Challenge #1: Operational Silos and Lack of Coordinated Action

In 2007, the nuclear division of a National Laboratory was disconnected from the rest of the Lab. It was insular with an “inside the fence/outside the fence” mentality. The operational staff was at odds with support staff.

A very significant audit from the Department of Energy, mostly in Configuration Management, was conducted with 12-15 findings creating a sense of doom. The findings suggested that Nuclear Operations were very poor as a result of no integrated, cohesive work. Departments were not working on the same things; they had disparate areas of focus. There was a pattern in the division of not getting to and addressing root causes of issues.

Challenge #2: Unclear Accountabilities and Complex Processes

Complicated processes and structures and repetitive work streams heightened frustration. No formal program for Configuration Management was in existence. Performance management did not have a systematic process for measuring assurance, operations maintenance, and safety. Roles and responsibilities were not defined creating both duplicate work and lack of alignment on priorities.

Challenge #3: Organizational Inertia

Management change was prevalent with four of the five managers on the management team being new. There had been three executives running the division in three years lasting 18 months apiece. The staff was resigned and received little positive feedback. The former executive at the time said there wasn’t sufficient budget. They did make bold requests for money needed to improve the facility or for increasing safety. Informal staff leaders (not the managers) actively resisted change pointing to why things don’t and can’t work. They were reactive in how they listened and how they communicated.

Challenge #4: Low Morale Driven by Lack of Trust and Combative Relationships

Gossip and rumors led to mutual-distrust amongst staff and the management team. People had a need to ‘not be wrong’. Staff didn’t trust the Lab or the site office because they were shutting down the reactor. One of the division’s major nuclear facilities had gone through a review for their initial start up which got rejected and added to low morale creating a lose/lose situation. Negativity was prevalent. Uneasiness, resistance, and resignation were the mood.

Challenge #5: Survival Mentality

The prevailing management style had devolved to crisis management. People were looking to the past, not the future. The management team was caught in victim mentality. They were myopic with no long-term vision. Their world was all day-to-day tactical survival. They weren’t developing their staff or creating a future. They were buried in the here and now, caught in excuses such as not having enough time. There was a lack of leadership.
Predictable Results:

Without an intervention it was predictable that employee morale would continue to decline and there would be continued and increased turnover in staff. Funding would likely get cut. Audit findings would probably increase. Ultimately, the reactor could be shut down.

The Insigniam impact

The Executive of this nuclear division turned to Insigniam; an international management-consulting firm, to collaborate with his management team and the staff of his division to create a high performing team. His intention was to redefine how the division works including roles, responsibilities, decision rights, processes, and programs and implement an inspiring future that allowed the nuclear division to think newly, act differently, and deliver specific, measurable breakthrough results.

Through intensive dialogue, coaching sessions, and follow-up conversations, the managers created a structure and framework for how everyone in the division would participate and contribute in the creation of a meaningful strategic plan which included a vision, mission, key objectives, and performance measures.

Together they developed an approach and a structure to include all staff at all levels of the division to participate in the re-engineering effort. The organization was physically restructured ensuring focus, sufficient resources, and the on-going building of trust.

The Insigniam Breakthrough Process

Step 1. REVEAL

Operations were resistant at the beginning. Viewing themselves as the experts, they did not want to be ‘told’ what to do. We revealed the attitudes and circumstances from the past that were getting in the way. Many of the people who were entrenched in the old way of operating, dug their heels in even more once the reengineering was presented.

Resistance wasn’t sufficiently addressed early in the process.

Recognizing that certain expertise was missing in the organization, professional consultants and new staff were brought in. They provided a fresh perspective adding value because they weren’t trapped in the history and could challenge the old thinking.

Step 2. UNHOOK

This step releases an organization from the dominating influence of past dynamics.

The findings during the initial step stopped the team from clinging to past notions and misconceptions about present-day realities. It freed the management team and team leaders to ask questions of the teams, such as:

How does a newly formed management team come together to chart a path toward the future?
What are the key questions that must be answered, the key points that must be aligned around, and the honest conversations that must be had to generate true passion for that path?
How does one take an already committed culture and find the words to harness that commitment toward a common goal?

Step 3: INVENT

This creative aspect of the four-step process served as a catalyst for breakthrough change.

By clearly defining the procedures, the members of the division could be very transparent with each other. Using the oversight reports and relying on that well-documented information helped in training people in a more succinct and expedient manner.

A rigorous program was created for Configuration Management with resources and documentation centralized in one location in an electronic repository. It is now essential for training and identifying conditions across all of the division.

A more formal way of delivering performance management reports was implemented. Assurance measures, operations, maintenance, safety, utilization of the facilities for experiments, and corrective actions are now documented for all the parts of the system.
Roles and responsibilities for all of the division were formally re-defined.


Emerging from powerful working sessions can often bring great optimism that fades over time. Lessons learned get filed away and never reached for again. As a result of engaging everyone in the work, a new organizational attitude has been adopted. This created an open and engaging culture allowing the division to work more cohesively together.

The management team of the division defined a new framework. Structures and procedures are now in place for how work is managed and integrated with operations, safety basis, and experimental projects in a way it never had been, and is now sustainable.

Key Outcomes

  • Performance measures and capacity dramatically increased.
  • Built strong, lasting relationship
  • Reinvented how work gets done
  • Approximately 33% improvement in performance, going from 300 test shots per year (as a best case) to currently 400 test shots per year.
  • Zero safety issues in five years post engagement.
  • Facility re-investments are now being made.
  • Audit findings significantly down.
  • The nuclear division is now fully utilized.
  • The division built trust with the Department of Energy site office.

Staff and management have a relationship founded in trust. For example, new engineers were replacing a part in the nuclear reactor and questioned a single point flaw that could impact the operating system. They knew it wasn’t quite right and they told the Reactor Supervisor, who in turn told the Department Manager and said “stop the work”. The reactor was down for a few days, and was fixed within a week. In the past, they likely would not have spoken up to avoid being wrong and the site office would give them a finding, shutting down the reactor for many months. Now, the staff knew their management team would listen to them.

As a result of this approach, the staff team leader was promoted to the Management Team of the division and another Manager on the management team then boldly applied and became the Senior Manager of the division.

A Manager on the Management Team had a bigger vision for his department and its contribution to the Laboratory. His department is now making a bigger difference and has physically moved to another area of the Laboratory and as a result the division received the State and National Quality awards for the first time.

Opportunities opened up to engage more broadly across the Laboratory, for example with corporate quality and assurance and the student intern program.

Programs supporting development of the staff are funded, e.g. fellowships to the World Nuclear University in Oxford.

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