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Turning things around at Oskarshamn

Jan Karjalainen, Acting Managing Director at OKG AB, is part of the senior management team at Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, a three-unit site operated by Sydkraft Nuclear Power. Here he explains to Inside WANO how his plant dramatically improved its performance over the past five years.
After two years of intense final effort to salvage the situation, the decision was made to permanently shut down operations for units 1 and 2 at Oskarshamn. Even if all evidence had pointed to the fact that this decision was coming, it still felt as a shock. Despite this, we moved swiftly towards acceptance and reorientation.
This then meant it was time to set the pre-planned communication platform into action and step up and guide the organisation during these difficult moments.

In this article, I explain what we did to overcome our serious challenge of facing a permanent shutdown of two units. We went from the possibility that we would need to make a significant number of loyal and committed employees redundant - to the situation today with unit 3 operating well, where we can walk proudly through the local community with our heads held up high.

It was autumn in 2015. After a long and diligent review of profitability, the decision to permanently shut down finally came. But what to do next? We set ourselves the task to create a strong, relevant and tangible vision and imagined ourselves 10 years into the future. This was discussed at length, but the central message became evident when an aerial picture was virtually transformed in front of our eyes to a single site with two new green fields covering the two older units. There it was - our new future.

With this new picture firmly in the minds of the senior management team, we set out to communicate and align the organisation to this new reality. We agreed on a few principles, including transparent communication and not holding back on inconvenient truths or other necessary changes. 

We were present and available to meet our employees face to face by, for instance, setting up dialogue stations on the site and taking turns to answer questions and listen to concerns. 

I personally spent over 30% of my time out in the field meeting our employees. It was a tough period for us all, but it enhanced our credibility and increased trust between managers and employees overall.

Having a clear vision and direction, including the understanding of “why”, enabled the entire organisation to pitch in and to work together as one. The organisation was focused and aligned towards a common goal, working with the Lean Six Sigma methodology to improve operational performance.  

Continuous improvement helped in driving and supporting us towards our goal by emphasising engagement by utilising visual boards, standing together and delivering performance management.  

In relation to the bottom line, in four years we achieved several production records and steadily increasing availability, with no SCRAMs since 2016, and our leadership index continuously improved from 60 to 70. 
During this period we had a reduction of staff by 40%, of consultants by 80% and of production costs by 40%, resulting in a complete reorganisation of the company.

Finally, the independent yearly nuclear safety assessment by our regulator improved during this same period. 

There were a few key contributors for our turnaround. The main success factors were top management alignment, management visibility and presence at all levels, and transparent continuous communication. Key to this was a strong compelling narrative about the future of the plant that created a sense of urgency. Furthermore each transformation step was very well planned, prepared and communicated in advance, with a continuous focus on risk management and implementing measures to mitigate any risks. 

In conclusion, the difference between success and failure is often marginal. It was down to all our staff’s relentless engagement and continued efforts to improve that turned my plant’s fortunes around.