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Food for thought

In a moment of transition you can’t be alone

Everybody has specific moments of transition during their life. I think the recent months have presented golden opportunities for many of us to make transitions, big and small, personally and professionally. Sometimes you need a push.

10 years ago I moved from a local market position in Arla into a global marketing position, also in Arla. Having held several different leadership roles in the Arla UK business over 16 years, I knew exactly what to do in almost all situations that were thrown at me. I understood the market, the customers, the consumers, I knew who to turn to in the organisation and I knew how to get things done. In other words, I was very comfortable.

That changed dramatically in my new role. I’m sure we have all felt discomfort and performance anxiety in a new role, but it quickly became clear that being in this new global role was more difficult for me than it should be. And a main reason for this was centered around stakeholder relationships.

In my UK role, I could navigate my stakeholders in my sleep. All of a sudden I found myself in the biggest stakeholder web I had come across in my career, internally and externally. A diverse, demanding and seemingly insatiable group of people, if you asked me then. 

So I was running faster and pushing my team to satisfy these people and their opinions on what they considered to be the right thing for us to do as a global team. It almost felt as if I had become a slave of my stakeholder web. Trying (and often failing) to make everybody happy didn’t make me happy and I’m quite sure my team wasn’t pleased either. I was starting to doubt that this was a role I wanted to be in long-term. Something had to change, but I couldn’t fix it on my own.

So I connected with a person who I had worked with in the past in a coaching capacity. He helped me analyse the situation and identify that my real issue was not the stakeholders. The core of the problem was that I had lost my own agenda. A classic leadership trap.

My coach encouraged me to re-visit my own vision for what I wanted to achieve. Once I did this and then remained true  to it in every discussion with my stakeholders, it changed my whole situation. My direction became clear, lines were drawn and the balance in my relationships was restored. And most importantly, I could engage my team in a clear vision and the results soon started to show. I had embarked on the personal transformation necessary for my new position.  

Let’s leave the individual transformation for a minute and put on a wide angle lens. The sustainability transformation journey that we are all on together is massive. In terms of carbon emissions, the level of change we need every single year is similar to the CO2-reduction we saw during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic – which also came at a huge economic cost and loss of millions of jobs.

So, how do we collectively transform? It is clear that none of us can fix this on our own. I certainly don’t have all the answers.. We all need to individually play our part from wherever we are in this big eco-system that is our global society. Everyone can take steps to contribute and everyone has someone they can connect with to spark their own personal transformation. Of course, we also need leadership, and I think we have yet to experience exactly the kind of leadership we need to turn this into one and the same transformation journey on a global scale.  

If you want to step up on this agenda, I recommend that you seek influence in your own organisation. I got the opportunity to work with sustainability a couple of years ago and this presented another big personal transformation for me. Having had an interest in the area for a number years, I had never really had the time to devote to it. My boss Peder saw that and transferred a huge chunk of the operational category and brand management from my responsibilities. Bye, bye comfort zone.

At first, I was battling him on this. As commercial people, we feed on the day to day P&L adrenaline and get up in the morning to grow our brands and sales with our team. Giving that up and instead investing your career into something that is so much bigger within a company that is still operational and commercial is a huge discomfort.

However, it’s incredibly rewarding. And, at the end of the day, it’s still P&L - only on a much more long-term scale. Taking part in creating a sustainable future has become essential to most brand and to the future success and opportunities for most businesses. Today, I am super pleased and grateful that I have the opportunity to lead our sustainability agenda at Arla. I couldn’t have asked for a better role or a more important transformation journey.

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