This meant bringing the labour costs under the same sort of control as had been been applied to materials. There was no intention, though, of using the heavy-handed approach usually associated with such initiatives. As Mr Skelston said: 'We felt there was a tremendous fund of knowledge on the shopfloor that we could tap in to.'
The Peter Chadwick consultancy, formed six years ago, has become a specialist in making workforces more effective. Its performance in this project has delighted not only Mr Skelston but also the sceptics on the Walker board.
The organisation places particular emphasis on winning the commitment of managers and supervisors to change, 'since they translate what is agreed in the boardroom into action on the shopfloor'.
Mr Skelston is convinced that the Peter Chadwick team, led by Mark Dudley, achieved that. 'They got themselves into the factory, and the labour performance is now better than it's ever been. People are getting better job satisfaction,' he said.
The production director can now say to employees that if they have better ideas on how to carry out certain tasks, they will be adopted. For management, the simple monitoring devices installed by Peter Chadwick during a 30-week project provide much better information from which to work out defect levels, for instance.
The firm's philosophy is to help organisations raise people's performance before they make huge investments in information technology or equipment.
In 65 projects in a variety of sectors, it claims to have helped clients achieve significant changes and add a total of pounds 66m to profits.
It is said that organisations only become world players by going through upheavals. But Mr Dudley and his colleagues are certain that the power of the basics should not be underestimated.
'It's building up from fundamentals. By identifying those types of problems and taking them on, you can feed through to the profit and loss account,' he said.
With sales up to pounds 22m, after sliding to about pounds 3m three years ago, Walker feels the changes will help it consolidate its position as a leading supplier of own-label meat products to supermarkets such as Tesco.Reuse content