Client Case Study: Competitive Advantage Through Communication | #LatimerAt20

The relationships we have with our clients and their organizations are our most precious assets… and the things we are most proud of. This week we hear from Scott Singer.

Scott has been a longtime client and friend of The Latimer Group, originally while at United Technologies, and subsequently as Head of Global Business Services for Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest metals and mining corporation ($63 billion in annual revenue).

As part of our ongoing 20th Anniversary series, Scott was kind enough to share the story of how and why he placed his faith in The Latimer Group… and the results of what happened when he did.

When I moved from the United States to Australia in 2007 to join the global mining behemoth Rio Tinto, one of the few books I brought with me was my signed copy of Dean Brenner’s Move The World. Why? Because I knew from experience the power and competitive advantage that his work could deliver.

The first time I had the good fortune of working with Dean and The Latimer Group was in 2005-06 while leading a supply chain management team at United Technologies Corporation (UTC). I experienced then, firsthand, The Latimer Group’s powerful approach to communication and persuasion training, in the context of a large multi-national corporation.

The task I inherited when I moved to Rio Tinto was daunting: transform and professionalize a globally dispersed supply chain organization while integrating a mammoth, $40 Billion acquisition of Alcan Aluminum… and I was given only two years to do it, on a strict timeline imposed from Rio’s headquarters in London. I had staff in over 60 countries, and while Australia was the group’s home base, I travelled constantly for my first two years. I was now leading an incredibly diverse team, with a wide range of experience and competency in supply chain management.

In addition, the mining operations were often in extremely remote locations with unique transportation and communication challenges. As I interviewed the mine managers at each site, one thing became increasingly clear in every conversation: this supply chain team would need to have strong communication skills. They would need to be able to communicate in all directions on the org chart, across the globe, internally and externally, and I would need all of them to be able to communicate and build consensus around the significant change we were trying to drive.

We needed expert training, we needed it quickly, and we needed consistent tools, frameworks, and vocabulary around our collective communication skills. Once I was settled in the role, and I understood the challenge in front of me, it was time to call The Latimer Group.

I reached out Dean in 2008, with the following challenge: design for us an agile training solution and deploy it globally with a combination of in-person and virtual training. No one on my team was going to be left out… 600+ people would be involved. I joked with Dean that to get this done his team, which was a lot smaller in those days, would really have to “move the world,” a reference to the title of his first book.

After many months of international travel and remote calls at all hours of the day and night (long before virtual platforms like Zoom were ubiquitous, by the way), The Latimer Group met the challenge and executed the mission beautifully. The feedback was consistently exceptional as many team members never had access to this type of training before in their lives. This, coupled with the fact that for many of them English was not their native language, made it even more important for them to gain confidence in their communications.

But more importantly, the impact on my team was clear and obvious. And it mirrored my experience with Dean and his team from my days at UTC: the follow-through by my team members to embody the “Latimer Learnings” and utilize what they were being taught predictably plotted on a bell curve of distribution: a small percentage did very little follow through; the majority started applying the learnings in their projects; and a small percentage truly embraced the learnings for both their professional and personal pursuits. Almost immediately, and not surprisingly, the latter group started getting more recognition, more complex supply chain projects and more visibility within my organization and Rio Tinto operations.

While I could not measure the impact on individuals scientifically, I witnessed numerous instances where this training became a catalyst for significant career growth and promotions for several members of my team.

But in terms of the organization as a whole, the impact was clear and compelling. Over the five year period from 2008-2013 Rio Tinto’s procurement organization participated in three external benchmarking studies, which evaluated the organization against similar multi-national companies, to determine relative performance for both organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Starting in 2008 as a mediocre second quartile performer, Rio Tinto progressed in the next two rounds to become a top decile performer against the same peer group of companies. While organizational communication competency could not be easily measured in the benchmark study, I am convinced that the Latimer Learnings made a significant contribution to influencing internal stakeholders to “buy in” to the strategies being proposed that would lead to world class rankings in the benchmarking results.

Even today, as I stay in touch with my old team at Rio Tinto, I often get messages from former team members on how Latimer Learnings have influenced their lives and shaped their careers.

As I reflect on their success and the growth of The Latimer Group, I return to what drew me to Dean’s work in the first place. “The person who has the ability to persuasively and articulately communicate their message has a significant competitive advantage.” I remember this sentiment coming consistently from Dean in his training and his writings. It captures exactly what I sought for my team and what they got out of their experience learning from The Latimer Group.

Furthermore, as I think back on the various investments I made with my team, the power and impact of communication skills training dwarfed many of the other choices we made. The return on the investment of our time and resources paid consistent dividends for years to come.

As we continue to share our #LatimerAt20 insights on a weekly basis, you can access the full anniversary series here

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.