CASE STUDY #1
Getting the Chemistry Right
Company: A specialty chemical company, and a subsidiary of international conglomerate, one of the
world's largest producers of specialty products and paints.
Problem Statement: A senior engineer with highly specialized technical skills was hired to start up a
critical new function. During his first 90 days of employment, he managed to alienate peers, coworkers,
internal customers and corporate staff to the point where they refused to work with him. He devoted
himself to administrative duties as a way of avoiding conflict. As a result, progress with his projects fell
behind. During his second month of employment, his immediate supervisor resigned which further
complicated the situation.
Background: The facility was undergoing a 50% capacity expansion which was due to come on line within
4 months. Production equipment was being moved from a sister facility which was closing. The start up
timetable had to be met in order to meet customer demand and maintain customer satisfaction.
Although management was frustrated with his performance, they could not afford at this critical stage to
lose the employee. His skills were so specialized that it would take at least 4 months to find a replacement
with comparable skills.
Contribution: After assessing the strengths and development needs of the employee and gaining
consensus among stakeholders on the outcomes to be achieved, a rigorous 60-day performance
management process was instituted. Negative behavior was addressed and discontinued. Competency
levels in the areas of change management, influencing, interpersonal and communications skills were
improved. The adviser used tools and techniques such as role playing, critical debriefing and
unambiguous feedback to improve effectiveness. Stakeholder feedback was coordinated on a biweekly
After 60 days overall effectiveness had improved by 14% to an acceptable level and project development
was back on target. Subsequently the employee took on additional responsibilities when his manager
As a result of his positive learning experience, this engineer decided to participate in a new mentorship
program that the company was rolling out. This would give him further opportunity to receive help from a
senior level manager within the company.
He says: “The bottom line for me is the reality of how important it is not to alienate people but to motivate,
inspire and guide them to future success. You must be accepted first in order to be effective. Having the
perspective of a ‘coach’ to help me understand these issues was invaluable.”
Challenging Leaders VALUE ADDED: The adviser worked with this individual on very personal skill
set development in a rapid time frame and was successful. He was able to communicate with the
individual on an intimate, upbeat level while remaining fully cognizant of the drive for results of the
company as a whole. The potential for downtime, the delay of the expansion timetable and even lost
productivity of co-workers weighed in the balance. This intervention with one failing employee at a
critical juncture had an ROI of, at a minimum, 5 times the individual’s salary.