process and support the aspects related to the human side of change. Seven of the managers involved shared their experiences with us.

Seco Tools made the decision to bring its local markets more in line with its global strategy, but since restructuring would also result in a headcount reduction, the European management team did not want to take decisions lightly. “I did not want to look only at numbers, but instead decided we needed to understand each market more deeply, both in terms of how they work as well as their future vision and change-readiness,” explains Europe Sales Director and project leader Eurion Kemish. “I also wanted to involve the markets actively and draw on their knowledge rather than taking any top-down decisions.” To this end, the local market managers were each asked to fill out templates with data and vision questions (with support from members of the Europe Management Team) and to subsequently present these in a review meeting.

To support this process, Eurion contracted Ghislaine Caulat from Black Gazelle. Ghislaine had previously coached the Seco Tools Europe Management Team around virtual leadership and collaboration and was happy to take on a new project with this forward-thinking company. To better understand the team’s needs, she observed the initial market review, formulated feedback, and created a tailored workshop about engaging people in the virtual space. This process was repeated a second time alongside hands-on coaching, with the second workshop homing in on leading change processes virtually. A final review to consolidate the results of the training and coaching sessions resulted in a learning package that can be applied to similar processes in the future.

Enabling Difficult Conversations in the Virtual Space

Understandably, there was some nervousness among the Europe Management Team about the task at hand. “I was concerned that emotions might run high during meetings, which is difficult in any case but even more so virtually,” attests Gülsüm Üsümez, Regional Manager Global Development Accounts. Business Development Manager Manufacturing Ben Alexander agrees: “Given the nature of the meetings, which involved questioning people on how they run the business, I was honestly sceptical that this process could work virtually.”

Fortunately, Black Gazelle has the tools to make conversations like these work, even in the virtual space. “Having someone insist on being disciplined about meeting etiquette – having proper audio quality, focusing only on the meeting, etc. – really helped get the most out of them,” explains Steven Bell, Cluster Manager for South Europe. “My local market managers were very positive about the two-minute focus exercise at the start of the meeting, which helped them be present and dispel tension.” Ghislaine’s insistence on having cameras off during meetings occasionally raises eyebrows, but it proved effective in this context for Seco Tools. “When you are working virtually, trust is essential. Having cameras off is helpful for this: it shows that you trust participants to be present and focused,” said Karsten Schmoldt, Distribution Development Manager for Europe.

All participants were also positive about the meticulous preparation before each market review, which enabled them to direct the conversation more effectively. “With in-person [physical] meetings, it’s easier to lose track of time,” explains Gülsüm. “It would be harder to interrupt when you see something is important to someone. The super-detailed preparation of the meetings helped us be more professional: more prepared, more aware of our own communication, and more attuned to the signs the market managers were sending out.”

Leading People Through Change Processes

One of the challenges in this project was gauging how change-ready the various markets were, as this was an important factor in the eventual decisions about the future of each market. To help gain insight into the dynamics behind change-readiness, Ghislaine introduced the team to a few carefully selected models on change. These psychological models depict the various states that a person can be in when it comes to accepting change, as well as potential pitfalls. All managers agreed that being taught how to guide people through the change process by paying particular attention to the human side of it was a huge help in the market reviews process.

“Having a specific intervention model, but also learning how to apply it virtually, was essential,” explains Karsten. “Asking authentic questions in the right way to help people open up allowed us to get the most out of our short meetings.” Eurion concurs: “Having tools to help us understand psychological dynamics about change was a big step forward, but despite all our training, gauging change readiness is still very difficult when you don’t know someone well. I would like to dedicate more time to this aspect in the future, but within the timeframe we had, this was incredibly valuable.”

In the end, participants largely agreed that this project would have been harder to complete had it not been virtual. “I doubt it would have been better face to face,” says Martin Bovens, Regional HR Business Partner. “Apart from the timeframe making it impossible to meet in person this often, having to condense the information and really focus our efforts was actually helpful. Spending time on preparation is key: we were much better prepared now than we probably would have been live [face-to-face].”

Flexible Systems for the Future

Eurion decided to convene the management team in person to make the final decisions about the future of each market, in order to have a more relaxed environment for these high-stakes conversations. “I set aside two days for the final discussions, but in the end we were done in less than half a day. Thanks to the rigorous preparations in advance, we were already aligned and had all the information we needed to make the best decisions we could.”

The team was in agreement that Black Gazelle’s interventions helped them immensely on this project. “I like the simplicity of Ghislaine’s approach,” attests Ben. “A lot of the systems she puts in place are things that you might already know, but her approach helps you be acutely aware of them so that you can actually apply these principles, even during a high-stakes meeting. It’s helped me see virtual working not as a road we’ve been forced down, but as something that brings along lots of opportunities.”

“Black Gazelle’s interventions are different from those of other consulting services,” concludes Eurion. “Ghislaine really listens and adjusts her approach based on feedback, resulting in an intervention that truly works for us. She doesn’t force her own models upon her clients, but flexibly adjusts them to their needs, leaving us with a system we can keep using over and over in the future.”