- Paperback: 286 pages
- Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (August 1, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1576753905
- ISBN-13: 978-1576753903
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story
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About the Author
Kim S. Cameron is Professor of management and organizations at Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business and Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education at the University of Michigan. Dr. Cameron's past research on organizational downsizing, effectiveness, quality culture, and the development of management leadership skills has been published in more than 80 articles and eight books.
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Top customer reviews
A key selling feature of "Making the Impossible Possible" as a case study of success is a prior Dept of Energy (DOE) estimate that it would take 70 years and $36 billion to do that task (and some contemporary press report suggest costs could have been as high as a staggering $400 billion). In fact this was achieved in 10 years and (just!) $6 billion. In some senses this book is more about the strangling inefficiency of government bureaucracies and the benefits of moving to a more objectives/results orientated approach. In many ways the contractors `merely' beat a grossly overinflated estimate.
The authors introduce the concept of a `competing values framework' that they use to structure their analysis. Chapter 9 summarises 21 leadership principles. They are articulated both `conventionally' and in terms of `abundance' philosophy. The latter is a key theme throughout the book with a laudable emphasis on positive, proactive improvement focused leadership and long term development. Neither the framework or the concept of abundance seem to have been consciously used by the management at Rocky Flats during the project. I was left with the strong impression that this was a hypothesis that the authors looked for a case study to prove.
Change was easier at Rocky Flats because it was possible to re-bid the contract to manage the facility, so although many personnel transitioned to the new contractor, it was possible to introduce a step change in management philosophy, style and objective, while breaking with past baggage. However, what is remarkable, is that the contractor, actually managed to motivate `turkeys to vote for Christmas' in so far that the employees at the site (often the second or even third generation of their families to work at the plant) worked hard to clean-up and close their facility (their source of employment). Equally the new contractor, Kaiser-Hill (now a subsidiary of CH2M Hill) happily worked themselves out of a large contract, no doubt partly due to the contract being correctly incentivised by DOE and also because the step-change in performance would stand then in good stead for similar vast projects. Kaiser-Hill had little experience of this type of task, something that the authors make light of, but their sub-contractors (which included Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox Company and BNFL) certainly did, though their specific roles are not identified in the book. One can't help suspecting that this omission may have been because the authors are attracted to the `you can do anything if you put your mind to it' ethos (which is undermined by experience specialist sub-contractors) - another example of `abundance' thinking.
This book uses the fabulous performance and success of cleaning up the Rocky Flats plutonium processing facilities as a real life example of Positive Deviance - of performing from Abundance rather than trying to manage performance by monitoring mistakes and poor performance. With the end of the Cold War and changes in America's nuclear program, several facilities that had been deemed vital (despite the intense environmental issues surrounding the processing of radioactive materials and building them into weapons) were now closed and had to be cleaned up. The original projections for Rocky Flats planned for 70 years and $36 billion.
Instead, the team at Rocky Flats went through an internal process that took hold of Abundance and Positive Deviance. They dismantled the 800 buildings and cleaned the site in 10 years and for $6 billion. No other DOE facility cleanup has approached this performance.
In telling this story the authors did several things right. First, they give us an overview of what the issues are - so you can begin to develop your own questions and challenges to the incredible story they are tell us. They then give us an overview of what Positive Organizational Scholarship and Abundance are about and what the literature shows us. And in telling the story of Rock Flats they use the words of the participants. This adds a great deal to the richness and depth of perspective into the way work happened and how it changed over time.
Another way the authors help us understand the complex story of Rocky Flats is using the Competing Values model that was developed by Cameron and Quinn. It provides a means for analyzing the various cultural styles in the work place and how the level of success shown in Rocky Flats requires a paradoxical style. That is, it requires creativity and a free enough structure to innovate while at the same time requiring careful monitoring and measurement. There are many paradoxes that have to be managed in something as large and as complex as this cleanup.
Along the way they raise several alternative views that could explain away the success of this mammoth project. With careful examination, it becomes very hard to give them much weight. Other views are also presented in Appendix 1. That the authors are so open about other possibilities for the success or that it is all an illusion I think strengthens their case.
For me, the biggest reward came in chapter 9 when everything discussed previously is brought together in a very practical way. The reader is given a very practical explanation of the principles learned from this project and how to apply them in one's own work.
So, do yourself a favor and open your mind to approaching work from the Abundance model rather than trying to find success by avoiding mistakes. It is not only a more successful way to work, it is a lot more fun and better for everyone around you.