Any black sheeps?

When I walked through the doors, I was overwhelmed by emotions. Looking across the nearest assembly lines, I saw a dramatic and tangible change. I could see, hear, and smell the difference. I almost wanted to reach down and touch the floor, only to convince myself that this was all for real.

My voice was thick when I turned to my old friend. “Do you remember the last time when you escorted me around the plant?” He shook his head. “It was on the day when the 500 names were posted, all the names of the people who had to leave on that day.”

“Two and a half years later, this plant has come back to life. It’s bustling with energy. It really looks like a new plant.” For two days I walked around, talking with people on the line and their managers. One morning I sat in when twenty new employees got their first introduction, and the next I joined a group of customers. They too were amazed by the huge transformation.

This plant used to be the black sheep of the family, now they outperform everyone with the highest employee engagement scores. That’s why I had come here to understand: “What is the difference that makes a real difference?”

Let’s look at exhibit D. Try to imagine the faces and demeanor of people working along the line. What is at the core of their working culture? What is their vision for the future? How do they work together? How do they relate to customers and their community?

First, we compare the strongest favorable scores at this plant against the Group’s average. By the way, more than 1 350 employees responded to the survey, and that didn’t include about 600 newly hired employees.

Plant manager

“The leadership of my Business Entity has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me (+ 24).”
“I rarely think about looking for a new job with another company (+ 22).”
“My Business Entity’s leadership is genuinely committed to attracting, developing and keeping a diverse work force (+ 22).”
“The Group has developed the structures and systems necessary to provide excellent service and quality (+ 19).”
“The decision making processes within the Group work in an efficient manner (+ 18).”
“There is good collaboration across different Business Areas / Business Units within the Group (+ 18).”
“As a customer of my Business Entity, I would be extremely satisfied with the products and services I receive (+ 18).”
“I am satisfied with the way top leadership communicates in my Business Entity (+ 17).”
“My Business Entity promotes activities and choices that improve employee health and well-being (+ 17).”
“I believe decisions are implemented quickly enough at my Business Entity (+ 17).”
“The leadership of Volvo Group has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me (+ 17).”

What’s your impression? What’s different with these people when compared with the other cases?

They come across as more mature and solid, don’t they? They also seem more extrovert and customer oriented than the other teams or departments. There’s an unequalled understanding of the business strategy and culture.

So far, we have only compared apples with apples. Favorable scores for one team or department have been compared to the Group’s average. What if we also looked more outside, and matched the plant’s favorable scores against external high-performers? How would they then measure up against the best?

“Volvo Group is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers (+12).”
“I rarely think about looking for a new job with another company outside Volvo Group (+11).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager treats me with respect and dignity (+9).”
“My immediate supervisor/manager keeps me informed about the things I need to do my job effectively (+8).”
“I have the training to do my job effectively (+8).”
“I am willing to put in a great deal of effort beyond what is expected of me (+8).”
“My work group/team looks for ways to change processes to improve productivity (+8).”
“Leadership of my business entity has communicated a vision for the future that motivates me (+7).”
“I feel respected by members of my workgroup/team (+6).”

Note that most high-performing companies with engagement scores in the top 10 percentile, they’re in the financial sector or professional services. You are not likely to find them in the manufacturing industry. So, whatever happened to that black sheep? Any thoughts or comments?