By Sean Hagger, formerly General Manager of the site; now a Legitimate Leadership Associate.
By 2020, technology advances in automotive catalyst manufacturing, and competition from lower-cost new plants in other countries, resulted in one of the first plants to have produced the catalysts in the UK becoming uncompetitive. The whole sector was moving from growth to value. This prompted a new strategy from the UK company which involved the phased closure of one of its legacy plants.
For site management, a particular challenge given the length of the ramp-down, was how to make the phased closure as positive an experience as possible for employees, and how to maintain or even improve service to customers.
In March 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic, which mandated lockdowns throughout the UK, as well as managing complications caused by Brexit, did nothing to improve matters.
The UK plant had been one of the first two sites to start manufacturing catalysts for the automotive industry and some sections of it were 20 years old. The productivity gap between new, modern sites and this legacy site was growing as new technology and improved process engineering redefined the standard.
Approximately 900 people were working at the site. It produced a complex product mix with over 600 different products over 15 work centres which included primary and secondary manufacturing processes. It also shared the whole site with the European Technology Centre for the same sector and two other business units for different sectors, as well as the global headquarters for the business.
Given the site’s proximity to the technology centre, it was used to receive new products and processes and had become a pilot plant of sorts. As the manufacturing of catalyst became better understood the site had gradually been left behind over the past 10 years as more modern sites were built globally. The site’s diverse mix of products and ageing facilities had sent costs and efficiencies in the wrong direction.
A strategic decision was taken to transfer production to the modern and more efficient sites. In summer 2020 the site leadership team, led by myself, started consultations with the workforce for the first wave of a series of redundancies which would eventually lead to the closure of the site entirely by 2024.
Even before the first wave of redundancies the site was characterised by low levels of employee engagement and trust. This was evidenced by:
Apart from these harder measures, the culture was also characterised by high levels of entitlement, a feeling of unfairness and low levels of energy.
The site was not working at its potential – it was in decline and it looked like it and felt like it.
Make Your Last Shift Your Best Shift
The leadership team at the site had experience of Legitimate Leadership and decided to use the framework as a way of enabling the culture they wanted while taking the site through its last journey. Previous Legitimate Leadership profiles had diagnosed the site as ‘high care and low growth’.
Allied to that, the leadership wanted to ensure that the workforce was given every opportunity to stay within the company. And, if and when people did leave, the leadership wanted to provide high levels of support for the transition to new roles outside of the organisation. They wanted the workforce to adopt the mantra, ‘Last Shift, Best Shift’.
A Legitimate Leadership Intervention Has Four Deliverables:
12 Processes To Embed Legitimate Leadership On Site
|NO||LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP ALIGNMENT||WHY||HOW|
|1||Understand Current State – Provide The Means||Constantly review where the collective leadership stands in terms of legitimacy. Where does the allegiance of the majority of employees lie? Assessing qualitative and quantitative measures through the lens of Care, Means, Ability and Accountability. What does this tell us about how we are leading the site?||It’s a mindset change and is concerned with using the scoreboard as a compass to provide direction. Is what we are doing making a difference, if not, then we must change. This requires the leadership team to take in more information than just living and dying by the results. What you measure is what you get.|
|2||Initiate, Perpetuate And Maintain The Flow Of Information – Provide The Means||Talk with the people, not to the people. Meaningful dialogue is essential. Most important is listening to responses to the communications. The noise that surrounds the leader always means something. Fail to listen to your people at your peril.||The leadership team created and deployed a communication strategy:
|3||Act – Don’t Just Listen
Care – Passing The Intent Test
|This doesn’t mean being compliant and agreeing to everything, but discernible and palpable effort must be witnessed on resolving issues.||
|4||Spend Time On The Things That Matter
Care – What You Give Your Attention To Shows What You Care About
|Getting the balance between reactivity and proactivity is vital. Spending time on critical leadership tasks, such as 1-2-1s, watching the game and team meetings, and the quality of those interactions, is critical. Ensuring leadership AND management tasks are completed.||
|5||Breaking Down Silos
Provide The Means Through Enabling Structures
|There had been many organisational changes over the years – e.g. 14 different permutations to the shift patterns – divided teams and duplicated management roles.||
|6||Cross Training, Resource Levelling
Provide the Ability
|There was extremely poor distribution of skills across the site which allied to the silo working mentality. We wanted to provide freedom within constraints.||
|7||The Train is Leaving the Station
|There were some very disaffected individuals on the site who after numerous opportunities were unwilling to contribute to the minimum levels of performance and behaviour. They needed to go. The change in morale was noticeable when only a few disaffected people left.||
Showing Care By Suspending The Agenda For The Right Thing
|A serious safety incident led to uncovering some long-standing concerns with odours from some equipment. The odours were unpleasant to work in and the controls listed as opening the doors weren’t sufficient.||
Provide Means And Ability
|Took all 50 people leaders through a tailored 1-day programme to re-ignite Legitimate Leadership and create the wider leadership team. It’s a very personal experience to close a facility and the leaders take the brunt of the emotion.||
|10||Fit For The Future
Provide The Means And Ability
|The leadership team wanted to ensure that all useful and relevant information pertaining to the redundancy situation was readily accessible and clear. The HR team created a ‘Fit For The Future’ programme.||4 pillars on a foundation of Wellbeing:
A compendium of projects aimed at empowering and enabling the workforce to grasp their future opportunities.
|11||Reduction Of Complexity
Provide The Means
|The business had grown overly complex. There were too many controls, and too much control coming from central corporate groups.||
|12||Push Accountability Down The Organisation
Provide The Means
|Leaders were working at least 1 level and sometimes 2 levels down the organisation. Handing over decision-making authority to the next layer down in a systematic way is critical in 2 ways:
The site got its energy back. It is in the most challenging times that leaders can show people what they really stand for. The leadership team on this site took that opportunity with both hand