Page 4: ICI's Wilton plant
Chemical plants can only be run for so long before they need to be shut down for overhaul. On a plant making hundreds of tonnes a day, the cost of lost production can be phenomenal. In the case of ICI’s PTA plant at Wilton, UK, overhauls have typically taken four weeks at a cost of £200,000 a day. So in 1994, the overhaul team set itself the challenge of halving the shutdown period. It succeeded, re-starting production just 14.5 days after shutting it down and saving ICI nearly £3 million. With other plants adopting the same approach, total savings during 1995 were around £7 million, with an even greater saving being planned for the future.
According to Engineering Manager at the plant, Jim Lewis, these results were achieved as a result of the changing culture of ICI. 'Five years ago the managers would have done the thinking. This is how you’ll organise yourselves and this is what you’ll achieve.’ In contrast, we wanted everyone to contribute. We challenged the conventional approach. As a manager, the difference for me was to let go a lot of control. That’s nerve racking. But I was genuinely surprised at what people will achieve when you let them.”
This example helps to bring out the point that by empowering others, a leader does not decrease his or her power; instead, it can be increased - especially if the whole organisation performs better. Modern managers need to be able to learn to operate without the hierarchy 'crutch' and to know how to compete in a way that enhances co-operation.
Some of the most striking results of the empowerment programme have been recorded by individual teams, working on specific projects. For example, one ICI team cut down an industrial process from eight hours to five minutes by sharing their expertise. Another plant set out with the target of increasing output by 10% and ended up by doubling its output from the same capital.