Case Studies

Johnson Matthey USA Smithfield: The Role Of Legitimate Leadership (Care and Growth) In Creating A Culture Which Enables Continuous Growth In People And Performance.

Aug 2016

In August 2009 Johnson Matthey Emission Control Technologies (ECT) opened a new emissions control and catalyst plant in the town of Smithfield (south-west Pennsylvania, USA) to manufacture large, complex, heavy-duty diesel catalysts. From the very beginning the management of the facility was convinced that the site’s culture would be critical to their success. Moreover, that great cultures don’t happen but rather evolve over time through conscious and dedicated leadership commitment and action. Legitimate Leadership played an important role in that evolution.


What the leadership at Smithfield did to create a culture which has enabled both a significant growth in people and performance is outlined below.

1. Defining The Culture

The starting point was to define the desired culture for the site through a process which called for input from both supervisors and employees. The desired culture was an aspiration regarding both the people and their work context – what they would desirably be like in the future.

 An environment that fosters … A workforce which is …
  • Open doors/freedom to openly discuss issues.
  • Accountability.
  • Finding root causes, not “who messed up.”
  • Low walls between departments.
  • Respect and trust.
  • Managing people on an individual basis.
  • Balance between work and personal life
  • Team-orientated – look out for and help others in addition to themselves.
  • Actively engaged or willing – know what to do and want to do it. Gets things done and display a positive attitude.
  • Empowered – have confidence in themselves and their abilities and take action within appropriate boundaries.
  • Take responsibility for both good and bad results.
  • Challenging of the status quo – suggest ways that might improve the current situation.
  • Adaptable and flexible – adjust and are open to change.
  • Forthcoming with issues – handle problems maturely and effectively. Don’t “rally the troops” to support their cause.

2. Implementing A Set Of Values

The Smithfield leadership then developed a set of values which embodied what they believed in and what this translated into in terms of actual behavior. The original set of values was later modified to better align with Johnson Matthey’s global values.

The Smithfield Site Values as Aligned to Johnson Matthey’s Global Values
Health and Safety is our Priority – “Making Safety 100% of What We Do” – We focus on having a culture where safety is the top priority and where everyone has a responsibility and stake in their own safety as well as those in their care and others around them. By working together, we can protect our employees, suppliers, customers and communities, and improve our health and safety performance. Integrity – “Doing the Right Thing” – Doing the right thing is important to us, with the traits of confidentiality, honesty, trustworthiness and respect being the cornerstones to our operation. We will openly admit mistakes, accept responsibility for outcomes and honor our commitments. Freedom to Act – “The care and growth of our employees” – Our leaders have a sincere and genuine concern for those in their charge and demonstrate this by willingly giving people their time and the means and ability to effectively do their jobs. Ultimately, there is appropriate accountability for what people do and what they contribute. Ability and Innovation – “Engagement” – We seek and value people who are actively engaged in what they do and who will continue to fuel our growth through innovation. We develop and draw on each other’s talents and work as a team to deliver results for our customers and everyone in our business. We encourage people to challenge the status quo or the way “it’s always been done”. Recognition and Development – We want to ensure that doing a good job and delivering results with a commitment to the company values are recognized and rewarded. In JM, career development is the responsibility of both the employee and the company. To do our part, we provide opportunities for personal growth and career/leadership development in a successful company. The Best of Big and Small – We keep it simple, straightforward and personal, but have the stability and support that comes with being a successful global organization. We treat our customers as people and they find us easy to work with.

The values were communicated extensively, displayed on monitors in the plant, and incorporated into the orientation programme for new employees. In due course, they became a component of performance evaluation. The extended management team got together and rated themselves against the values initially in 2011 and again three years later (in September 2014). Against each value they assessed themselves as having notably improved, but with scope to improve further, in the way that they consistently did things at the site.

3. Establishing Leadership Forums

Leadership Forums made up of managers and supervisors on a shift met for an hour on a monthly basis. The intention was to ensure that the “soft” issues are also given attention by making a specified time and place for their discussion. In practice, managers and supervisors have not always found it easy to talk about people as opposed to tasks and results. Nevertheless the Leadership Forums continue and are established within the fabric of the organisation; they are part of what is done at Smithfield.

4. Implementing Legitimate Leadership

The Smithfield Plant Manager (Corbin Kearns) and HR Manager (Tammy Hays) attended a 2-day Legitimate Leadership introductory workshop in Savannah, Georgia (at another Johnson Matthey division) in the summer of 2012. They believed that the Legitimate Leadership model, with its associated Care and Growth criteria, was aligned to the desired culture. They also saw the framework as an enabler of empowered people who could contribute their talents to the business.

In December 2012 all managers and supervisors were introduced to the Legitimate Leadership framework. In March the following year a baseline measure of the degree to which leaders, both individually and collectively, were aligned to the Legitimate Leadership criteria was made. Each individual received feedback from either Wendy Lambourne (Legitimate Leadership) and/or Tammy Hays on his/her strengths and development areas as a leader and was encouraged to share his/her profile with his/her manager and/or his/her direct reports – although they were not mandated to do so. In fact, many people chose to do so and some frank and fruitful discussions were had. A comment made was: “I have done many of these kinds of assessments. None has been as specific, concrete and useful in terms of what I need to change to become a better leader.”

The hard work then began. The March leadership audit was used as a basis for determining which of Legitimate Leadership’s portfolio of Application Modules would be most helpful in building leadership capability on the site. Each one-day Application Module deals with a specific aspect of the Legitimate Leadership model. Managers’ understanding of that aspect is deepened and they are provided with tools (the means) and skills (the ability) to apply the material back in the workplace. To date a total of 5 modules have been run (Holding People Appropriately Accountable; Enabling Excellence in Ability; Empowerment – Growth by Handing over Control; Development Discussions which Motivate and Empower; and Growing by Growing Others) – about two modules per year. A sixth module, Coaching the “Why”, is to be run in December 2015.

