Tarong Station –vs– Stanwell StationPosted on January 1st, 1995 by Paul McArdle – 5 Comments
Within 4 years of leaving uni, I had the opportunity to experience, for myself, two distinctly different management philosophies.
About Tarong Power Station
I started work with the QEC on an Engineering Development Scheme.
One of the main principles of this was that the engineers would spend about 18 months at various locations, and be rotated through various roles, in order to gain a broader experience.
Hence, for my first placement, I was sent off to Tarong Station (in 1992), which had been commissioned in the 1980s, and was operating as a base load station, and with extremely high availability at the time (average station availability 95% or so).
So they must have been doing something right (not that I even had the capacity to think that at the time)!
My understanding is that the station had been subjected to a battery of Value Management studies during the design, construction and commissioning stages that contributed, in a big way (though this is only an outsider’s view) to the outstanding headline performance at the station.
In benchmarking that the QEC/QEGB had done at the time, it showed that the Tarong Station was ranked amongst the top power stations around the world in a number of key indices.
For me, as a graduate engineer, the placement at Tarong really opened my eyes about how much there was to be learnt (and was one step towards a commitment to Life-Long Learning for me).
About Stanwell Power Station
After a bit of a detour to Gladstone Power Station to work on the sale process in parts of 1993 and 1994, I headed to Stanwell Power station for my second official placement.
At the time (late 1993, I think) Stanwell had one unit operational (I think) and another under commissioning.
My first, and most enduring impression was how radically different the culture had been to what I had experienced at Tarong (and Gladstone & Head Office in Brisbane, for that matter).
Whereas Tarong had been (when I arrived) a steady-running ship and it was “steady as she goes, captain!” – at Stanwell, it was “all hands on deck” as the operations staff had to deal with one operational unit, one being handed over, and more to come in quick succession.
On top of this, the workforce at Tarong had been in place, and was fairly stable, for some years – whereas the workforce in Stanwell was much reduced in numbers (one of the key drivers in the station construction) and generally younger and less experienced.
It’s impossible to do any kind of justice to a real comparison of the two different organisations in a simple blog post.
I’m not a management consultant – but if I were, I know I would charge you many $10,000s to produce a glossy report, then pick your brains and tell you what you already know (and add in a few pretty pictures for your viewing pleasure).
The best I can do, for now, is to note:
1) At Tarong (at least when I was there) it seemed to be an organisation leaning towards Taylor’s view of the world.
Perhaps this was possible (indeed, necessary?) because of where Tarong was at in its life-cycle.
2) In contrast, Stanwell definitely leaned away from the Taylor view and even beyond Deming’s view of the world.
This was due (at least in part) to factors such as a new site, new plant, new staff, greatly reduced numbers (which necessitated more cross-functional teams etc)
However, it was certainly also a result of the personal philosophy of the senior management team onsite at the station. For further insight, you might want to check out Ted Scott’s blog (he was manager at the station at the time, and later became inaugural CEO of Stanwell Corporation).
As one example - the station sent a number of employees to a seminar in Brisbane at which Ricardo Semler was speaking (I did not go, but somehow ended up with his book)
Next Placement – International
Following from my stay at Stanwell, I pretty much left straight away for the international experiences of my ES Cornwall Scholarship.
These experiences, as well, reinforced a diversity of management philosophies and styles (and the good bits and bad bits of each).
Two main conclusions
In summary, it seemed to me as a result that:
1) It’s “horses for courses”:
(a) Where you operate in an environment that’s fairly static, and there are no surprises (and, importantly, not many unknowns) it is possible to adopt a more “command and control” orientation to management. Indeed, in these circumstances, you could well achieve higher efficiencies as a result.
(b) However, when there is a large degree of uncertainty (in terms of the problems you are solving and/or the market you are in) you need everyone fully engaged – and your focus is more on effectiveness, rather than efficiency.
2) People generally are pre-disposed to working one way or another.
(a) Whilst it is possible for someone to operate in a mode at odds with their underlying view of the world for a certain length of time (e.g. 18 months on a development scheme), ultimately the conflict does affect the quality of enjoyment at work, hence productivity, etc….
(b) Hence it’s best for both sides if employees work out what type of person they are, and choose their employers accordingly.