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Leveraging Culture to Transform Results

Guest Contributor

I was fortunate to attend the Food Manufacturing & Safety Forum in Dallas, Texas last month, and among the many great stories that I heard, the most inspiring was delivered by Mr. Amir Ghannad, Director of Workplace Excellence and the Atlanta, Georgia plant at Sunny Delight.

I was so impressed with Mr. Ghannad’s story that I invited him to share it with our readers here.  You can’t imagine how pleased I was when he agreed. His passion for leadership, and his insights into turning around an unproductive culture are remarkable.  Even more so is his unreserved willingness to share his wisdom—he even shared his email for those of you who have more questions!

I hope you find his story as engaging and informative as I did. 

   - Alcide

 

In 2006, results and morale were at an all time low at the Sunny Delight Plant in Atlanta.  The divestiture from P&G had resulted in the departure of several key resources at a time when the pace of innovation and Amir-ghannad-180x225complexity was increasing significantly.  The Plant Leadership Team set out to implement a series of interventions to transform the culture and the results at the plant.

Within two years, the plant went from being literally the worst performing Sunny D plant, and a “liability” to the company, to delivering company and industry benchmark results across a wide variety of KPI’sand being the "go to" site.  

In 2009, the plant was named “The Company of the Year in Atlanta” by the local chapter of APICS.  The Georgia Coach Association also recognized the plant with an Honorable Mention “PRISM Award” for using coaching methodology to bring about a significant turnaround in results and morale.  The story of our transformation has also been featured in business radio interviews, and in an article titled “Company Lifts Workers and Bottom Line” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 27, 2010.

The story of this transformation is a testament to the power of leveraging culture to deliver superior business results.  In today’s environment, when the pace of innovation is higher than ever, it is necessary to keep up with and make full use of the latest methodologies to improve results.  But what often takes the backseat to implementing new programs is good old-fashioned leadership to ensure the programs and systems we invest in are fully utilized.

Sunny delight logo-300x248The tried and true way to get an immediate and lasting boost in results in virtually every business that involves people is to take the necessary steps to ensure people are engaged, excited, and committed.  In our case, this was the main avenue we used to turn things around at the plant—with virtually no capital investment.

I’d like to share a few of the many principles that drove our improvement efforts.  I am clear that these principles themselves are not new to you, but keep in mind that it is not ‘knowing what to do’, but rather ‘doing what you know’, that makes the difference.  I’d encourage you to pick a challenge you are dealing with in your organization and read these principles with the intention to identify and commit to specific actions.  These are steps that you are willing to take immediately to improve and leverage employee engagement in your organization.

Principle 1:  The leader must declare him/herself the greatest barrier to progress and actively work toward getting him/herself out of the way.  If you can think of other factors that you consider to be your greatest barriers, ask yourself “Why am I tolerating that?  What can I do about it?”

Principle 2:  Leaders must declare a bold future into existence.   Focusing on survival will not call forth the best in us.   Believing in a brighter future does, and we get our clues on what the future holds from our leaders.  We declared that we would be “The Showcase of Excellence” at a time when most people would be happy just to know that we would survive. That vision became the standard by which we evaluated ourselves and the brighter future that we looked to.

Principle 3:  Nurture the whole person and a more productive employee will emerge.  The second part of our vision was that we were going to be “The Cradle of Prosperity” for the employees and their families.  We held coaching sessions and offered programs that were aimed at helping employees with their finances, relationships, physical health, etc.  Sunnyd plant-260x195This helped many employees improve their quality of life, and it also demonstrated that leadership cared about them—not just as an employee, but as a person.

Principle 4:  Leaders must not have an entitlement mentality when it comes to their employees’ commitment.   We are well within our rights to expect compliance.  We pay for it and must receive a certain level of performance in return.  However, the ultimate level of commitment that it takes to create breakthrough results is priceless.  It can only be earned by creating the right conditions in which employees offer up their commitment for free. 

Principle 5:  Leaders must openly demonstrate their willingness to receive feedback on their effectiveness as a leader and act on it.  It would be naïve to never ask our customers what they think of our products and services and expect to remain competitive.  By the same token, as “servant leaders”, we must have formal and informal avenues to gauge our performance.  We conducted a survey where all technicians rated the leadership team members and provided a letter grade A+ through F and examples of positive and negative behavior.

Principle 6:  Leadership must actively extend trust and respect.  This can be done through symbolic gestures that send a clear signal to the entire organization that the leader considers them trustworthy.  One such example in our case is that we do not have timecards; rather, we rely on everyone entering their time in the payroll system correctly.  Additionally, genuine personal gestures of trust and respect have a lasting effect.

Principle 7:  Leadership must break down silos and role model and expect collaboration.   If the organization is always looking for direction from the top, the limit of what it can accomplish is determined by the leader’s capacity.  But if you expect synergy and coach the next layer of leadership on how to collaborate effectively, it unleashes unlimited power to create.

