Annette Kyle managed some 60 employees at a Texas terminal where they loaded chemicals from railcars onto ships and trucks. In the mid-1990s, Annette led a “revolution” that dramatically raised her unit’s performance through a host of changes, including better planning, greater responsibility at the lowest levels, improved and more transparent metrics, and numerous cultural changes. She personally sewed “no whining” patches on workers’ uniforms, for example, to discourage the local penchant for complaining and auctioned off her desk to workers for $60 because, as she explained it, “I shouldn’t be sitting behind a big desk. I should be contributing to team goals however possible.”
This transformation virtually eliminated the penalties that were levied when ships arrived at the terminal’s dock but (despite considerable advance warning) workers weren’t ready to load them. These “demurrage charges,” which cost the company $2.5 million the year before the revolution, were down to $10,000 the year after. Previously, it had taken more than three hours to load an average truck. Afterward, more than 90 percent were loaded within an hour of arrival. Surveys and interviews by University of Southern California researchers showed that employees became more satisfied with their jobs and felt proud of their accomplishments. I asked Annette how she could make such radical changes in her giant company. She answered that her boss shielded her from top-ranking managers—he found the resources and experts she needed but never discussed these moves with senior management until they succeeded.
Source: Why Good Bosses Tune in to Their People by Robert I. Sutton | The McKinsey Quarterly