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Situational Leadership Helps Windsor Frozen Foods Contain Flood Damage

Recently hurricanes ran through parts of Florida and up the Eastern seaboard, and the Windsor Frozen Foods (WFF) plant in Bloomsburg, Pa. saw heavy rains, which caused the nearby Susquehanna River to flood its banks. Despite floodgates and other preventat

November 3, 2004
Related Topics: Blended Learning, E-Learning, Learning Delivery
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"Any time that we have any type of a pending disaster, we have what's called a crisis management plan, and what that does is outline exactly whose in charge of what task at any given time," said Marsha Sherman, human resources manager, Windsor Frozen Foods. "When you have that on paper, it's not always tried and tested, and you don't know how effective that's going to be. Our crisis management plan has a command leader, myself, listed on the paper, but I'd never been through a flood. I don't handle maintenance so it doesn't really seem like I would be the best choice in reference to a flood disaster like we had. (Plant Director) Howard said, how can we put Ninth House training to use with our disaster and really handle it the way that it should be."

As plant director of Windsor Frozen Foods, Howard Tufel was tasked with identifying those employees with former experience in flood disaster recovery who would be able to take on and exercise active leadership roles in the company's emergency efforts.

"We got in here on a Saturday morning, and we knew it could be a possible disaster," Tufel said. "About 9 o'clock, it was going to be a disaster so we circled the wagons and called everybody in. I sat with Marsha, and we came up with our game plan or strategy. We had eight to 10 hours before we had to evacuate the facility. It couldn't be an empirical approach of 'You do this, you do that.' We had to rely on the expertise within the facility and use this Ninth House approach, which all of our folks have been trained in."

The Ninth House Situational Leadership II training course is delivered via a blended learning approach containing e-learning, classroom training and Web-driven content reinforcement. The Situational Leadership II course differentiates between four employee development levels, leadership or management styles and offers learners different criteria and standards for each style to help identify strengths and weaknesses to aid effective placement within an organization, all of which was critical in an emergency situation where quick, accurate delegation of authority is essential.

"The last flood, it took them a week to get up and running in production. It took us three days this time," Sherman said, crediting Situational Leadership II with the company's successful salvage and cleanup operations.

"We let each area of expertise do their job with a limited amount of direction," Tufel said. Those areas of expertise include logistics, operational shutdown, communications and safety issues. "We packed up the human resources department, put it in a rental truck and drove it to high ground. We packed up three trailers with our equipment and drove it to high ground. I had to rely on all those folks to be at the level that you're taught in the situational management techniques by Ninth House."

Products had to be moved from the plant's lower rack levels and loaded onto a dozen trucks so that when water came into the facility, the lower levels were completely empty. Computers and valuable human resource files were moved onto the second floor. "This is not a small facility," Tufel said. "So it was quite a process, mobilizing these teams and making sure that the people we decided could direct different parts of this thing were actually doing those functions."

Around 10 hours of cleverly organized labor resulted in overall damages totaling approximately $200,000, a substantial amount, but not nearly as hefty as it could have been. "There was an outside warehouse that we basically wrote off, that took on six feet of water," Tufel said. "We lost a lot of packaging, but that's the lowest-value item, and some snow removal and processing equipment that we have here. Coming back in is where the biggest expenditure was. We spent about $60,000 total in labor."

Situational Leadership II also came in handy after immediate crisis concerns had been addressed and averted. "Once we were off the property, and we couldn't even get near it, we had to find alternative meeting places," Sherman said. "That's when Ninth House came into place because you had to set up your guidelines who was going to be in the building because with all the electrical, you had a very unsafe building. You didn't know what you were walking into."

Identifying the right people to go into the plant and take appropriate precautions to ensure no one was hurt was important. "You're talking about putting a plant in a complete down phase. We shut everything off, including all the electricity when we walked away from here. We abandoned ship completely," Tufel said.

The efforts of roughly 20 leaders helped save the jobs of WFF's 180 employees. Many of the management team who acted so capably during the flood were initially skeptical of the Ninth House course's effectiveness. Tufel said the team had experienced many different types of management systems and training prior to their introduction to Situational Leadership II. "Now that we've been through some of these different events, they're really learning to accept this process, this technique and embrace this approach," Tufel said.

Course feedback has been strong and positive. "We have rolled that (learning) out to our next level, our team leaders," Sherman said. "It's getting all levels involved in this and understanding that this is definitely here to stay and is really easy to use once you get into the system. It does help identify what training level everybody is on and what they need to improve."

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