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“We were like a refugee camp. We worked for the same company but spoke different languages. Shock resulting from a downturn in our industry permeated everyone. We were confused and without organizational homes. Survival meant creating a new way of life.” – Mike Freeman
Step 1: Mike sent two of his organization development consultants, Gary Hochman and Dennis DeMaria to the Axelrod Group’s Conference Model Training where they learned about the Conference Model Process.
Step 2: Gary and Dennis went back and met with Mike and decided the Conferenence Model Process was for them.
Step 3: The Axelrod Group entered into a licensing and coaching agreement with the Micro Electronics Division, which provided the organization with the workbooks, outlines and materials to implement the Conference Model Process. Additionally, Dick and Emily Axelrod provided coaching to the internal consultants as they implemented the process before and after each conference.
Step 4: Five large group conferences were conducted to redesign the organization. In between each conference, walkthrus were conducted to share information and solicit input from those who could not attend. Nearly everyone in the organization attended either a conference or a walkthru.
Step 5: Today this former refugee camp into an efficient, collaborative, customer focused organization, one that has recorded productivity improvements of 18% for five consecutive years.
“We were able to reverse a downward business trend and get performance back onto a positive path. . . . We attribute much of our success to the Conference Model approach and believe it complemented our other management and leadership tools well.”
- Mike Freeman
For over a year, using traditional methods, Detroit Edison managers had been working to improve their supply chain process. Although they had formed many committees and had been working with a leading consulting firm, they had little to show for their efforts. They knew drastic action was required.
Step 1: Dick Axelrod and Nancy Voss met with the Detroit Edison Team to understand the situation and to develop a strategy that would significantly accelerate the change process while increasing the level of commitment.
Step 2: Over the next few weeks a strategy emerged that included meetings with middle managers, two conferences and walkthrus. Dick and Nancy met continuously with the Detroit Edison team refining the approach as they developed outlines for the sessions. Steve Treacy and Nancy Aronson were added to the team to assist with facilitation and design.
Step 3: To avoid the “flavor of the month“ problem, a communication and education strategy was developed to explain the change in direction. Additionally, the work to date was used as a starting point.
Step 4: The purpose of the first three day conference was to identify gaps in the current supply chain process and potential solutions. One hundred eighty people attended the first conference including, customers, suppliers and union officials.
Step 5: Each night the Axelrod consultants met with the Detroit Edison team to adjust the design of the sessions based on participant feedback and emerging issues.
Step 6: Detroit Edison then conducted a series of walkthrus to share the results of the first conference and gather input from the organization. As a result over 500 people volunteered to attend the second conference. Since the facility could only accommodate 250 people, a lottery was held to determine who would attend the second conference. Over nine hundred people either attended a conference or a walkthru.
Step 7: The purpose of the second three day conference was to identify how to implement the ideas developed in the first conference. Because the Detroit Edison team did not want to impose something extra on an overburdened organization they used current projects that required supply chain emphasis as the basis for this work.
“For years we have said how come they don’t ask us. I do the job. I’m involved with it.But someone is always making decisions for me. Now, I feel that they did ask us and we gave our input. Let’s see if we know what we are talking about!”
- Detroit Edison Employee
Step 8: Today there are over twenty six active supply–chain improvement projects at Detroit Edison, with savings in the millions. Engagement at all levels has replaced withdrawal and lack of interest. And when the Nuclear Division needed to meet the challenges of deregulation, they used a similar process.
“My personal experience is that I enter these processes with one mental model of how things should be, and, as a result of working with others, my mental model shifts to one that is much better than the original. More importantly, I have learned that when people can put their own thumbprint on a change process, there is no need to sell them on the benefits; they own it.” - Joe Aresto, Director Supply Chain Mangagement
The new senior vice president of marketing took over a department that had not had a leader in place for many months. She knew some kind of change was needed. Her organization was growing and changing rapidly, but the department had not evolved. Department employees had collective low self-esteem; work processes were confused, slow, and complex; and a lot of relationships--within the organization and with customers--were not productive.
“I knew we didn't have time to wait for traditional cascading management practices to bring about the changes. Fortunately, the organization brought in the Axelrod Group. Step by step, here's what happened next.“
Step 1: Richard Axelrod, principal of the Axelrod Group, spoke to everyone at once--over 80 people.
Step 2: Dick and Nancy outlined their process to me and then assessed my level of commitment to make sure we agreed about the approach.
“Some parts I was skeptical about, but I knew that our organization needed assistance.”
Step 3: Executing their game plan, the Axelrod Group began by putting together a planning team--midlevel managers within the department to play their role in determining issues, deciding on what kind of exercises would be appropriate.
“Interesting. I thought they would not be able to do it. I was wrong; it was the right approach."
Step 4: The Axelrod Group met with selected managers within the department to get a sense of what the issues were and then met continuously with the planning team and with me.
Step 5: Next, they put together an outline for an offsite large group meeting. We walked through a loose outline of what the two days would be like. Everything was customized for our particular needs.
Step 6: Then our department went offsite. We took the whole group to a conference center an hour from our offices. Shutting down the department and going away from the office made everyone feel that the senior management team thought this process was extremely important.
Step 7: Exercises and talking came next. Although there was an outline for what exercises would be used, Dick and Nan were very flexible. For example, the group came up with some unexpected conclusions and they wanted to change the next exercise to build on the findings. Dick and Nan easily adapted their plan. Everything they did was purposeful. Every exercise led to a conclusion that was a step in the group's self-discovery.
Step 8: Back at the office, we mounted a memento from the
outing--the department history we collaboratively drew on butcher paper. Almost immediately two directors got together and merged their groups. One of the lessons learned from the outing was how the department's dysfunction caused problems. The solution was now
clear to the directors: get together and fix it.
Step 9: The outing released the floodgates to being proactive, and time and again someone came forward with solutions. Everyone also made specific plans when we would reconvene: every quarter we would get together with the whole department.
“The process showed me and everyone else how complex group dynamics are and how dysfunctional everyone was. Those two days took the group to a point that would have taken me months to reach. The outing also led me to make changes in the way I manage. The traditional ways of working through my direct reports (the cascading effect) changed. The entire process taught me how much faster and committed a change can be when everyone's involved.”