Systems Savvy and Response to Adversity: Nucor and the Vulcraft Flood
Nucor is the largest producer of steel in the U.S. and the world's foremost steel recycler. In June of 2010 the Norfolk, Nebraska area, home to four Nucor divisions, was struck by horrible flooding. This is Part 2 of their story and how we can see systems savvy woven into their tightly aligned practices (Part 1).
On June 15, 2010 a railroad bridge collapsed into the flooding Elkhorn River in southwest Norfolk, NE. By 3 p.m. Nucor's Vulcraft site was underwater: two inches in the offices, two feet inside the plant. The majority of the plant's equipment runs underground and the electrical network is substantial.
Doyle Hopper, General Manager of Vulcraft in Norfolk, Nebraska, described the goal: "Limit damage. Save the plant." The initial activities were sandbagging and turning off power. The sandbagging involved people from all parts of the facility. From production to office staff in dress clothes, they were out in the rain getting the job done.
Nobody told them to do it. True Nucor people - culture just reacted to situation. I was blown away, but I shouldn't have been. People who weren't sand bagging were moving computers and files on top of desks.
"Nobody told them to do it." To me this is decades of systems savvy giving the Nucor people the ability to assess the situation and realize that a very simple technology can help (sandbags) and that they need to break away from ordinary work roles and get the job done -- safely. They knew the boundaries and quickly worked to weave together a response. The flood happened on Tuesday. Over the next few days the Vulcraft teammates worked on longer-term approaches.
Folks sprang into action. Sales, engineering, finance, moved their computers into the detailing center that wasn't impacted by flood. One hundred twenty people were relocated to the other building and back on line with customers -- didn't miss a beat. By Friday the water was pumped out, new electrical lines and other electric put in place. Monday morning business was back to normal. Didn't miss a single customer delivery. People took it upon themselves to arrange for material to make it out on trucks for customers who had to have their material immediately. They found a truck and used a forklift with chains [given the mud] to safely load the shipment.
I asked Doyle how these activities were coordinated. The answer was about the design and practice, not about a single leader or even senior team.
The Cold Finish and Vulcraft sites have over 400 people. All are broken into teams: production, shipping, receiving, . . . supervisors report to manager, [managers report to him] . . . it’s streamlined, lean, with clear goals . . . . Great thing about Nucor, you don't have to go through a chain of command to make a decision. Really shows when there is adversity/tragedy. People have been taking initiative all along. It's just part of their nature.
As we've seen in prior posts, systems savvy is often developed by experience. Nucor is known for retention of its teammates and for promoting from within. Both are great ways to build deep systems savvy throughout the organization. The story at the neighboring Norfolk Nucor Steel site is exactly the same -- long-standing systems savvy management across all the teammates. I'll tell their story tomorrow.