Interdepartmental Communication Case Study

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  • Ascó Nuclear Power Plant

    Ascó Nuclear Power Plant is a facility located in northeastern Spain that has been in operation since 1983. The plant, which is owned and operated by the Asociacion Nuclear Asco-Vandellos II A.I.E. (ANAV), a joint venture of Spanish utility firms Endesa Generación SA and Iberdrola Generación SA, is capable of producing 2,000 Megawatts of electricity via its two reactor units – enough to provide power to approximately two million residential customers. As of 2014, it is one of five active nuclear power plants in the country.


    In the spring of 2008 it was discovered that the Ascó Nuclear Power Plant in Catalonia, Spain had been unknowingly leaking radioactive particles into the surrounding environment for several months. The incident, which was not detected until radioactive iron from the plant was found at a local recycling plant, led to an investigation by both the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that resulted in replacing the plant’s manager and tight new regulatory oversight of the facility. Following the investigation, the plant owner was fined EUR 15.4 million (U.S. $21.2 million) for six violations of international nuclear safety regulations. The incident was rated a “2” on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES), which ranks nuclear facility accidents from “0” (no safety significance) to “7” (a major disaster with widespread environmental and health effects on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 2011 plant leak in Fukushima, Japan.)

    Client Objectives

    In the course of the resulting assessment of working conditions at the plant, it was determined that the Ascó plant was suffering from a poor nuclear safety culture and a poor working culture in general, both of which had indirectly contributed to the incident. In particular, the overall culture at the facility was dominated by passive behavior patterns, from both leadership and front-line workers, that didn’t encourage the questioning of decisions or open dialogue regarding nuclear safety protocols.

    Passive/Defensive1 cultures, members feel pressured to think and behave in ways that are inconsistent with the way they believe they should in order to be effective. People are expected to please others (particularly superiors) and avoid interpersonal conflict. Rules and procedures are followed without question and challenge. Passive/Defensive cultures experience a lot of unresolved conflict and turnover, and organizational members report lower levels of motivation and satisfaction.

    Plant management wanted to nurture a more proactive Constructive1 working environment to create more accountability for nuclear safety and generate a feeling of ownership among all workers at the plant. Organizations with Constructive cultures encourage members to work to their full potential, resulting in high levels of motivation, satisfaction, teamwork, work quality, and continuous improvement. Constructive norms are evident in environments where quality is valued over quantity, creativity is valued over conformity, cooperation is believed to lead to better results than competition, and effectiveness is judged at the system level rather than the component level. These types of cultural norms create an environment where employees are highly focused and responsible for safety.


    The senior leadership team identified five lines of action for the plant, all of which were addressed concurrently as part of the overall nuclear safety cultural recovery plan. In addition, they solicited our support to develop an initiative to shift the overall culture from a passive state to a constructive state.

    The five lines of action were designed to solidify the plant’s safety policies, increase worker supervision, as well as supervisor skills, clarify a formal decision-making process to address plant nuclear safety challenges, improve teamwork and interdepartmental communications processes, and develop a simplified Problem Identification and Resolution (PI&R) process to better address performance deficiencies. In our view, repairing the general working culture at the plant was critical to achieving and sustaining a strong nuclear safety culture and preventing future incidents.

    With the high-level goal of unfreezing passive behaviors and moving to more a constructive culture, we helped the leadership team define and implement a plan to shift the culture. The overall objectives of the program were to:


    • Create accountability for nuclear safety among both front-line workers and leadership.
    • Promote a more proactive attitude among those working at the plant.
    • Support an effective Problem Identification and Resolution program.
    • Generate a feeling of ownership at all levels.
    • Promote a culture that supports the questioning of decisions and open dialogue.
    • Foster teamwork and communication, both between workers and managers and between departments.


    Culture Changing Initiatives:

    In order to achieve these objectives, we collaborated with senior leadership to create a program that was centered around five “Levers for Culture Change”:

    Leadership Alignment:

    Our program included a 3-day leadership intensive for all levels of plant and support managers that included behavior-based feedback, professional and peer-to-peer coaching, senior leadership alignment sessions and hypothetical problem solving scenarios. The goal was to ensure that all leadership employees were aligned with the new cultural mandates at the plant and understood what was being done and why. We later followed up this 3-day intensive with two 1-day sessions with the same group to reinforce behavior change and complete additional skill building, along with providing onsite professional coaching for middle managers and above.

    Organizational Alignment:

    From there, leadership developed new cultural expectations to be shared across the organization so that everyone, from the C-suite to the plant floor, would be aligned and understand the organization’s goals and behavioral expectations. This program introduced a cascading commitment assessment along with sessions designed to improve interdepartmental relations.

    The organizational alignment initiative consisted of several programs.