Principle 8:  The most powerful way to shift the culture of an organization is to alter its language.  One of the most powerful interventions we made was that we distinguished the language of players  ”on the court”, playing the game, and spectators “in the stands”, talking about the game.   The pervasive effect of this distinction and language literally resulted in a 10% increase in our OEE less than two weeks after we introduced this language at a plant offsite.

 For further discussion on this topic, please contact me at amir_ghannad@yahoo.com.

 


 


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Comments

I am posting here under a letter sent to Mr. Amir Ghannad, which is self explanatory.Dear Mr. Ghannad,I read your story and eight principles posted on the blog of Delta Partners and became an admirer of yours. After reading the whole story I could understand that at Sunny Delight, you were able to catch the crux of the issue from its forelock and solved the problems by turning around the business. I have discussed with many of our friends in the consulting business about turning a business around or implementing a change in an organization. I am surprised that very few value the most important factor in bringing change - the humans. For them turning around or business re-engineering means finding unproductive departments or units and suggesting to close or prune them down by laying off employees. They do not suggest how to stimulate those departments or units for better results or make the best use of them while retaining majority of employees. I think many of us look for a short cut while relying on the standard tools and techniques and very few try to look beyond that. When we make humans as the central point for bringing change and not the negative cash flow or balance sheet then we become more humane and compassionate in making best use of them. This makes a lasting impact on peoples mind and in turn they become compassionate about the company in increasing the productivity. In order to do that a leader or a consultant has to be intelligent and kind enough to create an aura of positive vibration around him or her.  You have been successful because you are an extraordinary person and your vision and effort has been away from those standard prescribed principles. To improve productivity instead of becoming their leader, you became their mentor and messiah in taking care of not only work related issues but their personal problems as well. This shows that you care about human dignity and their self respect more than your own ego, position and pride. These spiritual qualities cannot be invoked unless you demonstrate true concern towards people around you. I am delighted to write this mail as your effort in turning around echoes my thought and perception as well. In fact every article posted on my blog has emphasized the importance of humans in making best use of them without alienating them from the system. But to do this one needs vision, innovations and forbearance. Without forbearance it would not be possible to go in depth, find the real problems, listen to the ideas of employees, their problems at work or personal woes and accordingly motivate them by way of caring and sharing. Your action and care shown towards your employees have been genuine and par-excellence and that is why they changed themselves at your call resulting in increased productivity. The language of love and genuineness speaks itself and it makes a lasting effect on a person’s mind and personality.  I would like to thank Mr. Alcide DeGagne for posting such an incredible and inspiring story about you and your company.Wish you a great success in your endeavor.Best of regards,Suman Saran SinhaB.Sc, LLB, CMCCertified Management Consultant

By SUMAN SARAN SINHA, CMC on 2012/02/28

I read your story and eight principles posted on the blog of Delta Partners and became an admirer of yours. After reading the whole story I could understand that at Sunny Delight, you were able to catch the crux of the issue from its forelock and solved the problems by turning around the business. I have discussed with many of our friends in the consulting business about turning a business around or implementing a change in an organization. I am surprised that very few value the most important factor in bringing change - the humans. For them turning around or business re-engineering means finding unproductive departments or units and suggesting to close or prune them down by laying off employees. They do not suggest how to stimulate those departments or units for better results or make the best use of them while retaining majority of employees. I think many of us look for a short cut while relying on the standard tools and techniques and very few try to look beyond that. When we make humans as the central point for bringing change and not the negative cash flow or balance sheet then we become more humane and compassionate in making best use of them. This makes a lasting impact on peoples mind and in turn they become compassionate about the company in increasing the productivity. In order to do that a leader or a consultant has to be intelligent and kind enough to create an aura of positive vibration around him or her.  You have been successful because you are an extraordinary person and your vision and effort has been away from those standard prescribed principles. To improve productivity instead of becoming their leader, you became their mentor and messiah in taking care of not only work related issues but their personal problems as well. This shows that you care about human dignity and their self respect more than your own ego, position and pride. These spiritual qualities cannot be invoked unless you demonstrate true concern towards people around you. I am delighted to write this mail as your effort in turning around echoes my thought and perception as well. In fact every article posted on my blog has emphasized the importance of humans in making best use of them without alienating them from the system. But to do this one needs vision, innovations and forbearance. Without forbearance it would not be possible to go in depth, find the real problems, listen to the ideas of employees, their problems at work or personal woes and accordingly motivate them by way of caring and sharing. Your action and care shown towards your employees have been genuine and par-excellence and that is why they changed themselves at your call resulting in increased productivity. The language of love and genuineness speaks itself and it makes a lasting effect on a person’s mind and personality.  I would like to thank Mr. Alcide DeGagne for posting such an incredible and inspiring story about you and your company.

By SUMAN S. SINHA on 2012/03/02

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Posted by Guest Contributor
Posted on February 21, 2012
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