Successful transformation does not have to mean a huge overhaul of processes, according to Gemma Spurr, Transformation Manager at clothing retailer Superdry. It can be just as meaningful when it’s a simple step forward.
“Transformation in a word suggests a big leap” says Gemma, “and that’s often what’s expected, which is sometimes where it fails. Obviously there are huge projects, but often it’s the ones that make a step that will embed, will stay or carry on being used, and will be built upon.”
Transformation happens in stages
As a transformation manager, you’re not trying to predict what you want in 18 months’ time from outside the company, says Gemma.
“You’ve got no idea what’s possible, you’ve got no idea what you’ve got now. It’s doing it on a journey, starting with phase one – get that right, ready, use it for six months and then we’ll go to the next one.”
Respect your team
Another key principle that Gemma holds within this transformation journey is making sure people at all levels are listened to.
“You need the lowest level person in the team to go through it with you. It’s not the manager at that point because they don’t know the details, or they have the whole hierarchy in their minds. You just want them to show you everything they do and everything that frustrates them – you want to keep it very raw,” says Gemma.
From this point, businesses can choose to target specific problems and processes that need to be streamlined or improved. But again, it’s not always about large-scale change, instead it’s things that make a difference to the day to day tasks that can really prompt progress.
“You can look at their processes and see which piece of paper needs to be touched three times and go, ‘okay, I’ll make that none’ and you get a surprising amount of enthusiasm and goodwill,” she adds.
It’s these two elements of Gemma’s job that she is really passionate about: problems and people.
“I like something to tackle and solve, and I like being able to mentor and bring people onside.”
Starting out in finance
While she has been in finance now for over 20 years, Gemma initially ‘fell into’ it after applying for a graduate role at Ernst & Young following her aeronautical engineering degree.
At the time, the internet was starting to take hold within finance, and software was beginning to be used for all kinds of systems and processes.
“A lot of my interest in improving technology and the transformation pieces was because I’m fundamentally lazy and bored.”
“I don’t want to do something manual over and over again. So, I’ve always tended to think – there’s got to be a better way of doing that.”
From Ernst & Young, Gemma moved to various technology companies including Vodafone, Intel and Norwegian-owned energy business DNV. Now she’s doing a six-month role with fashion retailer Superdry to help them adapt and transform.
“Superdry was one of those companies that grew very, very fast from a warehouse in Cheltenham, where we are still more or less just several warehouses. But the systems and processes didn’t grow with it,” she says.
“I came in with a remit to just go and have a look around and see what felt right, what felt wrong, where to prioritise the changes, looking at the people, processes, the systems and upgrading the main system. Then, developing the team to be ready to do it. There’s no resistance to change, but there’s no experience of it either. There’s a lot of energy to go forward though.”
However, it’s not all easy change, as sometimes taking one step forward is followed by two steps back.
“Bureaucracy is the one that really drives me crazy,” she says.
But Gemma has purposely chosen roles that present a challenge for her, ones that she doesn’t already know how to do, but that excite her.
“When you’re interviewing somebody, if you start talking about something that’s broken – either they sit back and look like a rabbit in the headlights, or they lean forward and come up with ideas,” she says.
“And that’s the key thing with a lot of these transformation roles – you’ve got to get excited about fixing it.”
Though her career isn’t what she initially thought she’d be doing, Gemma says she wouldn’t change it.
“I’ve been really lucky to work for a couple of managers that have been inspirational and fabulous employees that were just going to keep on going forward,” says Gemma. “I’ve always enjoyed the challenge. It’s something that has changed a lot as a profession over 20 years, from being a relatively mechanical sort of grey to a real part of a lot of businesses. So I’m very happy with it.”
Gemma’s Power Profile
What music empowers her?
“St Elmo’s Fire. I first used to listen to it at Uni when I needed to get myself going, its upbeat (a bit of an 80’s power song!) and it’s about pushing forward to make positive life changes; ‘Play the game, you know you can’t quit until its won/Soldier on, only you can do what must be done’. That is still relevant to me now, 20something years later.”
Who is her hero?
“My business hero is Chris Allen, someone hardly anyone would know who I worked for in around 2000, he is my hero because he never gave up finding a way to make things better, and he rolled up his sleeves and helped. Chris was always asking you to make step changes, if you said ‘No’ (it couldn’t be done), he would always say ‘I hear you, but how do we do it anyway.”
“My hero in life is Tim Berners-Lee. A brilliant mind who saw the huge potential of combining technologies and ideas to create the WWW, transforming knowledge and communication. He is my hero because he made it free and non-proprietary and continues to work to make it accessible to all in such a quiet dignified way.”
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