Robinsons Malls Brand Journey: From Identity Crisis to My Favorite Place

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The stellar performance of the Philippine economy has spurred massive growth in the retail sector, given the higher purchasing power of Filipinos. To date, new malls are being built left and right, and competition is tighter than ever.

Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC)’s Commercial Centers Division, more popularly known as Robinsons Malls, rose up to the challenge by building malls in new areas, and fast. RLC was, after all, one of the country’s leading real estate companies. But as the company built one mall after the next, a new problem that ran much deeper arose.

By 2014, Robinsons Malls realized it had hit an identity crisis.

“Prior to 2014, each mall had a separate identity. To some, we were a flea market, to some, we were high end. And even to some, we were a community mall. We realized that our malls did not have a defining character,” says Robinsons Malls Human Resources Director Fatima Olaguer.

“There was a need to put all these together in a cohesive way, so that whenever people think about Robinsons Malls, there would be a singular thing on their minds, no disconnect,” says Robinsons Malls General Manager Arlene Magtibay.

It was then that Robinsons Malls embarked on an ambitious rebranding journey that would change not just the company’s direction, but its culture as well.

My Favorite Place

After consulting with different agencies, Robinsons Malls settled on a new brand that would chart the direction for its future malls: tagging each mall at “My Favorite Place.” But the company soon realized that new branding gave rise to even more questions that would require a deeper, more collaborative approach to achieve the overall goal.

Robinsons Malls HR Director Fatima Olaguer and RLC VP for HR Tante Felipe were actively involved in designing the Branded Culture Program with MgtStrat

“It soon became a process question. For leasing, how do I become the favorite of tenants? For HR, how do I become the favorite workplace of employees? For marketing, how do I become the favorite of customers?” says Tante Felipe, RLC’s VP for Human Resources.

“We wanted to become a place that everyone would like to come back to,” adds Fatima.

Robinsons Malls then enlisted the help of management consultancy firm Management Strategies (MgtStrat) to develop the Branded Culture program, aimed at branding not just the malls, but aligning this vision with the people and the culture from the inside.

That same year in 2014, MgtStrat designed the Brand DNA workshop to help management galvanize their brand values with their corporate goals.

“In their case, it was first identifying what is their aspiration was, terms of the culture DNA, and then being able to diagnose and measure where the organization is against this culture DNA, and then from there be able to design the necessary road map to develop the culture and the leadership,” says MgtStrat Partner and WIAL Senior Action Learning Coach Cristina Alafriz.

This workshop was immediately followed by a Brand Culture Survey, which was conducted the following year to measure leaders against the brand values and leadership key actions developed during the workshop. Selected staff also took the survey, measuring against brand values.

The results were then used as inputs for the Branded Leaders Program for the leaders, and a corresponding Brand Values Workshop for the staff.

The results were encouraging: there was a steady increase in survey results for all four Brand Values and all Four Leadership Key Actions.

Positive shifts in leadership and culture as seen in increases in survey results scores for all 4 Brand Values and all 4 Leadership Key Actions

“MgtStrat has this ability to simplify complicated concepts. They’ll start with the big picture, initially bombarding you with these big concepts. But then at the training floor, all the concepts suddenly become simple,” says Tante.

The Transformation Gap

By 2017, participants of each workshop naturally came out raring to apply fresh ideas into their daily workplace. It was at this point, however, that Robinsons Malls hit another snag: highs achieved internally hit a wall when it came to aligning with“hardware” transformation involving land acquisition, site selection, planning, leasing, and operations among others.

“We were on schedule in terms of sustaining the culture efforts, but the hardware part was not able to keep up with the speed of culture,” says Fatima.

Tante agrees, adding, “The employees were high with culture, but the hardware failed to meet them where they were. They were quite dismayed.”

To move forward, Robinsons Malls with the help of MgtStrat designed the Branded Leaders Refresh program, a 16-week journey with 120 leaders in 7 batches, with learning sessions intended to review existing ideas and simultaneously take action on the complex problems of the malls. To achieve this purpose, MgtStrat carefully weaved Action Learning (AL) into the workshops.

It was during the AL sessions that key problems were identified: hitches in leasing processes, as well as processes for project approvals.

The identified problems were then given to each batch of leaders, with a challenge to come up with key action steps to address each obstacle.

“It strengthened my view that for one to be successful, you have to be participative. Allow people to be more inclusive and be involved. I noticed that there was some sort of “Turfism” before in Robinsons Malls, if there is a project, each department would work on it by themselves. While doing Action learning,
we learned to work with others,” says Tante.
“MgtStrat suggested Action Learning to fast track the process. AL has the capacity to deepen the practice of the brand values and leadership key actions while at the same time being able to solve some of the more complex problems of the organization,” says Tina.

What excited participants the most was the opportunity to present these action steps to Robinsons Malls General manager Arlene Magtibay, and no less than Frederick Go, President and COO of RLC.

The series of meetings gave birth to innovations such as a Pet Place, Medical Hub, One Stop Souvenir Center and Interactive Displays, the appointment of a Director for New Business, and even a move to “brand” Robinsons Malls’ popcorn.

Robinsons Malls came up with an internal contest to “Name Our Popcorn”

This effort was sustained through “Breakfast With Arlene”, a regular series of morning meetings held with randomly-selected rank and file employees.

“We wanted to surface those concerns from rank and file, and these meetings would sometimes be a springboard for new ideas as well. The employees themselves would come up with solutions. Because of these initiatives, engagement up, and we performed better in the internal climate surveys we administered for the year,” says Arlene.

Robinsons Malls GM Arlene Magtibay regularly conducts “Breakfast With Arlene” to sustain the inflow of new ideas, and fast-track approvals

Arlene adds that she felt the change even in her leadership style: “I am more conscious of coaching people now, and the need to engage different types of people. Also, giving them feedback, and developing talents within the company, especially high potential employees.”

A Special Award

Not long after the series of 20 AL projects came the opportunity to share the positive results with a broader audience. In 2017 as well, Robinsons Malls bagged the WIAL Best Application Award in Shanghai, a victory which caught the company by surprise.

Tante and Fatima with Robinsons Malls’ newly-minted WIAL Best Application Award

“We didn’t want to be nominated, by MgtStrat encouraged us, saying we were qualified,” shares Tante.

“We felt initially that we didn’t have accomplishments yet, we were just about to take off with our projects. But Mgt Strat reminded us that it’s not about the results, its about the journey and what we were currently going through,” adds Fatima.

MgtStrat Partners Cristina Alafriz and Leo Castillo with Tante and Fatima

Tina agrees, saying that there have already been concrete wins in Robinsons Malls’ journey.

“By creating these small wins and allowing the organization to realize them, it creates that strength of belief that this change is real, and therefore hopefully make them want to participate and be part of the change. Any culture transformation could be a long-term change process and we’re talking many years for that to happen, and I think we are on the right track,” Tina says.

Action Learning sessions continue with RLC’s different units

Today, RLC continues to collaborate with MgtStrat for AL sessions with different units in the company. Inspired by the changes, RLC has in fact is considering certifying their own AL coaches to sustain the momentum from within.

“We are inspired to continue. If we don’t sustain AL, there is a tendency for teams to go back to their old way,” says Tante.

“We intend to develop our own internal coaches. It already got approved,” Fatima says with a smile.

written by Michelle Orosa-Ople

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