SwitchPoints: Culture Change on the Fast Track toBusiness Success
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More About This Title SwitchPoints: Culture Change on the Fast Track toBusiness Success


SwitchPoints is the inspiring story of how Canadian National Railway (CN) advanced from good to great in a few short years–becoming North America's top-performing railroad and a favorite with of corporate customers and investors. In it, the authors reveal how company-wide culture change propelled this aging transportation giant to become the profitable powerhouse it is today. Rich with insights and anecdotes, SwitchPoints offers lessons that can be applied to any organization seeking to improve the bottom line by improving their culture.


JUDY JOHNSON, PhD, a Partner with the Continuous Learning Group (CLG), applies behavioral science to help leaders create environments that dramatically improve organizational performance and profitability. Johnson coaches executives on personal leadership and executing strategies through pinpointing key behaviors that lead to success.

LES DAKENS, retired Senior Vice President of People for CN, was responsible for strategic direction of CN's Human Resources and Labour Relations in North America and worldwide. Prior to joining CN, Dakens was Vice President of Human Resources for the North American division of the H.J. Heinz Company.

PETER EDWARDS, Vice President of Human Resources for CN, is responsible for human resources, culture change, implementation, leadership, and organizational development. He assisted CN's CEO in writing two landmark books for employees.

EDWARD (NED) MORSE, a Senior Partner with CLG, offers three decades of experience helping Fortune 500 executives develop and implement business-critical strategies. Morse has worked with clients in transportation, petrochemicals, food service, healthcare, engineering, telecommunications, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and retail.