    1.  A series of “philosophy” alignment sessions with the senior management team at the plant.
    2. Cascaded commitment assessment.
    3. Interdepartmental teams to breakdown barriers between departments and strengthen teamwork.
    4. Delivery of culture assessments results to each department and subsequent development of action plans to improve culture within the department.
    5. Organizational Development (OD) assessments of key departments and facilitated action planning to improve overall department performance.
    6. Follow-up OD support for reorganizing some departments and strengthening intra-department teamwork.
    7. Engagement of contract support groups to develop culture change programs across their departments that provided service to the plant.
    Goal Setting:

    A lack of clear organizational and departmental goals and a lack of a robust Goal Setting Process were identified as a weakness and key contributor to the passive culture. We worked with the leadership team to strengthen their goal setting process, focusing on those that were specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (aka SMART goals), and to cascade the goals to all front-line employees using “Know Your Role in the Goals.”

    Vertical Communication:

    The Ascó plant had previously suffered from poor leadership-to-worker communications, leading many employees at the facility to feel disconnected from the larger organizational goals. To remedy this, we collaborated with plant leadership to establish several internal communication processes aimed at opening up a dialogue between management and their workers. This included a new daily briefing on activities and performance at the plant, a weekly summary of those topics, and a monthly magazine that examines the future of the organization. We also helped management implement a Vertical Communication Process designed to prevent such disconnects from developing again in the future.

    Employee Alignment:

    Once leadership was aligned and management had shared the new cultural expectations with the front-line workers, we designed and delivered a three-day session for all Asociacion Nuclear Asco-Vandellos (ANAV) employees that focused on aligning and engaging the entire organization. We also helped the leadership team design and implement a “Managers in the Field” program to train managers on how to effectively provide real-time coaching and employee mentoring.



    Ephektiv worked with the Ascó Nuclear Power Plant between September 2009 and May of 2012 and in that time they saw a number of measurable improvements. Most importantly, the plant moved from being a bottom quartile performer (fourth quartile) to a first quartile performer versus its peers over the course of the plant’s two and one half-year culture change program. The rankings, which are compiled annually for every nuclear power plant in the world by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), take into account everything from the availability of safety systems, to total plant capacity, to reactor risk factors, and more. Each plant’s score in this survey is known as its WANO Index Score. In addition, the plant successfully shifted its passive culture to a constructive culture, achieving one of the strongest constructive cultures within the industry.

    Following the program, an independent third party conducted a formal Nuclear Culture Assessment at the Ascó plant and found significant improvements across the board, including: mproved use of and confidence in the plant’s Corrective Action Program (CAP), which grades nuclear plant deficiencies in terms of risk and tracks ensuing improvement actions until the problem is fixed. Prior to our work, the previous CAP system was not being widely used.

    • More attention to nuclear safety across the organization with risk-minimizing principles of Conservative Decision Making being observed.
    • Increased coordination across the organization and a new level of interdepartmental teamwork.
    • Better access to human resources services.
    • A decrease in passive attitudes and increase in constructive methods.
    • A strong level of commitment to nuclear safety.
    • A significant improvement in peer-to-peer employee coaching and support.

    Other notable improvements included:

    • Uninterrupted breaker-to-breaker runs at the Ascó plant for the first time ever, meaning the reactors were up and running for one full year straight between scheduled maintenance shutdowns.
    • Refueling outages that completed required maintenance and fully met schedule and budget goals.
    • Moved from bottom decile to second quartile performance when compared to peers.
    • Performance improvement
    • For the first time in many years Ascó had no degraded regulatory nuclear safety conditions as assessed by the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear, CSN.



    Nuclear organizations are leveraging the best technologies and processes to achieve safe, reliable performance. However, like many other organizations, their employees can lose sight of the company’s strategic objectives, and their culture is not promoting the level of engagement and collaboration required for high achievement, safety and sustained success.

    It does not matter where in the world an organization using nuclear technology is located, as they all require the entire workforce to be committed and responsible for protecting the energy source and all resulting byproducts. There are at least three necessary layers of culture that result in safe operations within the nuclear industry: a culture of responsibility and ownership for nuclear safety, a safety conscious work environment where it is safe to speak up, and the general culture. The general culture can either enable or limit the other two. Both Ephektiv’s research and the industry’s research show that a Constructive general culture maximizes the effectiveness of the other two cultural layers and results in long-term safe operational excellence. Further, these same cultural attributes are strongly linked to excellent industrial safety outcomes.

    Building or shifting culture is a strategic imperative that supports an organization to realize the expected gains from performance improvement efforts and long-term successful performance. When leadership fully understands the organization’s culture and actively shapes it, it becomes the force multiplier in the performance equation.

    To fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s culture and to learn how you can implement a plan to shift it into a strategic advantage contact Ephektiv at 303.832.7606 or

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