The Business Need
Schaeffler (UK) Ltd is a medium-sized manufacturing business in the automotive sector and had been through a major cultural change. In 2000, due to increased competition from low labour cost countries, the factory was struggling and threatened with closure.
The leadership team put together a recovery plan with the overall goal to become ‘Production Location of Choice’. They briefed the staff in a programme of one-to-one meetings and over a period of 3-4 years completely turned the business around, becoming the ‘production location of choice’ for new and existing customers and also within the Schaeffler Group.
In January 2007 when Adrian Roberts, HR Director, met Dianne Lowther of Brilliant Minds for the first time the leadership team were looking for ways to stimulate further improvement. The management team was working well, but the next level of supervisors and team leaders were reluctant to own Continuous Improvement, change processes and some aspects of the day-to-day running of the business.
The question in everyone’s mind was – how to make another big step forward? NLP had been briefly introduced to the leadership team by another consultant. They thought it might be useful but didn’t know enough at that stage.
The Introductory Programme
The first step was an introductory programme of NLP in August 2007. All managers were invited and 15 out of 18 attended the two days.
The participants represented a mixture of departments and roles:
Managing Director, Manufacturing Director, HR Director, General Manager, National Sales Manager, 2 x Sales Managers, Marketing Services Manager, 2 x Engineering Managers, Materials Manager, Production Manager, Quality Manager, Section Manager, Maintenance Manager, Training Officer.
Feedback from the introductory programme:
“It was very practical and I was able to relate the content to work situations” Sales Manager
“Not a PowerPoint slide in sight! A refreshing change.” Materials Manager
The managers who were unable to attend this programme joined one of Brilliant Minds public courses at a later date.
The Practitioner Programme
Following the introductory programme the HR Director, MD and Plant Director were convinced that NLP could be a useful tool to help them achieve their goals and decided to undertake the Practitioner programme. All managers were invited to attend, with a clear understanding that it was entirely voluntary and that no-one would be put under any pressure to participate since it represents a significant commitment of business and personal time.
The Practitioner programme was delivered in 5 modules of 3 days between January and July 2008 with an assessment day in September 2008. There were 8 participants:
Plant Director/Deputy MD
Head of Sales
Head of Marketing
7 out of the 8 achieved the Practitioner Certification in September 2008 with one participant unable to complete the programme until 2009 due to ill-health.
NLP Skills for Supervisors and Team Leaders
By July of 2008 it was clear that the Senior Managers were gaining significant benefits from learning and applying NLP skills. They realised that these benefits could be multiplied if the next level of management – the supervisors, team leaders and key staff –were also to learn the skills and become to apply NLP to improve productivity and performance.
The HR Director and one of the Engineering Managers identified the aspects of NLP that were most relevant to the target group and a programme was designed to run over three months. The programme included a ½ day NLP introductory session followed by three one day modules:
- Module 1- How do you really manage people?
- Module 2 – Problem Solving
- Module 3 – Dealing with difficult situations
There were around 20 participants identified for this training, some involved in three-shift working, so they were divided into 3 groups. The programme was rolled out over a number of weeks and was fitted in around the shift patterns.
The programme was launched by 2 Brilliant Minds trainers and 3 of the Senior Mangers who had participated in the Practitioner programme. Each of the Senior Managers then supported one module of the programme by giving individual accounts on how NLP had benefited them and the organisation and facilitating discussion on how to apply the content of the module.
Why Brilliant Minds?
The principal trainer at Brilliant Minds is Dianne Lowther. She has been practising NLP at senior level in business environments for over 15 years. She has a well-researched theoretical knowledge of the subject as well as a logical and pragmatic approach to applying NLP in everyday working life. Brilliant Minds has an extensive list of clients in both public and private sectors.
The declared overall objective of undertaking the training was ‘to get people to want to do the right things.’ This included encouraging team leaders to take up more responsibility for not just the day-to-day operations but also for change projects and improvement initiatives. It also included stimulating greater involvement of all staff in problem-solving and quality standards.
The assignments completed between modules record countless examples of how the course participants applied the NLP skills in their normal everyday work. Because of the extensive skill-building exercises in the programme, many of the examples recorded are instances where the individual experienced unconscious competence in the skills and only afterwards noticed what they had done to achieve the results. The results can be shown in a number of different areas but these are by no means exhaustive:
Participants reported that they used NLP to achieve:
- Recognition and understanding of personality differences
- Adaptation of communications styles to accommodate different personalities
- Appreciation of each other’s skills and preferences
- New approaches to old problems
- Shared problem-solving and mutual coaching
Understanding of self
All participants reported useful self-awareness and hence better self-management ability. They all believed that they had experienced significant personal development through the training and that this enabled them to perform more effectively at work.
“I thought I knew myself. I’d done all the psychometric tests and personality profiles available and I thought I understood myself. Then I did the NLP Practitioner programme” Adrian Roberts, HR Director
The area of leadership was a key aspect of the programme and all the participants reported significant results in managing their team and delivering results. Roger Evans, Plant Director reported an interesting result from the company conference where he, as usual delivered the main speech. He decided, instead of simply presenting the company results and highlighting good news, to ask a series of rhetorical questions aimed at engaging staff in thinking about the future. The feedback from the conference was significantly more positive and enthusiastic than previous events.
The business results shown by the company are particularly impressive given that the automotive sector as a whole showed a 25% downturn in the period in question. By investing around £65,000 in executive development the team at Schaeffler have shown improvements in business results across a wide range of activities:
- Shortly after the completion of the last module of the Practitioner programme in July 2008 the factory recorded its most productive week ever. This followed the introduction of a new organisational structure that gave Team Leaders greater responsibility than ever before, and they showed they were now willing to accept that responsibility and deliver the results.
- Overall the business has shown a 20% increase in output and with continued business growth the company has introduced seven day working to cope with increased demand
- The company has been nominated as the centre of excellence for Mechanical Tappet production within the Schaeffler Group. This is valuable recognition of the capabilities and performance of the workforce and secures jobs and investment for the future.
- There has been a 16% reduction in absence levels – saving the company around £20,000
- All levels of staff were involved in the annual quality and ESH audits and the results achieved were the best to date
- The company won one of the Welsh Quality Awards
Other improvements that have been noticed but are harder to quantify include:
- Different approach to problem solving and dealing with the customer
- Better approach to work life balance
- Day to day improvement in team working- managers are much more open
- Development of a blame free culture
- Greater understanding of the business and other people
- Increase in improvement ideas
At the National Training Awards 2009 this project won a Wales training Award for Partnership and Collaboration. The following paragraph is an extract from the submission, which sums up the benefits of this training initiative:
“The NLP Programme has undoubtedly helped achieve these results and the Company has managed to buck the trend and grow its business during difficult economic times. In addition to improved employee behaviour in the workplace, equally valuable outcomes of this training have been the personal benefits experienced by the employees, which have been described by some as ‘life-changing’. This has evidently had a positive impact on family members and the wider community at large. “
This case study shows that development of so-called ‘soft skills’ can deliver hard results in business performance. The team at Schaeffler have shown that they really see their people as the business’s most important asset, that people are the only source of sustainable competitive advantage in the manufacturing sector and that the leadership team have a responsibility for their own development as much as their workforce’s development. The leadership team have shown an exemplary commitment to investment in learning and development at all levels in their organisation and are reaping rich rewards. Let us all hope that other organisations will follow their example!