What A Concept
On The Baldrige Winners
Not YourTypical Oil Change
Ft. McMurray has been described as a town that's seven months of winter and five months of bugs. Located in Alberta, Canada, it was once a small town whose main businesses were fur trapping and fishing. But today it is home of a very successful oil refinery - Syncrude Canada, Limited.
Initially, Syncrude's mission was to determine if it was feasible to extract oil from the Athabasca oil sands in North Eastern Alberta. In the 1970s Syncrude became a joint venture of several oil companies and governments intending to mine (versus drill) oil. When actual production began in 1978, in addition to proving that oil could be mined, they also had to prove they could do it safely and reliably, and that it would be profitable. "Many experts considered us to be an R&D curiosity that could never make it in the competitive world," says Don de Guerre, manager of organization effectiveness, "But we proved them wrong."Did they ever.
The Athabasca oil sands contain more known oil than in Saudi Arabia. Since Syncrude's incorporation in 1964, the town's population has grown from 3,500 to 40,000. But when the world oil price fell in 1986, Syncrude faced new competitive challenges and met them in a way that changed the way they are working today. But not with charts, tools, or new management styles. "It's not good enough just to become a facilitative supervisor. It's not good enough to form a traditional quality circle," says de Guerre, "You have to change the way work is done and the way the organization is structured." Syncrude created a direct participatory democracy in which people affected by decisions in the workplace have the right to be involved in those decisions - a process known as participative design.
Here's How They Got There
Searching for a Better Way
A new vision and value statement developed by upper management was introduced to everyemployee through mini search conferences. Developed by Fred and Merrelyn Emery, the search conference process entails looking at the environment, looking at the organization, looking at the probable future, the desirable future and the gap. In other words, employees were asked to be proactive in creating their own future and the best workplace for themselves. Syncrude had a vision to "manage change, rather than be managed by it." At first, people didn't see the need for change. The attitude of some was, "Why bother? We don't respond to the market. Sooner or later they come to us." Others said, "They'll never close this place. Look at how much money they've pumped into it already. Plus, it's government owned." But soon these mini search conferences evolved into organization-wide democratic dialogues that didn't stop at the office. They happened at the bowling alley, at restaurants and at parties. What affected Syncrude affected Ft. McMurray. Conversation revolved around what Syncrude was exploring:
1. Who are we? (What do we value? What are our business
Moving the Power
To accommodate this shift, several new committees were formed. The Employee Development Steering Committee (EDSC), the Organization Design Steering Committee (ODSC) and a Referent Leaders Team. EDSC was developed to teach employees and teams the new skills needed for the change process and the new organization. The Referent Leaders Team was made up of internal change agents and its function was to resource the participative design process. ODSC's function was to define the new organization based on DPII - redundancy of function. They also created a set of Principles for Organizing Work that was used as a guide for all work and organization design activities.
Along with these guidelines came an umbrella policy framework which included the implementation of semi-autonomous work teams - where the team not only does the work that needs to be done, it also records, analyzes and plans its own work. Also, in addition to managers' regular duties, they had to learn more about training, coaching and leading. Through open book management and business literacy, teams were given more knowledge and responsibility concerning their budgets and financials. Lastly, management provided a gainshairing package and an employment guarantee. The employment guarantee was part of a redeployment program that guaranteed each employee would keep a job at Syncrude, but not necessarily within the same role.
The Redesign Process at a Glance
Obviously, not every person present voted for the chosen design. However, when all were asked if they could live with it, not one person said that they could not. The design was implemented the very next week.
Winning the Race