Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Division
Strategic Focus: Culture transformation, strategic planning and business process improvement.
Project Brands: Focus 2000 and Focus on Excellence
Corporation for Positive Change Services: Over a period of five years, we designed and facilitated a multi-phased initiative to address the organization’s evolving needs. The initial culture transformation work took place over a period of 18 months. It involved one-on-one Appreciative Interviews with approximately 1000 employees, along with key customers and suppliers, followed by two 100-person Appreciative Inquiry summits. Subsequent activities included leadership training, annual strategic planning summits, and development of an AI-based quality improvement model. Below is a summary of key milestones.
- A five-person Project Leadership / Advisory Team was formed and trained.
- A 12-person cross level, cross-functional Core Team came together. This team guided the first two years of the work.
- Each of the company’s 1000 employees participated in a 90-minute “Town Meeting”, in which they were introduced to the initiative, and invited to volunteer in a variety of ways.
- 90 people met for two days to select affirmative topics and draft and appreciative interview guide.
- 100 people were trained as interviewers.
- Within six months, 500 employees, as well as key customers and suppliers, had been interviewed.
- The first Appreciative Inquiry Summit engaged 100 people (employees, customers and suppliers) for 3½ days.
- During this summit, a series of Design Statements were conceived, addressing issues of leadership, vision, employee development and quality. These set the course for the planning and operational improvement activities that were to follow.
- In addition, this summit launched 14 cross-functional Innovation Teams, which later involved the broader workforce (including those not involved in the summit). These teams worked for between three months and two years making significant contributions to the organization in the areas of: leadership and employee training, education and development; strategic planning; and employee engagement.
- At the end of Year One, an additional 500 employees had been interviewed, thus fulfilling the original intention of actively engagement the division’s entire 1000-person workforce.
- A second 125-person Appreciative Inquiry Summit took place – this one focused on strategic planning. During this meeting, the company forged its first division-level strategic plan, including a vision statement, strategies and objectives.
- 75 of the company’s executives and senior level managers participated in a 3-day Appreciative Inquiry training.
Years 3 through 5:
- Annual Appreciative Inquiry Summits were held, with alternating focus on division- and business unit-level planning.
- Focus on Excellence – a business process improvement program, merging Total Quality / Lean and Appreciative Inquiry principles and practices – was conceived and launched.
- Dozens of process improvement teams participated in a two-day training, and launched process improvement and cost savings teams across the organization.
Results: Following are excerpts from The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, 2nd edition (Whitney and Trosten-Bloom, 2010). Where appropriate, page numbers for extended quotes are indicated.
Year 1 (pp. 238-239):
- Production and productivity had both improved, particularly in the departments or teams that had most fully embraced the AI philosophy and practice.
- Operations improvement suggestions were up more than 100 percent throughout the division. This in turn had a big impact on both quality and internal customer service.
- Turnover was the lowest it had been for six years, despite almost nonexistent unemployment in the local job market.
- In the process of conducting a routine cross- business unit interview, one of the division’s printer operators had discovered the existence of a dual-fold printing machine that doubled the sister business unit’s printer capacities. He imported the idea to his business unit and prototyped a similar machine that ended up saving that business unit $220,000 in new equipment.
Year 2 (pp. 239-240):
- “Relationships between this and other divisions of the company really grew over the past couple of years—largely as a result of changes that were initiated as part of the Focus 2000 effort. Cross-divisional collaboration that was initiated at this location during Focus 2000 has resulted in an integrated, streamlined customer communication process. Under the division’s leadership, the larger organization is starting to build relationships between quality and our customer service functions throughout North America, again using the tools that were learned through the division’s work with AI.” (Rick Pellett, President, p. 239)
- “Perhaps the most telling change in our division is demonstrated by people’s increased involvement in personal and professional development activities—both on and off the job. This includes such things as formal coursework, training programs, mentoring and career development activities, and peer support groups. For example, our Dale Carnegie enrollment soared within six months of our having started the intervention. First one and then several other “Toastmasters” chapters formed and “graduated.” Both programs were largely filled with employees from the hourly and nonprofessional ranks, particularly from the production areas of the company.” (Mike Burns, former Vice President of Human Resources, pp. 239-240)
- When Hunter Douglas North America undertook the challenges of ISO 9001 registration and conversion to SAP, Appreciative Inquiry made life easier. According to Pellett, “These changes—which transformed the way we do business by raising the bar on standards for supplying quality products and services—were infinitely more doable because of Appreciative Inquiry.” (Pellett, p. 240)
Years 3 through 5 (pp. 240-242)
- In the first year of their existence, Focus on Excellence teams (formerly Innovation Teams) saved the division over three and a half million dollars.
- TechStyle Acoustical Ceilings – a new interior design business – is launched, in response to the company’s expanded strategic vision. This business is eventually spun off to become a separate Hunter Douglas division.
- From 1998 to 2003: sales increase 30.1 percent; profitability increases 37.1 percent; employee turnover is reduced by 52.2 percent; returned goods are reduced by 55 percent; an on-time delivery of fabric and shades reaches 97 and 95 percent, respectively.
- “Appreciative Inquiry influenced how Hunter Douglas grew by showing how the answers we get are determined by the questions we ask. When we asked, ‘What are we doing well that we can improve?’ we set a vision for our future as a ‘world-class’ organization, and set the tone for our continued success. Many of today’s most cherished programs—the scholarship and contributions committees, Hunter Douglas University, ISO, and recycling, to name a few—had their roots in Focus 2000 and Appreciative Inquiry. When organizational momentum moves and continues in a positive direction, great things can happen.” (Jim Anthony, Senior Development Engineer, p. 242)