Virus Through Key people


The Situation

The company in this case study has operated in the marine supply sector for many years, establishing a reputation for innovative design.
A new Chief Executive had been appointed and asked us to suggest some options on how the business could Take Control of worrying circumstances. It was evident that key customers were running out of tolerance and suppliers were falling short. However, the greatest threat came from the workforce. On the finances front, healthy margins were being eaten away and therefore profits being undermined. Profit warnings and rights issues were on the agenda.

The Problem

  1. Over the past five years it became increasingly clear that:
    Processes and systems were not fully enabling the business to address demanding operational challenges, present and future business growth.
  2. There continued to be misalignment challenges between the defined organisation structure and working reality.
  3. Significant ‘user fatigue’ was evident in the ‘employee’ factors – or if you asked the employees…” we’ve had enough!!”
    Anxiety existed amongst stakeholders over the businesses ability to ‘turn this around’ and as a consequence financial control measures were being imposed.

It was evident that key customers were rapidly running out of tolerance with a number ‘camping on site’ to try and move things forward. At least one stakeholder wanted to ‘take control’ of the business to help it through its challenges. For a number of systematic reasons suppliers were falling short in both delivery schedules and quality. Suppliers argued lack of clarity in specification and constant changes to requirements as their main frustrations.
The implications for the workforce included very high levels of additional working hours, worrying retention rates, difficult recruitment conditions (it’s a small world), and eroding morale; combining to make a difficult working environment. Functional defensive silos had become entrenched.

What We Did

We advised the CEO that at the very core of taking control had to be a significant upwards shift in the people leadership AND technical leadership competency within the business. The challenge for the business could be summed up with the analogy ‘rewiring the house with the electric switched ON’.

This included the following key actions:

  • undertake a major process, systems and a structure re-engineering exercise whilst AT THE SAME TIME delivering on some highly visible (often overdue) demanding projects.
  • A “stealth progam”- we suggested that a fanfare announcement of ‘a new leadership world’ was not the best approach. Our experience indicated that in difficult trading conditions a major transition program would have a greater chance of succeeding through stealth, infecting the business in a highly committed but below the radar manner.
  • Ensure success in a high-level business critical project and then use this ‘what good looks like’ to infect the rest of the business.
  • Introduce “the ninety days challenge” – With our help and diagnostics tools a business-critical project that would re-engineer a major (loss making) product manufacturing process within 90 days was identified – the ninety days challenge. The deadline for completion was fixed in stone and the whole business knew it would not be moved for anything…. anything! The very best resources were seconded to the project and given 1-to-1 coaching alongside whole group support for the full 90 days.
  • The company’s very best Project Director was seconded full time and reported direct to the Chief Executive. All Functional Heads were made personally accountable for ensuring the project had no inhibitors to success.

The Results

We had deliberately created a scenario within which failure could not be an option. The strap line for the project became “virus through key people”. Was it a success? Some egos were very badly bruised, fiefdoms attacked and old world thinking vigorously challenged. The project was completed on time and significant business benefit derived (including delivery targets slashed and costs significantly reduced). Manufacturing targets increased from 12 units pa to 72 units pa and the ‘new way’ virus did infiltrate the business with three more “90-day challenges” carried out.

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