Linear or Non Linear Management Style? Tank Storage Awards 2020



What research shows is that our industry is often managed by linear thinking and actions only which makes management styles reactive rather than proactive or preventive. Linear causality means cause and effect thinking, but our industry is too complex to manage by an outdated cause and effect approach only. Linear management depends on written procedures, guidelines, rules or compliance methods to control risk and manage organisations. Younger, highly educated types of managers are recruited, but often lack the needed on the job experience, making communication between the workers and him or her difficult. This often leads to decisions made on incomplete information. (THE MAIN CAUSE OF INCIDENTS and ACCIDENTS)
Non linear management to control complex systems such as our industry uses information as its energy to steer the organisation (system), rather than control or regulate it. Linear management is risky; I’ll give you some examples: Some technical equipment is not working properly. According to the procedure and planning, the next maintenance date is….  Let’s say in a few weeks. Management is prone to wait for that date because the equipment is not considered critical. Another example: operators report on a risky situation; at one of the truck loading bays there is no fall protection available, but trucks load anyway. The manager knows about this, but his clients are sending trucks that need to load there and he is unable to suspend loading due to commercial interests.  A third example taken from my own experience; a mistake is made by an operator, so management sends him to be trained. But the cause was not the mistake of the operator. The cause is: he had been sent into the field without proper preparation, so the mistake was not direct causal (by him) but by the failure or management that did not do what it was supposed to do and that is to be careful. These 3 examples have one thing in common: information was there but was not used whilst complexity was misunderstood and therefore overlooked.
What happens here is crucial to understand: information that is there should be used to correct in real time (immediately). Real time corrections are often postponed or not executed at all. From a scientific view point this is what is happening: the terminal or refinery is spinning out of control. Linear management is simply not enough. Remember the BP Oil Spill in Louisiana? Same causality; information about possible flaws and broken equipment was ignored. What if a manager does not understand what the operations are doing? Again it is the lack of information…
So we have created a scientifically sound training program for managers and supervisors to learn how to manage their operations using non linear thinking and understand the uncertainty principle. We teach them information theory, systems thinking and cybernetics and explain their scientific bases during the course. They will learn to look at relationships, interdependence of all the workers and stakeholders, their information and interconnectedness. The program also addresses sustainability issues, psychological biases and focuses on how to improve communication, cooperation and conversation. It certainly enhances sustainable and  responsible, safer management, because all relevant information is used all the time.
TTT has been training people worldwide for the last 10 years. Our team worked as an operator, sailor,loading master, captain or manager many years and are always learning. The risk is that managers believe that they already know, so they stopped learning. This behaviour is very risky indeed. Epictetus told us 2000 years ago that 'a man can’t learn what he thinks he already knows.'

This text was written to enter the 2020 Tank Storage Awards in the category Tank Terminal Optimisation. 


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