Delivering high performance in the nuclear sector
The nuclear industry is arguably the world’s most challenging business sector where the demands upon companies and the issues they face are more acute because of the nature of the work being undertaken and the high profile of the sector itself.
Companies operating in this sector – from SMEs to multi nationals and corporate partnerships – must deliver high performance and are often called upon not simply to demonstrate outstanding technical capability, but also extraordinary levels of collaboration and team working.
Acorn has enjoyed a long association with companies working in the nuclear sector and in particular on various elements of the huge Sellafield decommissioning project. Broad recognition of the value of that work has forged strong relationships with key players.
The scope of Acorn’s involvement spans senior leadership coaching, improving the performance of project teams from the bid stage through to delivery, talent management embracing mid-level managers and graduates, and enabling more effective team working, particularly in multi-discipline collaborations and joint ventures.
The Evaporator D project at Sellafield in Cumbria is the biggest nuclear project currently under way in the UK, and is being delivered through a unique modular vision involving off-site manufacturing and on site construction and commissioning. The 11 modules vary in size from 100 tonnes to over 500 tonnes and the project will include more than 21 kilometres of pipework and over 10,000 specialist welds.
Evaporator D will maintain Sellafield's ability to process spent nuclear fuel by providing capacity to evaporate water reducing the volume of waste by a factor of 20.
In a complex and challenging project of this scale and duration it is vital to maintain effective team working, especially when the project requires close collaboration between team members from different companies.
Opportunities were identified to enhance that team working and Acorn was asked to assist. The outcome from Acorn’s intervention has been closer working relationships between team members from the companies involved and a renewed commitment to achieving progress targets and collaboration to overcome issues.
Acorn has also supported the joint venture team tasked with managing the retrieval of highly radioactive materials from the cooling pond in the centre of building B30 at Sellafield, an extremely sensitive legacy from Britain’s rapid post-war nuclear expansion.
The project presents a range of engineering and safety challenges. Acorn was engaged at a crucial stage when the major hurdles were establishing a realistic cost, and producing a schedule that was acceptable to all the stakeholders. Consequently, one of the initial aims for the project was to support the development of a cohesive team to progress this extensive planning and development phase.
Steve Gee led the involvement by Acorn. He first worked with the senior managers on the project, representing each of the stakeholders to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the various skill sets and different cultural backgrounds within each partner organisation. He then undertook activities with more than 20 members of the middle tier of management designed to build constructive relationships and facilitate seamless working to more effectively progress the project.
Steve explains: “Acorn is frequently involved in the early stages of joint venture and partnership projects which bring together various skill sets and business cultures. We have enjoyed considerable success in helping the various participants to begin to see themselves as a single team and to behave accordingly.”
The success resulting from that activity has recently led to Acorn consulting on the introduction of improvements to working practices across the Sellafield site. The aim is to encourage more co-ordinated use of resources to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
A vital element is that the teams involved in individual projects benefit from a wider view of what is happening elsewhere within Sellafield, to ensure their activities do not cut across those of other project teams. The new process will initially be introduced on the B30 project.
The expertise offered by Acorn has also been employed raising the performance of teams and ensuring the right people are in place to sustain that performance in the long term. This has been of particular value to specialist SME companies, which must ensure continuity through succession planning.
Trevor Craig is one of three directors who created REACT Engineering, a specialist company delivering strategic, engineering and project management solutions to the challenges faced by the UK nuclear industry in decommissioning, waste management and asset care.
Acorn has supported REACT on succession planning, senior team coaching and development, and talent management to make the most of the graduates and young engineers recruited into the business.
Trevor explains: “One of the things that impressed us most about Acorn was the way in which they immediately connected with our business. We recognised that to build on our success and take advantage of emerging opportunities, we had to create a structure for succession planning to develop the best candidates from REACT’s dynamic, highly qualified and experienced engineering team, and bring in new talent to strengthen the team.
“We are committed to growing our own talent. That means attracting graduates and young engineers into the business – often capturing their interest before university. But once they have joined us we need to ensure they are coached and trained to embrace management skills, team working and client management capabilities alongside their creativity and technical skills. That’s another area where Acorn has proved immensely useful
NSG Environmental Ltd is another specialist in the nuclear decommissioning and waste management sector which has benefited from support provided by Acorn in developing the leadership capability within the company, and improving the effectiveness of the senior management team.
Managing Director John Morris, one of three executive directors within the business, explains: “We have a hugely talented team within NSG including managers, scientists and engineers and they demonstrate outstanding competence in developing and delivering solutions for our client companies and partners. However, we needed to grow the leaders of the future to ensure our success continues in increasingly competitive markets.”
Acorn provided Team Coaching to assist the three senior directors to align their thinking and look strategically at the business, while identifying the leadership behaviours and competencies required to meet the short to medium term needs of the business.
A development centre designed to identify talented individuals capable of taking the business forward gave the directors a clearer objective perception of future talent within the business, and Acorn created a coaching capability to continue development of that future leadership talent and assist strategic development.
Acorn director Keith Longney says: “Our experience and long term involvement with companies in the nuclear sector equips us with a unique insight into the demands, pressures and priorities, and that informs our offering. We don’t pretend to know everything about the sector but we can bring an inherent understanding which, coupled with our pragmatic approach to enhancing performance means our clients can be confident of added value and a positive outcome.”