Say cheese: Five best practices on change management
06 March 2019
Blog by Peter Kauw – Interim Plant Manager
Peter Kauw, currently Interim Plant Manager, will share his 39 years of experience in the food and packaging business in the following three-part blog series. He worked 27 years at Friesland Campina and eight years in Ball Packaging from this he gained extensive experience of change management focused on ‘operations’. In recent years he also worked as an interim manager in SME companies. In this first blog post, Peter will share his five best practices of change management learned from his time managing a large cheese plant.
After leading a small plant for two years, I got my big opportunity: managing a large cheese plant. This plant was in a serious calamity. The cheese was mouldy after delivery to the customer and many customers complained about the poor quality of the cheese. Demand decreased thus the forecasted financial results were not attained. The management of the company was worried for the future of the plant. It was clear that something had to change.
Where to start?
During my first days at the office of the cheese plant, I read the reports of consultants who had previously advised the management. They made clear recommendations by constructing an action plan that I was ready to implement.
Naturally, I ordered the plant management team to do so. However, the team’s reaction was not as expected. They responded negatively and expressed their distaste with the recommendations provided by the consultants. Management strongly recommended me to walk around the plant and listen to the employees’ grievances before I made my final decision.
Observing and listening
Frankly, I had my doubts about investing my time in listening to employees in the plant, due to the extensive analyses that the consultants had reported. Nevertheless, I gave it the benefit of the doubt.
I spent two days walking around, listening and talking to almost everyone working in the plant. I noticed a lot of frustration, miscommunication and negative feelings. Most importantly, the employees told me that the consultants had never interviewed them.
Involvement and commitment
Once I got back to my office, I recognised that the biggest blunder, the lack of involvement of the consultants, could not be repeated. I deduced that I had to get everyone participating and get their full dedication in order to improve the plant’s performance. Therefore, our first step was to stop production and asked everyone to join the meeting in the canteen. This was a nerve-wracking moment, but everyone understood and felt the need for change.
I shared my observations with the employees and asked them to divide into smaller project groups. Each group had its own problem area and goal. The most crucial part, in order to get this problem solved, was for everyone to be involved in the plan, to own up to their position and the actions that needed to be taken.
Tools and trust
The goal was to provide the participants of the project groups with enough tools and to create an atmosphere of openness and trust. The actions were the following:
- 20 minutes commencement meetings with me
- Training on motivation and problem-solving. The participants were offered tools such as PDCA cycle (also known as the Deming wheel), to analyse the current problems and to start solving them systematically
- Training for the group project leaders with various conversation techniques and management tools
- Customer visits and their feedback on our products
- Team building activities: Saturday night bowling
As a result of this approach, we entered a positive flow. Significant results were achieved after only two weeks. For example, we found out that the cheese barrels, in which the cheese was filled, were dirty. The dirty barrels probably infected the cheese, causing it to become mouldy. After identifying the issue, the problem was swiftly resolved. Additionally, we detected a technical failure in the pasteurization line. In cooperation with the supplier, we were able to solve this major predicament directly. This process gave us a lot of motivation to continue solving problems. In the end, everybody felt responsible and showed ownership.
In the weekly steering committee meeting, the project groups reported their results and asked for support if they required it. Their progress was shown on a central dashboard in the plant, for everyone to see. Within six months we reached four key objectives and were able to resolve the crisis:
- The result was a joint achievement of the different sections
- The factory achieved maximum performance
- The factory reduced the standard deviation of the process
- The number of customer complaints decreased by 80%
The best practices on change management
This change management case was a success. Despite Towers Watson’s comprehensive study that states that 70% of change management programs end in failure. So, is there a blueprint for handling change management cases? No. Every case is unique. However, the learning objectives derived from the cheese plant case turned out to be the best practices during my career. Them being:
- Get the inside scoop: observe and listen. The employees inside the plant know best.
- Get people involved and committed: everyone should play their role in the change. Employees received individual tasks and goals that they had to attain. This let to employees feeling responsible and involved in the process.
- Awareness: In order to get people to mobilize for change, there has to be awareness of the world outside the factory. The question: “What are important external factors that are important to consider when you aim for change?” needs to be answered. For example customer experiences, laws & regulations and competition.
- Influential leader: Mobilizing people to change, requires a strong leader of the factory. Someone who can inspire and motivate the organization. The right leader accompanied with the application of the appropriate management style, in our case participative management, results in a higher success rate. By doing so, you achieve more empowerment and teams are able to carry more responsibility. In return, you as a plant manager are able to get more involved in the decision-making process.
- Provide the necessary tools and trust in the process: people should be empowered and informed. All the employees of the cheese factory received the essential tools to start and positively influence the change. We worked with a project plan that forced the organization to think and work in a structural manner. In this plan, the objectives were straightforward, clear and concise. During the implementation process, I gave the employees regular updates with clear information about the progress of the project. Sharing direct information at the right time kept the staff interested and involved.
Peter’s big opportunity was not as smooth sailing as one would wish for. However, the high-pressure job position led to mastering the art of on your feet last minute decision making and active listening. From this career opportunity, he learned the importance of the following practices.
First and foremost, he learned the magnitude of employee feedback. Moreover, employee involvement, ownership of their role and providing them with the right tools can significantly influence success rates. Lastly, as a leader, he realised that being inspirational and having the ability to motivate subordinates adds substantial value to company morale.
Due to these practices, Peter was able to turn a disaster into success. The cheese plant is currently operating on maximum capacity, with a reduced standard deviation of the process and significantly decreased customer complaints amount.
We want to thank Peter Kauw for his time and sharing his knowledge. Can you relate to Peter’s story, or do you have a different way of dealing with change management? Please, share your story with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +31 (0)630076674. Lastly, stay tuned for the second post from Peter.