HR tips for driving large-scale transformation

International contractor Leighton Holdings has undergone massive changes in the past decade, including substantial growth through acquisition. Chief HR and corporate services officer Dharma Chandran shares his top transformation tips.

HR tips for driving large-scale transformation

Dharma Chandran was appointed chief HR officer of international contractor Leighton Holdings when the company was undergoing massive changes on the back of the GFC. With a new CEO also taking the reigns, the company set out a transformation program to achieve three main objectives: stabilise, rebase and grow.

Here are Chandran’s top tips on how he helped Leighton Holdings achieve its transformation goal:

  1. Have a clear objective in mind. We’ve had that from the start: to turn the company around and bring it to profitability – but a sustainable form of profitability where we can repeat it with relatively low risk year on year. That will generally mean we might not grow top line as fast as in the past but we will improve our margins.
  2. Do it to a set of principles that reflect organisational values. There must be some limits e.g. autonomy within boundaries. When Hamish Tyrwhitt became CEO the first thing he did was to establish and reaffirm our group wide values: discipline, integrity, safety and success. These govern the way in which we’ll achieve our objectives and the way in which we’ll undertake the key tasks to do so.
  3. Move with speed. While we selected just 3-5 objectives each year, once we decided what they were, we moved quickly to execute. Why? If you move fast you run the risk of making mistakes, but you also release anxiety caused by uncertainty. You get to the solution quickly and people become less anxious as a result. If you make a mistake – which you invariably will – you must acknowledge it, apologise for it, rectify it as best as possible, and then move on.
  4. Communicate continuously. Often people want answers; sometimes you don’t yet have them. We pledged that if we didn’t have the answer we would provide a timeframe within which we would know the answer. Make a commitment and then deliver on it.
  5. Bring people along on the journey. This required a lot of engagement, particularly with leaders, to convince them why it was necessary to change. Many of our leaders had only worked at Leighton. They had learnt some fabulous things about building infrastructure here, but had been less exposed to the commercial aspects of running a listed company. Exposing them to people who had that experience, from companies who weren’t competing with us but had gone through similar transformation journeys, was a critical aspect of bringing them along for the ride.


  • See the HRD cover story on Dharma in issue 12.5, out on May 22
  • Dharma will give a presentation on Change Management: Driving large-scale transformation at Leighton Holdings at the HRD Executive Leadership Forum, June 18-19 in Sydney.

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