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UL Case Study

Personal growth to catalyze operational excellence

UL is a long established leader in safety solutions and is committed to lean management through operational excellence initiatives. To transform the philosophy of continuous improvements into daily actionable activities, UL’s CRS business division implemented ProHabits for 90 days within its operations leadership team. During the pilot program, participating UL team members demonstrated a commitment to living core values through personal growth and the excellence it produces.

UL at a glance

Founded in 1894, Underwriter Laboratories (UL) is an established safety consulting company that has an enduring history in creating a safer world. UL actively works to add to the science of safety that can be applied to prevent injury and the loss of life in workplaces worldwide. UL brings this dedication to the client, aligning its vision for the world and the services it provides everyday.

Leadership Mindset

The leadership at UL is dedicated to the most effective solutions available, because of this there is a heavy focus on the principles of lean management.

The path to operational excellence is believed to operate through the execution of a strong organizational culture.

I think operational excellence is more about culture than it is about process. You can have great processes but if you don’t execute them well, the results are going to be bad

— Keith Williams, CEO and President of UL


Internally, UL is driven by three core values: Integrity, Competitiveness, and Collaboration. Each of these values reinforces core behaviors that are critical for success. UL believes that actualizing these values will lead to operational excellence and assure that the safety mission is fulfilled.

  • Integrity
  • Competitiveness
  • Collaboration
We are honest in everything we do. We seek and speak the truth. We maintain fidelity to our Mission and the truth regardless of external political or commercial pressures. We act in ways that inspire people to trust us. We are open and transparent.
Critical Behaviors:
  • Initiative & Decision Making
  • Analyzing & Problem Solving
Helping our clients to be successful: knowing that when our clients win, our Mission wins. We love to win, hate to lose and always play by the rules. We continuously look for new ways in which we can solve clients’ needs and provide benefits to their businesses. We always aim to be the best

Critical Behaviors:
  • Customer focus
  • Achieving business results
  • Flexibility
We are one team, one family. We win or lose together. We care more about our colleagues’ success than we do about our own success. Our language embraces “we” instead of “I”

Critical Behaviors:
  • Leading & Engaging
  • Teamwork
  • Communication

Kaizen: The shared roots of operational excellence & personal growth

Change can be an unsettling process, full of unknowns and unfamiliar challenges, but improvement is inherently a form of positive change. This makes improvement itself seem like a dangerous and difficult process - this is where Kaizen comes in.

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that seeks to cultivate improvement by utilizing small steps. It is a philosophy built on the understanding that change is uncomfortable, but can be overcome with a gradual strategic process. Kaizen works by disarming the fears that come with positive change, freeing the practitioner to succeed.

UL came to the philosophy of Kaizen through their mindset of lean management and efforts to create and sustain the most effective system of operations. Kaizen acts as a well suited set of guiding principles consistent in UL’s focus on achieving excellence.

Often we are asked to “think big”, but Kaizen implores us to do the opposite. With Kaizen, one is only ever dealing with the small and seemingly inconsequential. While the focus with Kaizen is in humble domains, the ultimate outcome is neither small nor inconsequential. As it has been demonstrated time and again, Kaizen’s emphasis on purposeful action leads to operational excellence.

Kaizen’s impact has been most noticeable in the auto-manufacturing industry - leading to major improvements in productivity. The approach was trailblazed by Toyota, resulting in Toyota becoming the most productive manufacturer the world over.

Personal Growth at UL

Personal growth is factored in as a fundamental part of UL’s organizational structure, thus UL strives to “invest in our people and encourage our people to invest in themselves”.

UL believes that investing in their team and encouraging personal growth offers the path to Kaizen, and thus to operational excellence.

Collaboration with the Shingo Institute

The Shingo Institute is an organization dedicated to bringing better practices to organizations by teaching the Shingo Model. Named after Shigeo Shingo, the manufacturer who revolutionized auto-manufacturing at Toyota, the institute keeps his legacy thriving.

The Shingo Institute’s guiding principles

UL’s commitment to operational excellence is not limited to an assortment of official statements, but an active priority on the part of their leadership. Because of this, UL aligns itself with the 10 guiding principles enumerated by the Shingo Institute to anchor its initiatives. UL believes that the 10 guiding principles reinforce and promote their own Critical Behaviors for Success.

  • Respect Every Individual
  • Lead with Humility
  • Seek Perfection
  • Embrace Scientific Thinking
  • Focus on Process
  • Assure Quality at the Source
  • Flow & Pull Value
  • Think Systemically
  • Create Constancy of Purpose
  • Create Value for the Customer

Once a leader has successfully mastered these principles, and is deemed capable of teaching others, they are given the rank of black belt. UL has demonstrated its willingness to invest in excellence as several of its team members have achieved this.

What Is Prohabits

Opportunities for daily personal growth delivered by email. Team members selected their area of personal growth from a list of ProTracks or curriculum that aligns individual habits with organizational values.

To make operational excellence an actionable habit, UL utilized ProHabits for 90 days to leverage personal growth.
UL believes that the daily applications of ProHabits actions provides the means to achieving the operational excellence they seek.

Over the course of UL’s month with ProHabits the results show a clear commitment to operational excellence. ProTrack participation aligned with the critical behaviors that UL outlined as the core of what constitutes excellence.

The above graphs shows how UL’s team chose to grow

UL’s level of engagement

221 total participants
3,035 total commitments
2,493 completed
82.14% completion rate

Feedback from the front lines

I learned a lot. The daily reminder to focus on "focus" was helpful in and of itself. The biggest takeaway for me was to commit to a daily list of high priority tasks. The activities this month gave me lots of tools/techniques- and the simplicity of those tools/techniques was eye opening

— Kevin Prestage

In the last four weeks I learned about ways to 'pay attention to my attention' to keep me on track with current and upcoming projects. I liked setting mini-milestones to help me complete tasks before moving on to something else

— Stephanie Anderson