LEADERSHIP CONSULTING EXERCISE *
PlasticCo is a leading plastics manufacturer producing blow-molded plastic bottles for
the US food and drink industry. The company operates from eight sites across the US and has a
turnover in excess of $100 million. It currently has a workforce of around 650 employees and is
part of a multinational group of packaging companies.
The majority of PlasticCo employees work within bottle-producing factories operating
the blow-molding machinery. There are head office functions, including human resource
management, and general managerial and administrative roles outside of the factory, but the
number of these positions is relatively small. The majority of the workforce work on machines
on the shop floor. The factory work setting presents many challenges for managers who are
trying to increase employee engagement. Many of the jobs require a relatively low level of skill
and are repetitive, with tasks including transporting materials around the factory and operating
particular parts of the machinery. In general, employees have few educational qualifications.
Around 80% of factory employees work a strict 12-hour shift pattern, with four days on
followed by four days off. Shifts either run through the day (8am–8pm) or night (8pm–8am).
The production process runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including all bank holidays and
Christmas Day. Employees have to adjust their home lives to the system and adapt to unsociable
working hours. A further potential challenge is the factory working environment, which is noisy
and hot. Although PlasticCo has been successful in many ways, the board saw potential to
increase employee engagement.
A common issue identified by managers across the organization was that problem-
solving tended to be ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’. In practice, this meant there was little
effort put forward by employees to generate ideas for improvement. Instead, issues were
resolved only when problems arose. A plant manager summarised this:
‘I think it’s probably more based around problems rather than them sitting around and asking how am I
going to improve my job? It’s very much if there’s an issue – how can we improve it? So, I think it’s more
This problem linked into how decisions were made more generally in the factories.
Control and responsibility tended to be concentrated with a few managers who made changes on
an ad hoc basis. There was very little encouragement from managers for shift workers to become
involved in decision-making. With little chance of influencing decisions, employees tended to
ignore issues unless they were told directly by managers about them. This problem was picked
up by one senior manager who reflected on the level of involvement in the factories:
‘Very little at the moment, very little I would think. As far as people actively talking about [ways to
improve their job] instead of talking about the weather or the traffic or ...