SIRF Roundtables Blog

Your Inspiration from an unexpected place - The Vibe and Great Workplace Culture

SIRF Roundtables is Australia's and New Zealand's premier peer to peer learning company with over 250 member companies running over 300 events each year that allow members to share knowledge and experience for the betterment of all.

Looking back on the many great SIRF events held over the years , it is really difficult to single any particular event out as being better than the any of the others. However, one that I think had one of the biggest impacts on me personally was the " Great Workplace Culture - It is all about the Vibe" workshop held at Austube Mills , Somerton, Victoria a few years back. It really was with some trepidation that I approached Craig Mayne, then Production and CI Manager at Austube Mills to see if they would host this event for SIRF . You see, the event was originally scheduled to be run in April in the very week that the plant's closure was decided and announced to all staff. Naturally, the event was resultantly postponed to a later undetermined date.

Plant closure announcements are an unfortunate and relatively all too familiar occurrence in Australian and Victorian manufacturing recently. So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I arrived at Austube Mills in May to discuss the potential new timing with Craig. I did expect to leave their plant that day emotionally impacted - little did I expect however that I would end up leaving uplifted and energised from the compelling story of "The Vibe" journey that Austube Mills had taken. This was a story that other manufacturers must hear.

What then is The Vibe ? and how do you get it ?

It all began a couple of years prior, when at the start of the business planning phase , Brett Perrin ,Austube Mills National Operations Manager challenged the Somerton Lead team to prepare presentations about how they felt about the business and the challenges for the year ahead. It is not common to hear the dreaded F word for "FEELINGS" discussed much in business and certainly about the next years business plan. The Somerton Lead Team took to Brett's challenge with gusto. At the SIRF event, we were privileged to hear Craig give his presentation - which included dash cam video of his typical the drive to work, his favourite music from the Foo Fighters, his family, his colleagues and expression of some anxiety in his new role but also so excitement for the potential for the year ahead. Watching this for the second time at the SIRF event , it was hard not to feel emotionally excited. The positive energy and the bond created from Somerton Lead team sharing their presentations to each other was so positive that they knew that had to take the risk and share some of these also with their production teams.

They held full day separate off site sessions with each of the production crews in which they shared some of the presentations and the business challenges for the year ahead. They asked the crews to document their own concerns, which were written on post it notes on a large whiteboard. They then sorted which of these the solutions were in their control or influence and whether the problems were People, Process or Product. Not uncommonly, the majority of problems were in the People area. The Somerton Austube Mills team were able to work on the critical issues raised to improve the feel and functioning of the workplace.

They also used with their crews the 4 elements of FISH , the famous workings of the Seattle Pike Place Fish Market:

  • PLAY - work can be fun
  • MAKE THEIR DAY - "Make Someone's Day"
  • BE THERE - "Be fully present when engaging with People"
  • CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE - " We have the power to choose our response to what life presents us. If your attitude is not what you want, choose a new one" .

The phrase the "The Vibe" comes from the film The Castle , where the well meaning but out of his depth lawyer Dennis Denuto makes his plea in his final summation:- " it's the constitution, it's the law, its the Vibe and , no that's it, its the vibe. I rest my case". The Vibe is about how you feel about the place. It became part of the vernacular at Austube Mills Somerton , where if someone was displaying behaviours indicating a bad attitude, they could be challenged by their peers " How is your Vibe" “Choose your Attitude” . They gave every employee a baseball cap with "The Vibe" on it . They had a display board where worker would post photos of themselves with the Vibe cap from their travels around Australia and the world. In their plant Daily Management meeting, they would end the meeting with a Vibe contact comment.

All this talk of feelings and culture in the workplace can make some be somewhat uncomfortable. What about the ever important business results ? The reality was that by positively engaging all of their employees in the business , the results took care of themselves as the people took care of the business. Sustained improvements in Safety, Quality and Productivity metrics were achieved without a new specific focus on these elements.

It is sad that a place like Austube Mills Somerton was forced to shut , with its great leadership, people, processes and systems. It is true that you also need to be making the right products in the right market, the right way at the right time. However, even the closure was able to be managed all that better because of "the Vibe" and the good people engagement.

It is however great that 22 people from 12 different companies had the chance at the SIRF August workshop to hear and be inspired by Craig & Brett's presentations on "The Vibe" and to ask questions about it and see some of the outstanding impacts from the Austube Mills site tour. Hopefully, this will help some to create their own Good Vibe in their workplace.


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