At the end of the fourth module, leaders were asked the following questions: How has my leadership changed? How have the results in my area of responsibility changed?

Change In Leadership (Me) Change In My People (Others) Change In Results
  • I have connected with my people as individuals – the person behind the job they are doing.
  • I have trusted them to find the solutions since they are closest to the problem.
  • I have focused on giving them what they need to succeed.
  • I first find out “why” before holding people accountable.
  • They are much more committed than previously.
  • They are taking initiative/finding new and better ways to do things.
  • They are prepared to help colleagues more, even outside their area.
  • They trust and are trusted more.
  • During this time the plant has added a fourth shift and transitioned to a 24/7 work schedule, while at the same time achieving improvements in results across the board:
    • Efficiency
    • Reject rates
    • Productivity

It was clear that the cause-and-effect chain was as follows: transformation of leadership – enhanced employee contribution – improved results.

A second leadership audit was carried out showing a demonstrable shift in alignment against the Legitimate Leadership criteria, particularly for the Growth element. The numerical values below are based on a -10 to +10 scale.

Date Care Means Ability Accountability Average Overall
March 2013 6.2 5.4 4.5 4.1 5.1
April 2015 6.4 5.5 4.9 4.7 5.4

This time the one-on-one feedback was crystallised into a leadership improvement plan for each individual leader. The agreed shifts in leadership behaviour/practice were integrated into the company’s performance management system (MATS) for regular review and accountability.

5. Selecting And Retaining People

As far as possible new employees have been selected for culture fit and then trained for skill. This was particularly the case when new people were employed to move the site to a 24/7 operation.

Once employees have been given the means and ability, they are held accountable for their contribution and for living the culture and values.

More generally, the leadership has tried to make decisions in the business with people at the forefront. According to Tammy Hays (HR Manager) personnel issues are tested against the Legitimate Leadership principles. The question is asked “what should we do here if we are consistent with the Legitimate Leadership Model?”

Performance management issues are dealt with using the language of means, ability and accountability. The pushing of accountability down the line, applying the principle of “the incremental suspension of control” has been emphasized and driven.

6. Developing Meaningful Recognition Programmes

The leadership has set up various recognition programmes which they believe are genuinely about gratitude for contribution made as opposed to incentivising people to give more.

On a quarterly basis people are nominated for making a difference (anyone can nominate someone else). Categories for nomination include:

  • Safety
  • Collaboration
  • Creating Value
  • Customer Service
  • Other.

Those nominated receive a gift card at a recognition lunch with the management team. Annually, awards are given for the top four contributors, drawn from the quarterly “Making-a-Difference” awards and Continuous Improvement suggestion program. The top reward includes a financial reward of $500 plus two paid days off.  Spot recognition is also encouraged with the HR Dept. holding a supply of $10 Subway cards that can be given to employees as a “thank you” for their contribution.

7. Inverting Means and Ends

All initiatives (5S, BBS, Lean Manufacturing Excellence, 3Cs), as well as the Legitimate Leadership initiative, have been deliberately viewed as vehicles to grow people rather than people being seen as the means to do the initiatives.

The Behavior Based Safety (BBS) programme for example was facilitated by an HR Generalist and CI Lead, amongst others, as a developmental task. Similarly, the recently-introduced Talent Management Matrix is seen as primarily a vehicle to accelerate the progression of those with potential rather than solely as a means for ensuring that the business has the people it needs to meet its business goals.

Consistent with the Legitimate Leadership principles, the “why” behind each change initiative is solicited up front and remains at the core of the change endeavour.

8. Getting Involved in the Community

Like all responsible organisations, Smithfield gets involved in and makes a contribution to the community in which it is located. This has been true since the inception of the site in 2009. There has, however, been a shift in focus from giving money to worthwhile causes to giving of time. Smithfield employees are now given up to two paid days a year to commit to contributing to the community.

9. Enabling a Shift From “Taking” To “Giving” In Staff

In 2014 a pilot workshop, Grow to Care, was run for a cross-section of non-managers on the site. Its purpose was to provide employees with an understanding of Legitimate Leadership principles. Specifically, what ‘’being here to give’’ means and its impact on the individual, the team/workgroup and the organisation. Over 60% of employees have now attended the workshop with a definite change in mindset from “what can I get from the job/company?” to “what contribution can I make to whom today?”

Success Factors For Creating A Culture Which Enables
Continuous Growth In People And Performance
All positive outcomes are a function of a number of contributory factors. In the case of Smithfield, the key factors were as follows:

  • Having absolute clarity on the “why” behind, not only Legitimate Leadership, but all change endeavours on the site.
  • Demonstrated commitment to the Legitimate Leadership principles by the whole management team, with the Plant Manager leading the way.
  • An HR Manager with a focus on driving, leading and communicating the culture and values, rather than only dealing with transactions, compliance, rules and policies.
  • Regular assessment/measurement not only of plant performance but also of the so-called “soft” issues – leadership performance and alignment to the values.
  • Perseverance with the principles at an appropriate pace, which led to a deepening of understanding of legitimate leadership over time and to the majority of leaders getting better at putting the principles into practice. Legitimate Leadership has become “how we do things” rather than a project with a start and an end.
  • A demonstration of courage and generosity across the accountability spectrum (discipline/censure/praise/reward).
  • Actively finding ways to apply the principles, from empowering those on the production line to incrementally reducing controls or checks in processes. Also, not waiting for a visit from a Legitimate Leadership consultant to apply the model.

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