Case Study: Manufacturing Culture Change Initiative

Michael Lovett of HRD Strategies shares the context and outcomes of an organizational culture change initiative. 

As a global manufacturing leader applying innovative technology and energy-efficient solutions to products marketed worldwide, this company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heating equipment, offering a comprehensive product line featuring the best-known brands in North America and China.

The Context

When we began the engagement, the company had just completed an organizational assessment. It revealed a deep mistrust of management, poor morale, and a lack of organizational focus. The General Manager (GM) of the company told us he wanted 3 things: 1) to make the managers of the company effective in how they motivated and developed people; 2) to improve morale and engagement, and 3) to improve the performance of the company in delivering its products.

The team applied the HRD Strategies High Performance Work Teams model with the company at 3 levels:

1) Organizational Strategy: to help develop a long-range plan and related performance measures;

2) Individual Leadership: helping managers become more effective leaders; and

3) Process Improvement: increasing effectiveness and efficiency.

We knew that to achieve real, meaningful change, we needed to work at those 3 levels (strategy, people, and processes) in a coordinated way.  We guided the GM of the company plus his 6-person leadership team through the process of defining the strategic focus. What is your purpose? What is the vision? What outcomes do you want to achieve? How can you measure it? What is essential for your success?  Once the road map was in place, we focused on the managers. Our strategy was to combine individual coaching with highly interactive workshops. Simultaneously, they took part in a series of leadership workshops that emphasized individual skill-building, practice and feedback.Each participant learned how to balance positive and constructive feedback – and the importance of providing enough positive feedback so that people can actually hear constructive feedback. Two weeks later, they returned to tell stories about how they applied their new skills. One manager, who’d earlier confessed he rarely gave positive feedback, described the experience as a “personal breakthrough.”

The focus of our work shifted to business process improvement through the use of teams and HRDs’ Star Concept model for semi-autonomous teams. HRD began working with an internal team to blueprint the new system of self-management process. The specific responsibilities of each person at each step were established; inputs and outputs were defined; agreements were hashed out and training provided for every member of this 500 person facility. A key realization was that senior managers needed to solicit more input in order for the system to work effectively. After six months of work and training, the process was rolled out to much fanfare. And, it worked.

The Outcome

This engagement highlights the fact that change can occur – and will occur – at any organization, assuming the right ingredients are in place. It is highly rewarding work. It begins when someone says: “We need to change.” As a result of this culture change initiative, the company achieved significant improvements in efficiency levels, financial performance, and workplace satisfaction. 

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