Lessons Learned At The Water Cooler
by Maryann Brennan
Business News Briefs
Fuels-Up For The Future
When one of the nation's largest refineries decides to make the shift from top-down management to a team-based methodology, it doesn't fuel around.
"Many companies implementing team-based methodology are either small organizations or divisions of organizations," says Lois R. Bruss, founder of HDA Consulting. Making the shift on behalf of one of the nation's ten largest refineeries, she admits, has been "a challenging experience."
Located in Pascagoula, Miss., the Chevron Pascagoula refinery has over 1200 employees and refines about 295,000 barrels of crude oil per day into gasoline, jet and diesel fuel, paraxylene and benzene. Built in 1963, it is part of the Chevron Products Comzpany, a subsidiary of the Chevron Corporation. In 1996, Chevron saw the case for change; the refining industry was becoming increasingly competitive, many refineries were being sold and shutdown. When a task force determined that a high performance work system would enhance the refinery's long-term success, a group was formed to explore team-based management.
Included in Chevron's 30-member study group were representatives from all levels and major departments in the Pascagoula refinery: technical, purchasing, development, finance, operations, business planning, maintenance and general management. Most group members were refinery managers, their direct reports or second level supervisors.
During the project's preliminary studies, this core group engaged in research and discussion sessions, made some site visits and met with prospective consultants. Methodologies reviewed included the Socio-Tech Systems (STS); a conference pattern in which all decisions are arrived at through a continuum of general meetings and a Conference-Hybrid approach which is a trademark of The Fisher Group, Inc. When the latter option was selected, Lois R. Bruss, an associate of The Fisher Group became Chevron Pascagoula's external consultant.
"The Conference-Hybrid Methodology uses a combination of design conferences and an STS design team," Bruss explains. When Bruss asked for a group member to carry on aspects of the program when she would not be available, Pete Muncie, an 18 year employee of Chevron and currently the Superintendent of Operations for the Cracking II area of the Pascagoula operation, was named as internal consultant.
Redefining the Rules
"It is noteworthy that the Pascagoula project involves
the entire refinery as part of a single team-based transition," Bruss
added, confirming that, "This was not to be a piece-meal effort."
- Preparing project leaders
The work began with Bruss and the core group working toward creation of a compelling vision. The leadership assessed the company's predominant management style, studied high performance team-work and developed a sound business-based case for change. The members examined the benefits and costs that the change would entail and prepared an internal support staff to support the transformation and became capable to answer employee questions. A steering committee made up of department heads and the refinery manager held meetings to bring the case for change and the transition vision to all employees. These meetings addressed approximately one hundred employees at a time. Educating management for its new role of team leadership carried the project into the second part of its methodology: generating commitment.
Driving for Success
"Working with such a large and diverse work force, we felt it important that every employee not only be aware of the project, but also become personally involved as a valued contributor," Muncie explains. Each of the three major data-gathering conferences would bring together about 500 employees.
"Each of our 1200 employees attended at least one such session," Muncie reports, adding that many attended more than one, while members of the steering group attended all three.
The initial conference focused on the overall vision; the second on customer concerns and the third on redesign.
"Employees brought forth ideas concerning their own empowerment. They learned how they might help to arrive at a consensus in decision-making, in solving problems or in bringing about job changes," Bruss summarizes.
"At the close of the final conference, a redesign
team was named and charged with assembling data brought forth during these
major sessions and using it as part of the redesign process," she continued.
The initial twelve-member design team is currently focused on redesigning
fuel conversion aspects of the refinery operation.
According to Bruss, the fifth phase in the methodology
will be for the redesign team to reinforce its work design. Its carefully
determined alternatives will be brought before the workforce for a vote.
After a choice has been made, the plan selected can be put into practice
and its success reinforced by changes in policy and award incentives.
Ready, Set, Go
"So far, what the high performance work system project has done is to allow us to create a vision of what these changes are all about. It's a vision which guides our day to day decisions. We think about it a lot as we go. Ours is not a revolutionary change-over, but rather a steady moving away from the status quo."
Bruss reaffirms this statement, having observed a sign prominently displayed in Muncie's office that permanently inquires: "Did we do it in a high performance way?"
The external consultant concluded by commending the way in which the team-based transition is being accepted. "At Chevron Pascagoula, the work force is well-educated and committed to the refinery's continuing success. Nor has the commitment of the managers ever wavered. They've all given the project tremendous support."
Apparently, when one of the nation's largest refineries sets out on a transitional trip, its motivational engine is not likely to spit and sputter or run out of gas. Bruss and Muncie are in agreement: Chevron Pascagoula's high performance, team-based transition is on the go.