What I learned about organizations certainly didn’t come from my math, science and engineering professors in college. In some regards, this may be part of the issue in our industry as evidenced by INPO’s recently issued SOER 10-2, Engaged Thinking Organizations. This is not to diminish what the nuclear power industry has been able to accomplish in production and safety. The question that still seems to haunt us as an industry is: “What is it that drives the cyclical performance of organizations and plants?” The answer is culture. The solution is not so easy.
Culture is a key ingredient to successful organizations in any industry. Some would argue it is the most important factor. When we look at examples in society we see many reasons for success and failure, but an underlying contributor is often culture, whether in business, sports, politics or nuclear power. When the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) assembled a team of site vice presidents and plant managers to evaluate a number of significant events at plants, they discovered that the underlying problems were not process or procedure related, but were tied to organizational weakness that was felt to be widespread in the industry.
Establishing and maintaining an organization where individuals, supervisors and management are engaged and thinking is an issue of culture. Leaders set the culture and get the culture they accept. Leading change to a more productive, safe and high performance culture for an organization is the sole responsibility of the leader. It is a matter of definition, implementing and monitoring. But since organizations (root word organism) are organic our technical training and engineering degrees don’t prepare us for how these special organisms respond.
SOER 10-2 addresses nine root causes for the significant events. The root causes were identified through a proven process in true engineering fashion analyzing each incident, breaking down the salient parts, roles, activities, etc. This led to the development of recommended actions to address the root causes. While this effort should not be discounted or ignored, the bottom line is that the more global issue is culture. In the industry, as we have been driven to do more with less we have created an industry wide culture where budgets, resources, production and results “overshadow the emphasis on correct behaviors” the team found. We have gotten here from an upper management focus and emphasis in these areas. This has been pushed down into the organization to be in the forefront individual minds of operators, technicians and other individual contributors. While this is not bad unto itself, it must be tempered with the nuclear safety culture as being the overriding emphasis. An incident that causes the plant to shut down for an extended period of time, damaging equipment or health and safety of people will never be paid for by diverting the shift supervisor from supervising operator actions so he can address a budget issue.
If this is the culture we have, what steps are necessary to move to the culture we want? The SOER mentions a number of actions for the specific root causes and these actions need to be considered by each leader for their organization. It is important to first know where the culture is and where the changes need to occur. This can be done using a consultant to perform an assessment, looking at appropriate metrics (if already in place) or by walking around. A good way to change the culture is to engage more people in the process. By setting the standard and expectation then requiring more “walking around” by managers and supervisors to monitor evolutions is a good way to not only get them engaged, but help them to see the strengths of the site team and their people. After all this is their classical responsibility in a properly designed organization. Identified problems can be handled in the corrective action process if need be. Minor issues should be corrected on the spot and gradually the new expectation of greater thought and engagement prevails. This approach needs to be complimented with reinforcement in all training, management-staff interactions and other methods of communicating and demonstrating the “new cultural norms.”
The key to changing the culture is to be clear on the expectation, reinforce them at every opportunity and hold all accountable for meeting the expectations. While we often think the contrary, few people ever come to work with the idea that they want to do a bad job on any given day. Where failure to meet expectations occurs it may be a training / skill issue or more likely the fact that a definition of what a good job looks like is distorted. We too often emphasize attributes of the good job picture that are less important than nuclear safety culture that would make Dali or Picasso proud. It is a leadership responsibility to provide clarity and for our industry nuclear safety culture comes first at the plants. Forgetting this, allowing other areas of our business to appear more important is what causes the cycle performance at our plants.
Chris Staubus is BCP’s General Manager, Utility Services. He holds a BS in Marine Engineering from the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point NY and an MBA in Engineering Management from the University of Dallas. He has held positions in operations, startup, engineering, consulting as well as executive level positions. He may be contacted at [email protected] or 727-736-3151.