Scaling Change: A Unique Bottom-Up Approach At This Large Retailer

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Written by GuestBlogger August 09, 2018

In previous blog-posts I shared how bol.com is transforming to a network of self-organizing teams using our Holacracy-based Spark framework. We started with two teams in Logistics in 2015. Now, Spark is used by >120 teams and 1,000 people.

Spark adoption has been much faster in the last year (see graph). In this blog-post I share how we managed this, and how Spark is becoming a richer framework, widely adopted in commercial and cross-functional store teams.

Organizational growth and functional silos

We introduced new product categories at a faster pace from 2011. And bol.com grew rapidly. Complexity increased. Offering >16 million products in dozens of categories required scaling up our organization in IT and Logistics.

But, most of all, we needed more experts who really knew the new products and the market. Our Merchandising & Sourcing division quadrupled in size as a result.

Historically, we organized in functional departments—like Buying, Merchandising, Online Marketing and Supply Chain Management. Rapid growth led to more employees, complexity, hierarchy—and some unwanted side effects: silo thinking, bureaucracy and ultimately (even in a high-energy company like bol.com), the first signs of disengagement. It was high time for change.

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Re-iginiting the entrepreneurial spirit

In the summer of 2017 a small group of leaders from Merchandising & Sourcing and Marketing, led by Oscar Hundman decided to do something about it. They wanted to move from large, clunky functional departments to small, cross-functional teams, each focused on a specific product category. The aim was to make working in the commercial operations feel like working in a small company again.

Re-igniting the entrepreneurial spirit. The aim was to make working in the commercial operations feel like working in a small company again.
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So, they launched the SCORE program. That set up a new Stores division from Merchandising, Sourcing and part of Marketing. Within that, 42 cross-functional store teams were formed in 6 clusters grouped by the shared customer journey.

For example, in a cluster we call Sports, Style and Baby, we now have 6 store teams. Each team owns their product group and runs the commercial operations for that as autonomously as possible. We want this to feel like working for a small company within bol.com.

Within their cluster, they share strategy, best practices, and prioritize changes to the bol.com platform. People are still in their functional departments as well. There, the focus is shifting from strategy and ops to professional mastery and better tools.

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Just using Spark is not enough

I joined the effort at the start of 2018. I’d already spent three years working on Spark in Logistics. Now I had an opportunity to follow my passion, and focus 100% on Spark and agile transformation in business teams. We currently support the teams and these 4 goals:

1. Ownership and Self-Organization

Learning to use Spark to take ownership. Self-organizing the commercial operations of a store in a cross-functional team.

2. Strategy and Execution

Learning to create strategy as a team using OGSM. Supercharging execution of that plan using the Spark tactical meeting format and GlassFrog.

3. Continuous improvement

Learning to structure data into weekly metrics. Creating insights and experiments that continually improve the customer shopping experience.

4. Supportive Leadership

For team leaders: learning to lead self-organizing teams, inspiring them and setting clear goals. But then, letting the team figure out how best to reach those goals autonomously.

How is it working out for us?

It’s still early days for the SCORE program. But we ask teams regularly for feedback via NPS scores. So we have a pretty good idea how they are going, and if the change is sticking. More than half of the teams have achieved all 4 goals already.

Some are faster than others, and that’s fine. It’s not a race. They seem to pick up pace as they go, and become more motivated. They say motivation comes from working more closely with the specialists they need to run an excellent store together.

Some teams adopt the new way of working faster than others, and that’s fine. It’s not a race. The teams seem to pick up pace as they go, and become more motivated along the way.
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Most teams start in a phase where running Spark meetings feels awkward. But this lasts only a few weeks. When they find their way, they tweak the meetings a little and begin to prize their re-discovered team effectiveness, and the ability to address any sparks they might have.

This post only scratches the surface of our agile transformation with bol.com store teams. Of course, there were some hurdles, and we had to adjust our plans a couple of times, but that story is for another time.

For now, I’m proud of how far the teams have come in less than a year.

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In 2015, Harm Jansstarted a “new ways of working movement” at bol.com (the largest online retailer in The Netherlands). This transformed part of the organization into a network of highly engaged, agile, self-organizing teams, from the bottom-up. More and more teams are following the movement, rapidly transforming bol.com together.

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