Innovation By Jamie Hart

The changing culture at William Hill

Technology and connectivity is driving rapid changes in the products and services we use and it’s also changing the way people work.

Old-style hierarchical, command-and-control structures work well where you’re producing something you’ve produced for years, where you’re not expecting anything significant to change and efficiency is your primary aim. A world where change is the only constant demands a different approach.

The HOME principles and HOME Awards underpin our Group culture but with the flexibility to meet the different needs of different parts of our business. In the case of Online, the journey to achieve a different way of working is not an easy one. The empowerment of teams and the granting of autonomy to those teams has to involve a devolution of power from the existing management structure, and inevitably people can find that change difficult to come to terms with. But the evidence shows that where teams have greater independence both the speed and quality of delivery on projects are increased significantly. That’s something all industry 1.0 managers have been desperate to achieve for decades!

At William Hill we’ve started the journey to alter the collective mindset in a big 80-year-old business and we have a clear vision of where we want to get to, but we’ve got a way to go yet. Within Online, we’ve introduced agile principles to our development teams (twice – it never works first time) and to our management teams. That’s important. Too many companies suffer because they think agile is just something the techies do but it needs to be embraced across the business to make a real difference.

To start with we went back to basics. Why are we here? Why does William Hill exist? As an Online team, we worked through what we stood for and agreed our “Why?”:

“We believe in creating an enjoyable and memorable experience our customers love and trust.”

We’re in the entertainment industry. It’s got to be fun. So how do we achieve that? More soul-searching and we arrived at our “How?”:

“We do this through a deep understanding of our customers' desires, delivering innovation in a constantly improving and engaging environment”.

We then agreed the directional values we need to commit to in order to achieve our goals.

  • Think about the customer
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Focus on the facts
  • Take responsibility
  • Be transparent
  • Deliver value often
  • Learn and adapt
  • Invite participation

It’s a call to action. Actions in place of words. Don’t be afraid to fail. We learn by doing, so the more we try, the more we learn. The guys who make the most mistakes tend to be the ones who are making the biggest difference because they’re the people doing their best to exploit the myriad of fresh opportunities technological change makes available to us. Give me a person who’s made ten mistakes this year over the one who’s made none any time. The likelihood is the person who’s made no mistakes hasn’t put their head above the parapet and hasn’t tried anything new.

We also tend to learn more from our mistakes than our successes. There are a hundred ways to skin most cats. Succeed with our first attempt and we tend to accept that it was the right thing to do and the right way to do it, but often it could be the 98th best solution. How do we know? That’s where our commitment to constant improvement comes in. Dealing with the facts the data makes available to us, while constantly engaging our customers to understand their changing needs, and being super users of our products ourselves.

If you look at the most successful dev teams in high performing companies today there is also a shift to reduce complexity and headcount within those teams. Where previously a typical development team would have a Product Owner, BA, QA, PM and developers, the simpler route is to remove the separate BA, QA and PM positions and build those tasks into the team which is now made up of a Customer (previously the Product Owner) and developers. The developers own the problem and work towards a solution they believe in. We’re not at that point yet, but the momentum we’ve built up over the last couple of years means we’re now in a position where genuine change has gone from an impossibility to an inevitability.

I’ve been involved with William Hill’s Online business since we were a four-person internal start-up in the nineties, and I can genuinely say that I’ve never been as excited about our potential in the next few years as I am now.

Related links: