Leveraging Culture to Transform Results
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.
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 complexity 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.
The 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. This 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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