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Syngenta Seeds, Inc.

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  • Collaboration
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  • Performance Environments: Change Management

Syngenta Seeds knows the importance of strong roots. Problem was, its own roots in suburban Minneapolis needed some room to spread out.

Having expanded out of one leased facility and into a second, the marketer of agricultural seeds decided it was time to replant—with new construction that would bring everyone together and leave plenty of room for future growth.

But the move wasn't just a case of bigger is better. It was an opportunity to introduce an open, collaborative, more innovative culture that the company's old workspace seemed to blunt with walled offices, tall cubicles, and narrow corridors.

To turn that around, Syngenta's new space reduces the number of private offices by more than half and puts most folks in Herman Miller's Resolve system, which uses low screens to grant privacy, yet encourage collaboration. (Other Herman Miller furniture includes Eames molded plywood chairs in the cafeteria, Avive tables in project rooms, and Tu filing and storage throughout.)

Beyond the workstations, dozens of informal areas—lounges, coffee bars, casual meeting tables, and an open café—also spark spontaneous connections. So does the central stairway, where landings are extra large and comfortably furnished, the better to support impromptu interaction.

"We wanted to encourage a new way of working," says Caroline Ridout, facilities manager for Syngenta Seeds. "Here, work can happen anywhere—you don't have to sit at your workstation or in a conference room to get things done."

Aside from consolidating its people under one roof and getting them to work better together, Syngenta had a third goal: sustainability. Sustainable agriculture is central to its mission, so the company figured sustainable construction, furnishings, and operations would help set the tone.

AN EARLY START

Given the transformative nature of its new workplace, Syngenta began looking into a formal change management program well before construction got under way. Though most employees looked forward to the move (with an on-site fitness center, health clinic, and cafeteria, what's not to like), many of those who stood to lose private offices were less enthusiastic. Besides, the highly collaborative nature of the new headquarters was sure to require some getting used to.

"We knew we were a good candidate for change management," says Paul Minehart, head of corporate communications in North America for Syngenta. "Anytime you introduce a dramatic change and don't clearly explain why, you're almost sure to run into resistance."

Adds Holly Kriger, the Herman Miller consultant who spearheaded the change management program: "Syngenta recognized that if they didn't invest in change management up front, they'd end up spending far more on the back end in lost productivity and potentially unhappy employees."

Among the first tasks recommended by Herman Miller were a series of change leadership workshops. The purpose: To help Syngenta managers lead change and increase acceptance of it.

About a year before the move, Herman Miller worked with Syngenta to develop a communication plan to guide employees through the change process. The first job: Branding the move by creating a theme and graphic identity. The Syngenta change team decided on "Growing & Leading Together." Incorporated within a graphic depicting corn and soy leaves, the theme adorned all change communications and events.

PAVING THE WAY

And there were plenty to adorn. Among them:

Headquarters preview. Employees had a chance to preview the new headquarters—and check out a sample workstation—long before construction was complete.

Building fair. As the move date neared, Syngenta hosted a trade show-styled event with exhibits covering every aspect of the new headquarters.

Site tours. About two weeks out, Syngenta shuttled employees to the new building for two-hour site tours. Herman Miller coordinated the event and developed talking points used by guides to explain the new amenities and protocols.

Welcome booklet. On move-in day, Syngenta employees found a 12-page booklet waiting for them at their desks. Developed by Herman Miller and Minneapolis design firm 20 Below Studio, the booklet served as a primer on the new headquarters.

Move website. Throughout the process, Herman Miller maintained a website under the Growing & Leading Together banner. Complete with FAQs, photos, floor plans, and a webcam showing construction progress, the site gave Syngenta employees an easy way to stay updated.

A SMOOTH TRANSITION

The result of these efforts? Little resistance to the move and quick adaptation to the new work environment.

"The design intent of the space was realized quickly," says Kim Batcheller of 20 Below Studio, the design firm that handled the project—and guided it toward LEED Gold. "Change management helped Syngenta avoid a potentially rough transition."

Adds Mr. Minehart of Syngenta: "Long before we moved in, our people understood how the space could be used to improve collaboration and began using it that way from day one. Resistance was minimal—that speaks volumes about the effectiveness of change communications."

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