Butchering A Pig

As was true for many companies during the Covid crisis, they faced numerous slowdowns and temporary shutdowns at their cookie plant.  During those times, management took a thorough look at their facility, their workforce, and how they could update, improve, and expand both.  As the company emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic, the decision was made to reconfigure, modernize, and expand.

The chief operating officer (COO) announced a two-year, mission focused transition plan.  She and her leadership team created strategic goals focused on their corporate mission. That became their strategic plan—what they had to do to continue fulfilling their mission.  Next, they crafted a working tactical plan—how they’d fulfill their strategic plan.  As she later shared, “Knowing what we had to do was an important starting point, but figuring out how we’d do it and do it well dominated our attention and motivated our ongoing efforts.”

Their leadership team was an ambitious and experienced group of company people and outside consultants.  No one verbalized it, but they had a sweat-the-details mentality, and they developed a committed ethos.  They all knew and understood that change, particularly meaningful change, took time and effort.  They also appreciated the reality that change is often difficult and at times a bit messy.  They were prepared for both.

Part of the motivation for a two-year transition was to avoid, at least as much a possible, any unreasonable hardships on the current workforce, while maintaining an adequate level of production. The existing facility would continue operating with the current workforce, while the new plant was being built and equipped.  Knowing that not everyone would want to make the transition, they offered generous retirement incentives, furlough packages, and opportunities for paid leave to engage in necessary training.

Presenting retirement, furlough, and training offers to the people at the existing plant was difficult.  Meetings became heated and contentious.  At one particularly problematic gathering, open threats were made; it got messy and ugly.  Job fairs were held to attract some new employees.  Initially, they were poorly attended.  On some occasions, a few of the more vocal people in attendance asked questions and made statements that demonstrated unrealistic expectations.  Nevertheless, over time and with a great deal of patience, some genuinely interested individuals emerge.  Once they did, sign-on bonuses and training opportunities were shared.  After more than a year, there was progress.

The new plant was opened in phases.  There were five production lines, one for each of the company’s signature cookies.  As a line was shut down in the old facility, one was opened in the new plant.  When the first line opened, there were some difficult days and start-up kinks to be worked out.  There were also some disgruntled people who kept refusing to transition or even consider the incentives; they just wanted to be angry.

With patience, understanding, and perseverance, the transition team worked through.  By the time the last of the five lines was started, there were enough people with sufficient experience to help, guide, and support new and transitioning employees.   The last line all but set itself in motion; it was fun for the transition team to watch.

Well within the two years allotted, the plant was fully functional. It quickly become a model of 21st century industrial updating that other companies wanted to visit.  Their operation was an excellent example of effectiveness and efficiency.  They had enough employees to operate at full capacity, and they had a waiting list of people seeking employment.  With a great deal of time, hard work, and toleration for difficult and messy circumstances, they’d met they strategic goals and continued fulfilling their tasty mission.

During one of the many outside visitations the transition team hosted for peers from other companies, the COO of a candy producer asked, “This is the type of transition we want and need; how’d you do it?”

In her modest yet matter-of-fact manner, the host COO said, “We were willing to devote time and effort to get a desirable result, and we knew we’d have to deal with and face some unpleasant and trying circumstances.  And as we saw it, even if it meant that our bottom line suffered a little bit, taking the time to get it right was going to carry the day.  And as a result, we got it right!”

Whether you’re working on a team or working alone to fulfill a mission or task, start by determining what you need to do, and plan how you’ll get it done.  Invest needed time and effort.  And be willing to tolerate some messiness as you proceed. Good results generally don’t just happen, so throughout the process remind yourself that to enjoy sausage, someone’s got to be willing to butcher a pig!

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