Case Study 5:
Creating a learning culture in a traditional environment

In response to competitive pressures, this traditional, long established distillery had rapidly introduced new technology into their production processes over a period of several years. This led to an improvement in production efficiency and increased profits. It was recognised that further continuous improvement could only be achieved in small increments by improving the interface between the technology and the process workers. Management needed greater workforce involvement and co-operation but found it difficult to introduce new practises. Feedback indicated that employee attitudes towards management were hostile and uncooperative. An employee survey confirmed that morale was very low and employees were resentful of the way managers treated them.

We were asked to facilitate a process that would establish the foundations for developing a learning culture. The Managing Director wanted to be able to continuously improve results through creating a culture where all employees could make a greater contribution, and where all employees would have the opportunity for training and development within their role. The employees were highly sceptical of this idea and it generated a great deal of resistance.

A process was designed to involve employees at all levels in influencing how the organisation could work towards developing a learning culture. Five project teams were established, each tasked with exploring one aspect of how people were managed with the aim of producing recommendations on what new management practises should be introduced. The team members were volunteers and they represented a cross section of people from all areas of the business and with different levels of responsibility. We coached and supported the project teams over a six month period as they researched their individual topics, conducted staff surveys, conducted pilots to test out their theories, developed their recommendations, and prepared their presentations. The teams made 32 recommendations to management on providing clear direction, improving communication, managing individual performance, identifying training and development needs, providing appropriate training and development opportunities, introducing team working, and developing management skills.

The team recommendations greatly exceeded management expectations in terms of quality of content and the professionalism of the presentations to management. The Executive accepted all recommendations and a two year implementation plan is now underway. The company has established a variety of new ways to communicate with employees, it has embarked on a management development programme, various teams have been established to work on specific projects and it has invested in a “learning lab”. Employee ideas and suggestions are now beginning to emerge.