What a diversity agenda has done for Kellogg's staff and innovation engagement

Managing director of the FMCG brand shares the diversity strategy she's been exploring since taking the top job two years ago

There is a lot of talk about how improving the diversity and inclusion of leadership teams can be a driver of greater innovation.

But when Belinda Tumbers stepped up to become the managing director at Kellogg Australia in April 2016, she did more than just talk.

“When I took on this role, I changed out a large portion of the leadership team, and we now have 50/50 male female diversity, with women in key roles as opposed to support roles,” Tumbers tells CMO. “And the impact on our results has been pretty significant.”

For starters, she demolished a status quo where management roles had been 90 per cent male. She has embraced age diversity as well, with a team whose members range from 36 to 62 years of age, and ethnic diversity is also broader now.

 “With credit to the organisation, they gave me full autonomy,” Tumbers says. “I had a clear rationale as to what the changes were that I needed to make and the reasons for doing it, and I also have a boss and a company that is very supportive of diversity generally.

“If you have good diversity in an organisation, that is the only way you can facilitate a change.”

The benefits are now starting to flow. For starters, Tumbers says staff engagement is now up 14 points since the changes were made.

“It is probably more of an open and inclusive culture that it has been before,” she continues. “We have a far more open, collaborative style of communication now.”

How diversity helps build risk appetite

Speaking ahead of her appearance at the ADMA Global Forum 2018, where she will discuss take part in a discussion on diversity and inclusion, Tumbers describes how she has also brought a high tolerance for risk into the organisation.

“We call it ‘fail fast, fail forward’,” she says. “That means if you are going to make a decision, you need to lean into the risk, and then if you make a mistake you need to course correct pretty quickly.

“We are a 100-year-old company that is largely pretty conservative, so we are on a journey. But I think people can see it in decision making, and then it starts filtering through the organisation. It is all about role modelling and making people feel OK that they can take risks up to a certain point.”

It’s not just internal innovation either. Tumbers has been willing to turn to internal and external sources for new ideas, including running an innovation crowdsourcing exercise with a group out of Singapore, and starting Kellogg Australia’s own version of Shark Tank.

“It was open to marketing, but now we are extending it across the whole organisation,” she says. “And we are seeing some phenomenal ideas come out of that left field thinking.

“We had been so consumed with looking at what we were doing and playing victim to competition. “

Tumbers believes greater diversity in Kellogg Australia’s management team enables it to be more connected with the people who are actually buying its products from supermarket shelves.

“Our main consumer is a female main grocery buyer, and that still is the case today,” she says. “So having female representation on our leadership team makes us better placed to know how we should talk to consumers, and what they are looking for in products that we were bringing to market. So we can fundamentally change things and make our company a little more relevant.”

Product innovation

That thinking is also starting to be represented in the future direction of Kellogg Australia’s product offerings.

“Our product portfolio is evolving, so we are listening to what consumers want,” Tumbers says. “A lot of our innovation agenda that is coming up is skewing towards being more relevant to female consumers, and we are also going after male consumers in a different way.”

As to whether the changes will pay off in the long term, Tumbers believes that innovation takes time to bear fruit.

“You can’t just come in and then shift the needle and make it come to market in a short period of time,” Tumbers says. “As we move through this year into next year there is some really good game-changing innovation in there that I feel really proud about.

“The team is showing agility, they are taking a very entrepreneurial approach, and learning from the startups. So we are definitely challenging past conventions and coming up with some good innovations in the future.

“You need to be able to take risks to drive things forward and given we have a tight leadership team that is diverse allows us to feel comfortable to take those risks.”

More CMO stories on the importance of diversity and its impact on business:

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