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Case Study | AkzoNobel

Transforming an organisation through a proven leadership model.

We helped AkzoNobel shift from entrenched locally oriented behavioural patterns to a global leadership style.


AkzoNobel Decorative Paints division, known as Deco, employs roughly 22,000 people on five continents and is the largest supplier of decorative paints in the world. Deco generated a turnover of €4.7 billion in 2009, down 7% from 2008.

Following the acquisition of a major competitor, the global economic crisis exposed structural issues at an organisational level that hindered Deco’s ability to respond to strategic priorities. A major liability was the fragmented, multi-local organisational structure that had developed over the years. In spite of its global scale, Deco was not living up to its global potential.

The company needed to leverage its worldwide reach to maintain its position in several new business areas and take advantage of its leadership within established markets. But how does an established corporation with nearly €5 billion in turnover and more than 20,000 employees across dozens of independent business units move from being a multi-local company to a single global entity? How can it act and behave as a truly global company to leverage its range of people, competencies, and capabilities? On top of that, how does a company that had not been growing for the past years spur growth in the context of a tight financial market, a collapsing housing market, and fierce competition?

The earliest iterations of the initiative developed and began to fit together as the role of the leadership training emerged. Silke Heitmann describes it “as a puzzle with many pieces. There are many strands: Strategy, leadership, culture, change. It all fits together. Indeed, there is a remarkable symmetry between the way the initiative works in theory at the individual level and the way it has been implemented in the organisation.”

Our intervention

The Ignite the Spirit initiative through the SML journey was only the first part of the organisational transformation of Deco. In 2011, 23,000 employees experienced this leadership journey, and the company is moving towards full implementation of its new mission to ‘add colour to people’s lives.’

Once the tools for connecting at deeper levels were in place, it became obvious that a larger strategy needed to be built around the leadership process. As Heitmann explains: “The Self Managing Leadership program is a really good starting point, but to make it really efficient you need a strategy, a mission around it and you need to cascade it. You have to make it an integral part of a whole reform program. Otherwise it is nice to have and it helps people to heighten self-awareness and to be reflective. But it will not have a long lasting effect on the organisation. It has to be tailor-made and embedded in the organisation.”

The overall development strategy for Deco sought to leverage the team members’ own capabilities and values, as well as in the overall business strategy and the mission to ‘Add Colour to People’s Lives’, which was the major shift in identity that informs the current direction for Deco.

If we are able to lead ourselves in this authentic way, we will truly be able to mobilise those we lead, unlock the potential of the organisation and turn it into growth for our business. Together we will build a community that can be characterised as cohesive, inclusive, respectful, trustworthy and inspired.

Tex Gunning
Managing Director, AkzoNobel

Before the program was rolled out, there was some uncertainty among participants and some people were apprehensive about experiencing what they believed to be a deep, personal intervention into their lives. However, the program has been very well received and participants generally leave the program with a high. As Peters has seen time after time:

Most of the teams were very enthusiastic and grateful for this opportunity; even the skeptics got caught up in the atmosphere and the intense experience of the sharing sessions and deep conversations with their colleagues.

24 min Read

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Transforming an organisation through a proven leadership model


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