Case Study – The Impact of People on Performance


By Peter White

The case study was a key catalyst for the development of LKS Quaero’s leadership and culture programs. Be sure to read our new public program details. Here Peter highlights what happens if you implement a business transformation process (e.g. LEAN) while making sure you have the right people in the right roles doing the right work – and what happens when you don’t…

Business Background

It was a large scale, heavy industry manufacturing plant, one of five similar manufacturing plants globally in the fleet owned by the same company. It was old, hot, dirty, and loud.

The plant had the highest operating cost in the fleet, it had very poor safety performance, and poor behaviour was tolerated. There was significant resistance to change, high absenteeism, and leaders promoted from shop floor because of their experience. Additionally, there was poor equipment reliability, little discretionary effort, low levels of engagement, and poor housekeeping with little pride in the workplace. The environment was rife with a them and us mentality.

On the plus side, the plant produced very good quality product!


The task was to implement business improvement (based on LEAN transformation methodology) to deliver a step change improvement in safety, cost, and productivity.

The Journey to Improvement

  1. Establishing the improvement plan. After conducting a diagnostic based on LEAN principles, six rapid improvement plans were developed based on functional area (Safety & Environment, Quality, Cost, People Engagement, Reliability, Capital Investment). I was very confident rapid improvement would follow. This was my intention.
  2. Turing intention into reality (Take 1). Prior to implementation, several leader workshops were held to gain understanding and support. All nodded and said they were ready to go and I had their support. I believed the leaders had the foundation knowledge and commitment to start the process. So I pushed the go button (so to speak).
  3. What the? Three months down the track and there were still too many injuries. Resistance to change was worse, with no improvement in safety performance or productivity. There were many long hours by me and my direct reports. What was the problem? Was it leaders not spending enough time on the shop floor? No, not that. I conducted my own analysis and determined that the leadership at all levels was not effective. I had a “skill, will, or drill” problem with my leadership team.
  4. Root cause. Leadership creates the culture. The culture delivers the results (good or bad). Results were poor. I assessed the culture to be mainly defensive and change averse. This culture was ultimately created by the leaders who were also resistant to change (they said they were on board, but were not really).

Leadership Ability

  1. Back to basics. I pushed the stop button and developed a comprehensive workshop on what is expected of a leader and how to lead based on Systems Leadership Theory. Some leaders decided it was not for them and some were performance managed. A new leadership team was established. Now there were the right people in the right roles doing the right work.
  2. Turning intention into reality (Take 2). Start button pressed again. With all leaders working at the right level, role clarity was evident, the effective team model was followed, problems were solved on shift, and team members were held to account, with leaders leading by example.

Results and Conclusion

$1.2M was saved in first 12mths, with a 50% reduction in all injuries, and 23% productivity improvement. Pride in the workplace was evident, and there were numerous accolades for improvements, including “Leader of the Year” at the corporate awards.

Effective leadership creates the culture that delivery your results, so it is essential to have the right people in the right role who are trained to do the right work.

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