Nucor: Helping Others Develop Systems Savvy
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 5 of their story and how we can see systems savvy woven into their tightly aligned practices (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). In the last post I noted that Dan Krug, Director of Human Resources at Nucor, makes clear that Nucor starts at the recruiting process in terms of thinking about people as well as technology and organizational practice. He said, "We are good at assessing people: whether you're 22 or 62, [we assess] in terms of the level of responsibility you'll own, whether you trust people, and what you think is possible.” Nucor-style transparency also begins during recruiting. In their on-campus interviews for new college grads, they work hard to communicate the expectations. They also bring people into the plants. "Line leaders do the recruiting and tell them how it is." Then the offers are "not leadership development jobs, but real jobs." Nucor, like many of the companies with deep systems savvy roots, believes in learning by doing. I asked Dan how people come to know the Nucor way: "The classroom is not a good place to learn about how Nucor operates." He said that safety and technology basics are taught in the classroom before the new hires suit up, but then, "after a week or two, the team is responsible for helping you learn. [The] best learning is on the shop floor. The team has a vested interest." What the new hires are doing in those first weeks is learning from their teammates. They see how they tackle issues . . . what happens when they fail. Dan notes, "Until they see it and watch happen, it's hard to participate in the culture." Doyle Hopper (General Manager of Nucor's Vulcraft plant described in Part 2) said this about his personal experience (I'd asked him if he were surprised by how things worked at Nucor):
Honestly, no. I grew up on a farm . . . family business. Family was high on work ethic. If you don't work, you don't play. Nobody's going to do it for you. Don't expect people to owe you. If you want to be better, figure out a way.When Doyle decided farming wasn't the road he wanted to take, he interviewed with Nucor. In 1993 Nucor/Yamata offered him the "lowest position you could have. Nucor took a chance. I was fortunate to work for some great people who had the same work ethic and values." He described learning from those around him:
That's the thing about Nucor, it's all team driven. If you're not pulling your weight people will let you know. One person's lack of hard work can hurt the whole team.Doyle suggests that people dig in and learn from those with the experience. "Find the network that is successful in the area where you're not." Maintenance was his background and though he wasn’t an electrician, he ran a successful maintenance program with a lot of electrical components. He didn't know a lot, but knew people who did. "That's what Nucor is teaching. You don't have to be an expert, but you do have to be driving towards learning and improvement . . . with humility. Don't let pride stand in the way of your success." Driving towards learning and improvement -- across all of technology, organizational practice, and people – wherever others have experience and you do not. I had the chance to ask Doyle and Dirk Petersen (General Manager of the Nucor Steel plant in the Norfolk area, described in Part 3) about learning related to dealing with the Norfolk flood. I asked Dirk if the challenge had made anyone standout with their leadership capabilities. The general reply was no, these folks handle challenges all the time. He did mention that the shipping supervisor had only been in his job for two weeks -- and this was a critical job given the transloading focus following the flood. Dirk had told him, "If you can do this, you can do anything." Dirk described how even though the shipping supervisor was new, his past experience in Nucor and the strength of the whole shipping team gave him the foundation to succeed. "This really was a challenge, but his team came together and helped him. They made good decisions. He came from a [Nucor] division where they had the same can do attitude. Asked a lot of questions and got it done." Doyle also had the opinion that this challenge wasn't all that special given the overall focus Nucor has on learning by doing:
We had a couple of folks who rose to the top. Took on the challenge and ran with it. Good folks. We'd seen them, but they really stepped it up to another level. Honestly, I was blown away. But that happens not just when there's a challenge. Day to day -- the level of thinking and ownership.Learning by doing, and learning by doing across a range of work, forces you to confront the need for systems savvy management -- even if you aren't calling it that. The work itself will highlight the missing links if you aren't considering all three of the technology, organization, and people dimensions. Nucor allows people to learn by doing and understand that there will be failures. Doyle gave me the short version of how to succeed: "Hire the right people. Trust them. Empower. If they mess up, you don't kill them, learn and go on."