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This post leverages a case study format, modeled after The Hippo Show, to apply the lessons about breaking down silos. It will include several episodes, Q&A sessions with the characters, and reader-directed coaching.  You will want to download The Ultimate Guide to Breaking Down Silos to get the most out of this experience.  Read How to Leverage Case Study Episodes for additional information.

Case Study Background

Bill is the General Manager of a distribution center in Smyrna, TN. He has been in this position for approximately 3 months. The distribution center has suffered from mediocre performance and high turnover. Bill was brought in to improve performance.

Jack is the Safety Manager.

The following interaction took place in March.

“Show me,” demanded Bill.

He followed Jack onto the floor and towards the Hazmat section. A subtle yet pungent smell became noticeable as they walked closer.  Jack stopped when they reached the door and handed Bill a breathing apparatus. “You’re going to need this.”

“I thought you said you cleaned it up already?” Bill snapped.

“I did,” replied Jack calmly. “But it’s going to take a few hours before the air is good enough to breathe again.”

Bill nodded and placed the mask over his head.

Bill continued through the door, leaving Jack behind him and continued until he turned the corner on the second row.

His hairy eyebrows rose and his wrinkles became more defined as frustration gripped him.

There before them was a large oval-shaped patch on the ground approximately 4’ in diameter at its widest point. The ground was covered by spill absorbent compound.

“How the hell could this happen? I mean, Jack, safety is your job. How could this happen? This is the type of thing that can kill performance for days.” Bill said through his mask.

Jack opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it.

Bill walked forward and examined the scene more closely. Suddenly, his face became red. “What are these broken pallet pieces? Did one of the pallets break? Is that what caused this?” He turned and stared down Jack.

“Yes. One of the workers was moving a container of acid onto a pallet. He told me that he tripped over the broken pieces and the acid container dropped to the ground and landed several feet away.”

“And the container broke apart?” asked Bill surprisingly. “That seems unlikely, Jack.”

“Not from the fall, no. But the container slid several feet away and was run over by a forklift that was coming down the aisle in the other direction. It was a freak accident,” continued Jack.

“One that could have easily been avoided,” replied Bill who could clearly be heard through his mask. “Why do you think I’ve been harping on keeping things clean?”

“I know,” replied Jack. “I’ve been harping on the same things, but no one would listen to me!”

“Well, they’re going to listen now,” thundered Bill as he walked towards the door.

After they exited the hazmat area and removed their masks, Bill asked, “Did anyone get hurt?”

“No, thankfully,” replied Jack. “They knew enough to leave the area immediately. They called me and I came in. When they told me what happened, I called you, got together the spill equipment, and cleaned it up. But we need to repair that floor before we can use that section again.”

Bill sighed.

“OK, thanks for calling me and acting so quickly. This cannot happen again. I want you to organize a mandatory meeting tomorrow for every manager and shift leader in the building.” Bill demanded.

“You got it,” replied Jack.

“You need to call someone to inspect and repair the floor first thing in the morning.”

“I’m already on it,” Jack said as he looked at his watch, “I’ll call a contractor I know to come in and give us an estimate.”

“Good,” replied Bill. “Call me immediately when they get in. I want to talk to them as well. If it’s reasonable I want to get them started right away.”


“By the way, Jack. Why do we even store acid like that?”

“It’s a new customer segment the company is targeting. Manufacturers of household and industrial goods. It’s a very small part of our inventory, but it takes some special handling.”

“Wonderful,” replied Bill. “I’m going home to bed. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said as he walked towards the exit. He stopped and turned to face Jack. “This is your responsibility Jack. I’m going to hold you accountable for incidents like this.” Without waiting for a response, he turned and left the building.

Jack let out a long breath. “Shouldn’t it be everyone’s responsibility?” he thought.

“How many other surprises will there be before we get this shipped turned around?” thought Bill out loud. If we get this ship turned around in time, he thought.

Answer These Questions

What caught your attention about the interaction?
What behaviors (things we can observe) impacted the interaction?  How?
What do you think were the desires that drove the behaviors?
What assumptions are being made by Bill or Jack?
What assumptions are you making about Bill or Jack?

(Closed) Action: Ask Jack a Question

I’ll be interviewing Jack in the next couple of days to help us learn more. Submit a question for Jack in the comments below, on the corresponding LinkedIn post within 2 days of this posting, or by emailing casestudy@hipposolutions.com.  I’ll do my best to ask Jack and include it in the Q&A session. I’ll post the Q&A transcript in a couple of days. – Mark



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