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Don't Give Up on Performance When Responding to the Covid-19 Crisis

May 27, 2020

Responding to COVID-19: Don't Give Up on your Performance Improvement Commitments

I Can 

At RLG International, we believe the COVID-19 crisis has created a rare opportunity to accelerate your business improvement commitments. This opportunity could easily be over looked when responding to dramatically changed market conditions and the new reality of working remotely, is the all-consuming top priority.

As immediate business needs are addressed and attention shifts to restarting operations, RLG believes right now is the optimal time to take advantage of a unique set of circumstances to accelerate change.

Creating readiness for change in an organization is typically a time-consuming and often challenging prerequisite for creating a step-change in performance. COVID-19 has created an environment where rethinking long-established work practices and processes is part of the new normal. The typical resistance-to-change, we often encounter when working with clients, is significantly reduced and in many cases absent. People are willing to rethink the way they work; in fact, they expect it.

In 37 years of helping clients creating sustainable business improvement, we have not seen this level of change-readiness, ever. There is a sense of urgency and a level of creativity that is truly unique. This window of opportunity is rare, and it’s not going to last.

Over the course of this crisis, we have heard from senior leaders who are grappling with one key question:


Keep Engaged

We believe solving this issue is a critical success factor for organizations as they prepare for a large proportion of their team to return to site.

The mental state of readiness of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of employees, will determine the safe, efficient, and successful start-up or ramp-up of business operations. A significant incident during start-up/ramp-up by a distracted workforce that doesn’t have their head back in the game, is a serious risk that could set the organization back by months.

Making the Shift from Busy to Breakthrough

There are several natural ways of involving employees in business improvement initiatives right now to take advantage of the heightened sense of urgency and creativity. The key is to focus on not just keeping people busy, but to have them engaged in breakthrough activities.

  1. Challenge employees to rethink and redesign how to start-up/ramp-up and operate the business safely and efficiently under new, post-COVID-19, circumstances.

    While social distancing and other restrictions might initially pose challenges, they also offer opportunities to run the business in a more creative, engaging, and cost-effective manner due to a flatter organizational structure and leaner operation.

    Reviewing how to create more direct communication lines, how to delegate tasks and responsibilities more effectively, and how to engage people on a deeper level, unlocking their true potential, are key considerations.


    In April, two RLG coaches worked with a Canadian refinery of a multinational corporation to undertake “First Five Days” reviews for an upcoming turnaround. Multiple sessions were held to review the shutdown phase and initial days of mechanical work. The sessions, typically five to six per block, focused on activity sequencing and alignment amongst execution groups and contractors. Each session generated 10 to 20 actions which would address opportunities, mitigate risks and close gaps. Actions were always closed before the next session and the information generated served to feed into the next session.

  2. Assess key operational gaps and performance challenges.

    Unproductive and frustrating business processes exist everywhere in business. A leaner, post COVID-19 organization, requires business processes that work. Engage employees in a structured process to identify the gaps and waste, participate in improvement teams, redesign standard work, and commit to a better way of doing business going forward.

    While opportunities to improve exist throughout most organizations, two specific opportunities stand out in our view: maintenance and turnaround (or pit-stop, short shutdown) readiness.

  3. Engage employees in improving their results focus and performance visibility.

    Of all the things that could be done during the working day, what is it that really must be done? High performance organizations have a laser-sharp focus on the few things that really matter.

    Engage employees in clarifying what key performance indicators (KPI) need to be tracked and owned by which individuals. Focus leaders and employees on achieving a step-change improvement on a select few, relevant KPIs and strengthen accountability for targeted and timely improvement actions.


    During April, three RLG Performance Coaches worked with a US based petrochemicals organization to development a standardized maintenance KPI scorecard. The maintenance success vision and this scorecard was shaped around input and collaboration with leaders and employees in key positions in both Maintenance and Operations departments. The rolled-out scorecard completed one important step in a larger initiative to develop a clear vision and consistent focus for the maintenance group across all 11 facilities, and to benchmark all performance. This work was done remotely over several weeks.

  4. Streamline the daily, weekly, monthly performance discussions and interactions with others.

    An operation with fewer employees should have short, direct communication lines, and achieve quick decision making.

    Review and streamline all structured meetings and reviews, improve intentionality, and strengthen commitment to action. Less is more. The objective is to have fewer, shorter, data-based, and results-focused meetings, led by capable leaders, that energize and engage people and create timely improvement actions.


    For two weeks in April and May, four RLG Performance Coaches worked with an integrated Canadian-based Petrochemical site to conduct a T-12 months turnaround readiness assessment remotely. Over two weeks, the team of RLG coaches:

    • conducted 30+ interviews
    • reviewed and analyzed 60+ documents and reports
    • summarized, tested and documented 34 improvement recommendations

    We appreciate the support to identify areas of shortfall and opportunities to help us close gaps and get prepared.


Talk Without Action is a Waste of Time

Companies and their leadership are facing many challenges in the weeks and months ahead. They also have an opportunity to come out of this crisis stronger, ready to create a step-change in results once normal operations resume.

There are many improvement actions that should be initiated right now, while working remotely. Decide where to apply focus and initiate meaningful action. Engage employees in a deliberate and significant way to build their ownership and incorporate their ideas. Ultimately, when business resumes, organizations can return to the status quo or be prepared for a better, more competitive future by deciding to act to sharpen their competitive edge during a period of business slow down.

For over 37 years, RLG has assisted clients with creating world-class results through people. We have learned a great deal about the intricacies, complexities and subtleties involved in creating a step-change in results through people and we would look forward to helping you navigate your unique business challenge.


Starting in early May, RLG introduced virtual boardwalks to a US Petrochemical site. This mirrored the traditional boardwalks that had previously been designed and deployed, involving physical boards on walls and people gathering to discuss. Using iObeya software as the virtual platform, and taking advantage of the client's video conferencing software, each functional area (Safety, Operations, Maintenance, Reliability, Engineering, etc.) reported on their KPIs, opportunities, roadblocks and actions to close gaps. This move to a virtual boardwalk ensured the site doesn’t lose ground in their “step change” improvement journey while their workforce is a mix of on- and off-site personnel. This also fits their vision for a long-term solution, enabling a virtual room where performance boards remain set-up, up to date and readily accessible for check-ins between scheduled meetings.


For more information, or to receive a PDF version of this white paper, contact us.