Case Study 6:
Changing the culture in a small business

This well-established, highly profitable small business was a subsidiary of a Plc. It operated in the financial services sector, and during a period of market growth had established a good reputation and grew to employ about 40 staff. During an economic downturn the company entered a period of crisis, and we were invited to embark on a process of management development with the aim of facilitating the change in behaviours and attitudes that were required to turn the business around.

The organisation structure was bureaucratic with a controlling management style. A Customer Service Survey highlighted that service levels had deteriorated significantly over the course of the previous two years (during a period of rapid growth). A Culture Survey indicated that employees were de-motivated and resentful towards management: most of them interfaced with customers on a regular basis, and felt that they were powerless to resolve customer service problems as they had limited access to information, and no decision making autonomy.

We worked firstly for a number of months with the management team to clarify their roles and responsibilities, and to identify key business objectives and their underlying drivers. Gradually the management team became aware that they needed to change the way they worked together, and the way that they communicated to and interacted with their staff.

Another major breakthrough occurred when we facilitated the design and implementation of some management processes that to them represented very new and different ways of working. We jointly came up with the idea of QUATs (Quality Action Teams). The aims of this team concept were to:

  • Improve communication
  • Get minds focused on solving problems affecting business performance
  • Provide staff with a means of empowerment
  • Develop teamwork
  • Lead to action that would improve business performance

The QUAT framework provided staff with a means to influence decision-making and take constructive action. It also proved to be a very effective learning environment, providing staff with improved understanding of the business and giving them experience in running their own projects and making decisions on implementing change within the business. Management were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the ideas and recommendations that were put forward. Many of the recommendations were implemented quickly and very successfully resulting in a noticeable improvement in financial performance. Within 9 months the company had begun to pull out of the red.