How change management helps to make every drop count at De Watergroep

Aug 10, 2021
  • people
  • utilities

With water becoming ever more scarce, and hot and dry summers a harsh reality to deal with, there is a growing awareness that we should treat water with care. And if we say “we”, we also imply the companies delivering water to our homes.

But did you know that in the production and distribution of water, a substantial amount gets lost without reaching us, often because of leaks? In Europe alone the water loss due to leakage amounts to more than 20% of all water production. This phenomenon is called ‛Non-Revenue Water' (or NRW). For De Watergroep, our customer in this project, the percentage of water loss is below this European average. And yet, it goes without saying that the financial, social and environmental aspects of NRW are too significant to ignore. That’s why De Watergroep launched a project to tackle this – and asked our change management team for guidance along the way.

Aligning people, tools, processes and data to find leaks and fix them quicker

De Watergroep is Flanders’ leading drinking water company. It has over 1,500 employees and delivers water to about 3.4 million customers, using more than 34,000 kilometers of pipelines. As a utility company, De Watergroep is public by nature. 

The past few years – and still today – De Watergroep has gone through many changes on an organizational level. The company has changed its structure from regionally-driven to centrally-driven. This allows employees to share best practices more easily and work process-based instead of role-based. At the same time, being operationally excellent has also become a key focus. 

It's one of De Watergroep’s strategic ambitions to smartly and efficiently reduce NRW. Finding creative solutions to sometimes complex problems, like NRW, is in its DNA. In 2019, they came to delaware for change management assistance on the program. The aim? To help De Watergroep’s employees understand why it is so important that they adapt their way of working when fixing and detecting leaks and how that will help to reduce water loss. 

And that’s how the Leakie program, with ‘Every drop counts’ as a tagline, came to life. Leakie covers 7 action tracks – all trying to either prevent leaks or detect and repair leaks quicker. The tracks focus on investing smartly in tools, optimizing processes and tearing down data silos. Yet the glue that holds all of these tracks together is even more important – and definitely not to be forgotten: people and change management. Because new tools, processes and data only work to your advantage if you also get everyone involved onboard, from the technicians on the road (who play an important role in providing data when they fix and detect leaks) to the board of directors. This Leakie program has an impact on the daily actions of 600 people, which is about one third of De Watergroep’s employees.

A combination of change management and change communication

“I must admit that I was a bit hesitant to work with delaware’s team for change management. I thought their approach would focus too much on guiding employees through a technological change or digital transformation project, in other words - change that is linked to a new SAP or Microsoft product”, says Cristina Orodel, who used to be Change Manager at De Watergroep for the Leakie program. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. The unique combination of experienced people, a thorough and holistic change approach, and a raft of expertise in change and communication projects truly makes the difference in our Leakie program. The team is able to steer us through strategic changes happening on a people, process and organizational level.” 

To fully grasp the context - what Leakie was all about and the impact it was going to have on whom - delaware’s team started with a thorough benefit mapping exercise and stakeholder analysis workshops. In parallel, the change and communication team did a round of interviews with employees and impacted leadership throughout the organization. After that, a change and communication plan brought together all actions. Based on that plan, a wide array of various assets are prepared – in close collaboration with De Watergroep’s inhouse communication team – and distributed to all involved. In other words, delaware’s team is not only involved on a strategic level, they also follow-up on the execution of the plan. To do this, they work closely together with several teams at De Watergroep, from track leaders and the HR department to the communication team. 

“For this project, it is also important to reach our technicians and get them on board”, says Jos Vrijders, Manager and track lead for the ‘Faster leak repairing’ track. “Technicians and managers, they speak a different language and you need to reach them through different channels. Together with the delaware team, we try to make everyone understand what is expected of them – and why data, and sharing best practices, is crucial in helping us spot and fix leaks faster. It takes time, but we are making progress.”

Filip Vancoillie, program coordinator, explains: “If we say that every drop of water counts, there is no time to lose. That’s why I’m happy that we can rely on the team’s strategic advice and creative thinking for change management and communication aspects of Leakie. Their experience complements the activities that the track leads need to tackle. It helps all of us to focus on the job at hand, and making the difference in tackling NRW.

The team also assists us with the execution of the plan – and helps us to create a broad range of change and communication assets, including a SharePoint hub where we can easily distribute  all information related to the project. One of the other ideas they came up with, was to organize Q&A sessions for our colleagues. We noticed that this worked very well! We’re not afraid to experiment with formats and also capture the feedback of everyone who is impacted by the Leakie program. We have also enrolled managers and team leads for a change management training. With most of us working from home during this COVID-era, it’s not an easy task to cover these aspects remotely. But I must say that we adapted our methodologies very well to the new situation. Our focus is to give everyone the information and tools they need reduce water losses.”

Keen to dive into our change management offering? Click here.