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Client: Quaker Oats

Location: Danville, IL

Quaker Oats operated on a scale below that of the industry's three main competitors, Kellogg's, General Mills and Post. The Danville plant, the smallest of three Midwestern plants, operated at the company's highest per-case cost. Strained management-Union relations led to a one-week strike in 1988. Plant leadership changed in 1990, at a time when the declining cereal category--combined with declining prices--jeopardized the very life of the Danville operation. A consultant study suggested the eventual closing of the Danville plant.

Long-term Business Goal:
To become cost competitive in their two biggest production categories, Ready-to-Eat and Snacks. To overcome scale differences between Quaker Oats and competitors.

Strategic Imperative:
To achieve world-class levels of productivity growth and waste control.

The Danville plant needed to increase productivity and performance to remain open, making the big challenge one of survival. That challenge included a need to change the plant culture, particularly regarding employee morale.

The Change Journey:
LightSpeed Learning was able to introduce selected Quaker Oats' people--including Union and appointed leaders-to mature, productive work teams at another client site. They saw a high-performance culture at work: a high ratio of production associates to supervisors, actively-engaged teams, and committed union leaders.

Bolstered by the realization that they too could reach this level of change, Quaker Oats personnel set out on their own exhilarating journey.

The Change Process:
The time was right to transform the plant culture from a traditional management-down system to one of ownership at all levels. Teams consisting of union and appointed leaders, along with executive board members, were formed. The experienced floor workers became empowered to make decisions and solve problems. Team Tools helped the new leaders and team members anticipate, and head off, problems. Team Tools Interactive enabled all workers to undergo proper training. All workers came to view their role as one of "business partner."


  • Voted one of Industry Week's "Top Ten Plants in America"
  • Winner of the state of Illinois' first-ever, "On the Road to High Performance," award, signifying excellence based on New American Workplace standards. The stringent standards were set up by the Illinois Secretary of Labor.
  • Named "Industry of the Year" by the Danville Chamber of Commerce. The honor recognized the stunning transformation from a plant on the brink of closing to a fully operating, vibrant community asset.
  • Increased production from 8.5 million to 12 million cases per year.
  • Decreased controllable costs by 50 percent.
  • Reduced production line change time from 12 to 1.5 hours.

    While the Danville Plant has exceeded all of its own previous performance accomplishments, it continues to raise the bar. Union and management leaders meet to set new standards for the organization, and to ensure that a perpetual strategic vision is being realized and monitored.

    "LightSpeed Learning taught us to think about what needs to be done rather than what you know you can do. The critical difference is that you don't limit yourself. You can learn skills later." Steve Bruner, Plant Manager, Quaker Oats, Danville.






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