Success Without Tradeoffs

Achieving Dramatic Improvements for All The Business’ Stakeholders

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Magnus S on Unsplash

How Did They Do It?

Will Lynn, the Executive Vice President who worked with Carol Sanford Institute to lead the change process in Kingsford, summarized the approach and success of Kingsford in this way:

In The Beginning

The manufacturing of charcoal is characteristically a hard, dirty, and dangerous business that is usual performed in remote areas of the country. In many cases, the factory workers, comprised of the local population, have limited access to formal education and are plagued by the perception that they have less access to other job opportunities.

Capability Building — Education and Development

To begin the capability building process, the executive team worked on increasing their ability to create comprehensive business strategies while simultaneously producing a business strategy to guide the changes. “Everyone was aligned, from top to bottom, and had new capability to think more strategically,” said Sanford. Kingsford developed a differentiated business direction and distinctive product offerings, and opened up market niches that had not been explored”.

Improved Communications and Problem Solving:

Working with Carol Sanford Institute increased the interactive and communication capability through the use of a Socratic process that causes people to be able to generate their own thinking rather than “absorb” answers discovered by the trainers or other “experts. Through the developmental process, plant operators discovered the power of staying in touch with each other across the nation to share ideas and to use their new capability to solve problems they shared.


As a result of participating in the creation of the value-adding map, the cross-functional teams in each manufacturing plant were able to generate and immediately implement improvements without the usual recommendation, suggestions and approval process. They no longer separated idea generation, from idea evaluation, or from idea implementation. Improvements were everyone’s role and everyone had the ability to make real changes,” said Sanford. “They developed their own ideas within the framework of the business strategy and business principles, and were able to generate ideas that significantly improved the business almost daily.”


Within three years, Kingsford charcoal had reduced its operations to five plants with greater output than the original thirteen plants. “Most of the changes came from the shop floor. As profits grew, we could afford better equipment and capital improvements, which also helped,” said Lynn. “By the time we closed the last two plants, the people understood why it was happening and we kept good labor relations.”

Production Improvements

“It was a pleasure seeing some of the things we were able to get accomplished,” said Lynn. “After using the thinking tools and getting people involved in how to use their minds, they were able to have real input to the improvements to work.”


As with any change, operators didn’t initially believe that real changes were going to take place. There was perception that management would resume autocratic control after the consultants left,” said Sanford. At the same time, some managers were concerned as well, fearing team-initiated changes without their having a grasp of the bigger picture. To overcome these perceptions was part of the requirement of the development process for everyone.

The Community

“We were working in areas where many people could not read or write, and still they turned the business around,” said Lynn. The opportunity for people to enhance their intelligence and then to make a difference focused their motivation. They knew they could make a difference with an idea they generated.

About Carol Sanford

Image for post
Image for post

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store