List of Illustrations xvii

Foreword xix

Preface xxiii

Acknowledgments xxv

Introduction: A Broken Culture xxix

The Culture of Early Quits xxx

A New Trip Plan xxxi

Switchpoints xxxi

Spiking the Switch xxxiii

Part I Building One of North America’s Top Railroads 1

Chapter 1 The Road to Best-in-Class 3

1830: Pioneering Days 3

1919: Nationalization 3

The 1980s: Deregulation 5

1992: Organizational Redesign 6

A Quick Change 7

1995: Privatization 8

The Right Leaders for the Job 9

1998: Precision Railroading 10

2003: Passing the Reins 13

Chapter 2 Culture Change on the Fast Track 15

Acquisitions 15

Buying Other Cultures 16

The Challenge 17

The Results 17

The Trip Plan for Culture Change on the Fast Track 18

Part II Clarifying the Vision 21

Chapter 3 CN’s Five Guiding Principles 23

Chapter 4 The Culture of Precision Railroading 27

The Organizational Culture Continuum 28

The Spectrum of Employee Engagement 29

The Role of Organizational Leaders 30

Washing Out the Mud in the Middle 31

Part III Choosing the Right Switchpoints 35

Chapter 5 How to Change CN’s Culture? 37

Culture Equals Behavior 37

Chapter 6 Creating a Culture of Discretionary PerformanceSM 40

What’s in It for the Employee? 41

Chapter 7 Creating Q4 Leaders to Drive Change 43

Culture Change Begins with Leadership 43

The Q4 LeadershipSM Model 44

How Did CN Create Q4 Leaders? 46

Changing Your Style Isn’t Easy 47

Building Leadership Fluency 49

Part IV Selecting the Tools for Change 51

Chapter 8 The Science of the ABCs 53

It’s All about Behavior 53

The ABCs of Behavior 54

The ABCs Make Fundamental Sense 55

Chapter 9 The Commanding Power of Consequences 58

Timing 59

Importance to Recipient 59

Probability of Recurring 60

Where Does the Consequence Come From? 60

Which Consequences Should I Use? 62

Consequences and Culture Change 63

Authors’ Note: Doing the Right Thing with the ABCs 63

Chapter 10 The ABC Toolkit 65

The Five-Step Model 65

Part V Aligning the Switches 73

Chapter 11 Finding a Champion 75

A Quiet Tryout in Capreol 75

“I Hate Consultants!” 77

Chapter 12 Testing the Business Case 81

Pilot 1: Partnering in Memphis 82

Pilot 2: Partnering in Capreol (Northern Ontario) 83

Pilot 3: Partnering in Transcona (Winnipeg) 84

Learnings from the Pilots 85

We Did What We Said We Would Do 86

A Skeptical Hunter Gives the Nod 87

Chapter 13 Gaining Visible Sponsorship: The CEO’s Essential Role 89

“How We Work and Why” 89

Addressing the Naysayers 91

Chapter 14 Learning from a Strike 93

Spiking the Switch 94

Start with the Supervisors 95

Chapter 15 Planning the Trip 98

Going to Rome (and Paying for It) 98

Implementing the ABCs CN-Wide 99

Selling the ABCs to the Operating Regions 100

I Love Your Passion, But . . . 101

Managing the Pull 102

Deployment Wasn’t All Rosy 103

Chapter 16 Making the Case for Change 105

The Case for the ABCs 105

Spreading the Word 107

Answering Four Basic Questions 108

Chapter 17 Expanding Sponsorship 110

Example 1: Visiting Sites to Set the Stage 110

Example 2: Sponsoring a Safety-First Culture 113

Example 3: Personally Walking the Talk 117

Part VI Assessing Switchpoints’ Impact 121

Chapter 18 Applying the ABCs: Dressed & Ready 123

Guess I’ll Have Another Coffee . . . 123

Another Switchpoint 124

The Science behind the Change 124

Of Course There Was Resistance! 128

“I Can’t Ask My Friends to Do That!” 128

The Rewards of “Dressed & Ready” 130

Chapter 19 Early Wins with the ABCs 131

Release the Brakes! 131

Culture Change in the Michigan Division 133

The ABCs Improve ETAs 135

Want Better Meetings? Show Up on Time! 136

Small Things Matter 138

Curing Technophobia 140

Chapter 20 Demonstrating Q4 LeadershipSM

Through the ABCs 143

“More Work? Are You Nuts?!” 143

Improving Reliability: Getting KIST 145

Understanding Q4 LeadershipSM—by Knowing What It Is Not 147

Chapter 21 Life or Death Leadership 149

A Grim Tale 149

Safety and Culture Change 150

Developing Safety Programs 151

Zero Tolerance and Why 154

Chapter 22 Sawing Our Way to Improvement 157

Tackling Old Problems in New Ways 159

Reducing Overtime 159

“Improve” Can Even Mean Tossing Old Paper Files 162

Formalizing the Opportunity 163

Part VII Spiking the Switches 165

Chapter 23 Leadership Competencies to Support the Change 167

Accountability and Importance 168

The New Competency Framework 168

Leadership Equals Bonus 170

The New Power of Performance Reviews 171

Chapter 24 Performance Scorecards for Unionized Employees 173

Doing the Unthinkable 174

Executing EPS 175

Communicating EPS 175

Then Came the Problems 176

Rollout for Success 177

Supervisors: I Didn’t Know That! 178

EPS Was Another Switchpoint 178

Chapter 25 Learning through the Railroad MBA 180

The Railroad MBA 180

Railroader Undergraduate Programs 181

CN Is a Destination, Not a Job 182

Today North America, Tomorrow the World 183

Chapter 26 Hunter Camps Develop Leaders 184

Expanding the Impact 185

Learning from the Master 185

Twelve Characteristics of Leadership 186

Leadership Is about People 187

Some Campers’ Views 188

Chapter 27 The Power of Consistency (17 out of 17) 191

Inconsistency in the Rules 192

Inconsistency in Applying Rules 193

Inconsistency Breeds Opportunity 194

Be Consistently Flexible 195

Chapter 28 Developing Internal Consultants 197

Why Internal Consultants? 197

Transitioning from CLG to Internal CN Consultants 198

Selecting the Right People 199

Developing Internal Consultants 199

Reality Hits 200

The Value of Internal Consultants 202

Chapter 29 Sustaining Culture Change 204

Preventing Backsliding 204

Techniques for Sustaining Change 207

Examples of Sustainability 208

Chapter 30 Sharing Our Story 209

Sharing with Our Customers 210

Sharing with Our Suppliers 210

Sharing with Our Competitors 212

Sharing with Our Communities 213

Chapter 31 Improving Relations with Our Unions 216

The 2007 UTU Strike 216

When to Say Yes, When to Say No 218

Confronting a Long Legacy 218

The United Steelworkers 220

Improving Labor Relations 221

What CN Brings to the Bargaining Table 222

The Future 223

Part VIII Learning from Our Journey 225

Chapter 32 Top 10 Tips for Leaders Using theABC Methodology 227

Tip 1: Manage Your Culture 227

Tip 2: Measure What You Value 228

Tip 3: Challenge, Disagree, and Then Make the Decision 228

Tip 4: Focus on Behavior You See or Hear at Work 228

Tip 5: Ask “Would You, If Your Life Depended on It?” 228

Tip 6: Transition from Good to Great Performers 229

Tip 7: Deal Quickly with Poor Performers 229

Tip 8: Get Face-to-Face 229

Tip 9: Balance Your Use of Consequences 229

Tip 10: Manage the Learning Curve 230

Chapter 33 The Culture Change We Achieved 231

Ten Lessons Learned from Our Switchpoints 231

Chapter 34 The Final Word 234

The Transformation 234

What Lies Ahead 235

Where We Are Now 236

The Trip Is Not Over 237

Notes 241

About the Authors 243

About the Companies 247

Index 249