Lonka; working smarter

2010 – Lonka NV is a manufacturer of various kinds of  ‘traditional soft candy’. The company has about 70 employees currently. Lonka was founded in 1920 in Breda, the Netherlands. In 2002 they moved to a larger building in Roosendaal. From about that time they started to grow tremendously. There were developed new lines and new staff were employed. However the structure to control all this, hardly changed. There were little work meetings and there was insufficient communication on developments, the new line and working methods.  Sales declined.
In 2009 Lonka went through a professionalization where ‘working smarter’ was central. Management, control and production within the company were organized in a different way and in the context of the ‘working smarter’ project there is paid attention to the commitment of the staff. The management was oriented at self-responsibility and autonomy of staff and this made the commitment of these employees grow visibly.

Why this is workplace innovation
Employees now have a direct influence on the production process: they are involved when taking decisions on certain issues at an early stage. Their ideas are then implemented within the framework set and employees are driven to self-responsibility and autonomy. They are allowed to make decisions themselves whether or not to perform something. Communication between employees and management and departments is open and there was introduced a form of self-rostering.

The goals of the project were: to bring the sales of Lonka back to the old level as well as to improve the job satisfaction among employees. In addition, they wanted to realize a professionalization and reduce the outflow of staff.

45 employees have participated in the ‘working smarter’ project, which has lasted approximately one year. They started with a quick-scan, in which staff talked about the problems they were experiencing and about what needed to be improved in their daily work according to them. From these sessions, it became clear that miscommunication between managers and employees often happened. Solutions that employees have presented, have been implemented, with a strong emphasis on taking responsibility and making decisions.
Teams of employees also received training and  there were organized  theory sessions on issues such as the startup of a machine, performing a product change or what to do when a failure occurs, or what are the options for an employee to improve the operation. The trainings were given at the familiar workplace. The employees who have completed these courses have received a certificate.
At the same time, management took an example role in the change process of Lonka. Key issues are putting aside the ego, and facilitating and stimulating/ complimenting employees who take responsibility.

The result is that the teams feel more responsibility  for their production line now. They work more independently and employees have a say in the course of the production process. The 1st operators of the teams now have their own phone and computer with an e-mail account, allowing them to put in numbers and to send e-mail. Also, the cooperation increases: people see what the other has to do and can adjust their actions to that. Because the managers play their facilitating role and spend less time to ad hoc cases, employees notice that there is room for their input, and identify problems at an earlier stage.
Each production team is responsible for all the ins and outs of their own team, and is supported by the team manager. Intermediate layers are removed, so communication is now 1 to 1, and is improved in each department. Each production team has a communication board where every week you can see what went well, what was disappointing and what is at issue. On that basis a consultation is held, led by the team manager.
Besides employees, in consultation with each other, arrange when they do and do not work, they coordinate this with the planning department that keeps an eye on how much will be produced in the next month and how many working hours that means. In this way the work and private lives of employees can be coordinated better.
All this has increased the involvement of employees. The employee satisfaction score has risen to 7.5; absenteeism is reduced from 7 to 2%. Also, the financial results increased significantly.


If you want to start such a process, it is important to establish what the initial situation is and what the desired situation, according to Jacco Bakker, manager operations at Lonka. This way you can search solutions in a focused way. Here it is important to remember that achieving a change of culture takes a long time and you have to persevere. Bakker believes that if managers dare to put their egos aside and encourage employees to take personal responsibility, this will have direct impact on the motivation and commitment of employees.

More information about Lonka can be found on her website: www.lonka.nl.