Developing Leadership in Maintenance and Reliability
Does your organization have what it takes to be successful in leading maintenance and reliability improvement across the facility and the corporation? Below, we will share with you the story of one young leader who has had the opportunity to lead two different organizations. Let us see what we can learn from the successes and the failures that could advance your maintenance and reliability efforts.
Twice in my life I have been charged with leading a group of 40 or so skilled workers. Once a success, and once was a glorious failure. In generalities, the situation was identical. A young leader, new to a profession, put in command of a highly skilled team with hundreds of years of collective experience. The expectation was that I had all the training, skills and natural ability to hit the ground running. As a Junior Army Officer, I had a good run as Platoon Leader. I affected change and together my platoon and I achieved our unit KPI’s. After a few more years of service I left the Army and took with me a high level of leadership confidence into the manufacturing world. I took on a cross-functional team of technicians and dreamt up a grand five-year Manufacturing and Reliability Improvement Plan for the site. Then I promptly crashed and burned. Despite past experience doing identical leadership tasks, I failed. To better understand the situation, I started asking what variables changed? This is what I discovered:
I was spoiled in the Army. That system is established to ensure young leaders enjoy success despite themselves. Imagine a world where your boss, his boss, his boss, and his boss all held your job at some point in time. Even more, they had to be good at it to get promoted to positions of greater responsibility. Your senior employee is attached at your hip, trusts in and enforces your decisions, and never hesitates to provide necessary course corrections. There are many others just like you doing the exact same job. You are all friends and share best practices regularly. Everyone knows their job, has been trained to standard and is held accountable to it. Every procedure you need is published in easy to read manuals with pictures. And, there is a place called The Center for Army Lessons Learned that you can tap into. I realized it wasn’t so much me, but the expert support and training I received that was responsible for the success I had.
Regretfully, this support system did not follow me into maintenance. No matter how many reliability engineering books I read, I could not prepare myself to stand alone in front of a maintenance team that had survived 12 maintenance bosses in as many years. The first year was exhausting and brutal. I acted alone while trying to reinvent the wheel. False starts and failed initiatives marked time. I quickly began questioning my competency and career path.
What it boiled down to was, I needed the same sort of expert support I had in the Army. I needed: a coach to walk me through a Failure Mode Effects Analysis and Root Cause Analysis, a mentor to guide me through change management and work culture intricacies, peers to bounce ideas off regularly, and employees that were at a minimum aware of maintenance and reliability best practice, concepts, and language. I knew no one that had done the things I was reading about before. My boss hadn’t, I hadn’t, and my employees had never been exposed to it. So, I started at the top. I targeted the mill manager for sponsorship. As he became aware of reliability and maintenance improvement paybacks, resources became available. Technicians started attending training. I was provided opportunities outside of the company to develop my skill and become an expert in practical application. I also built my network of reliability and maintenance peers within the company and beyond. It started slowly but by end of year two the Manufacturing and Reliability Plan revision meetings evolved from a one man show to a cross functional team of leaders, techs, and operators. The maintenance plan transformed from an individual business venture into a cooperative. A maintenance culture that valued training, partnership, and accountability began to take root.
Five Points to Success
The Army made it simple and to the point. I didn’t understand the advantages their system provided and why it worked at the time. It took a year of constant failure and much reflection to realize how and more importantly why they placed so much value on training, partnering and mentoring. Here are the five things I took away from the Army and built into my reliability improvement strategy.
First, find experience. Sources of expert knowledge are available, if not in your company they are certainly available outside of it though organizations like EFNMS (European Federation of National Maintenance Societies) and SMRP (Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals). You need these experts to help paint the picture of what a good facility can look like. If you have never seen it, it can be hard to picture in your mind. Ask to visit world class sites or collect real world examples and case studies from successful sites. You need this experience and these examples to explain it to your organization.
Second, we encourage young maintenance leaders to network as much as possible. Look for others that are experiencing the same things you are that you can talk to and compare notes. You can find them at conferences, local chapter events, and possibly even in your own organization.
Third, find a mentor who will answer your questions and push you along. This is someone who will show you what to do differently and work with you when you get stuck using a tool or process.
Fourth, constantly advocate for additional training, for you and your staff, from sources beyond the company. This outside information brings new perspectives and ideas to keep the organization moving forward.
Fifth, document and share. Create standardized processes and tools where you can and roll them out across the group of young leaders to facilitate both onboarding, benchmarking, and understanding.
Now if you are trying to create a reliability culture at the corporate level, I would ask are you providing for these needs and ensuring these new young leaders have the support they need from all levels or are you leaving them to reinvent the wheel in a vacuum?