What are you willing to do to improve reliability?

16.10.2017

With strong leadership, reliability can be improved, and every employee will benefit. It is very difficult to force change, but when people are motivated anything is possible.

Kurt-in-front-of-large-acid-plant

Photo Steve Potts

At our most recent conference I had a very interesting discussion with an enthusiastic engineer who was frustrated with the progress made to improve reliability. He was primarily involved with condition monitoring, but he took every opportunity to talk to others about why equipment failed and what they could do to avoid failure. But it was rare that anyone took his advice. His supervisor was supportive, and would occasionally set up meetings with people to facilitate the discussion about reliability improvement. But again, very little actually changed…

Does this seem familiar to you? Have you been trying to improve reliability but no one seems to take your advice? Do people agree that what you are suggesting makes perfect common sense but then go on doing what they have always done?

I had two completely different suggestions for him. We need to create incentive and buy-in. I wonder if you have tried either of these. I would recommend trying both.

Incentive: You need the support of senior management

When suggestions for change come from a person who is at the same level of management, or below, (or from a different department), there is little incentive to change. Even if you believe that the proposed changes should be made, you are then left with extra work to do (or having to convince others to make the change), and justify the time that you spend pursuing those changes. But if that is not in your job description, if that is not how your performance is being measured, then it is unlikely you will spend any amount of time or effort on such a project.

Therefore the directive needs to come from “above”. If a senior vice president, for example, made the declaration that reliability should be improved, and especially if people’s goals and job description changed as a result, then you will have a much greater chance of seeing change happen.

Upon explaining this point I received the following response - a response I have heard many times before – “but I have explained the benefits of reliability improvement and made suggestions to quite senior managers, but they either nodded their head in agreement - and did nothing - or suggested I go and speak to someone else.” 

Ah yes, grasshopper, but how did you make your suggestion? (I didn’t really call him grasshopper.) The key is in the language you use and the detail you provide.

How do you gain senior management support?

As technical people we are often attracted to technical solutions. We can understand the logic. We especially like the common sense solutions. If we had the time, we might be attracted by the prospect of solving a problem. However, for the most part, senior leaders are not technical people. They are not going to be involved directly the implementation of anything you suggest. They are instead motivated in the areas where their performance is measured; revenue, cost reduction, risk mitigation, regulatory compliance, customer satisfaction, delivering shareholder value (or whatever drives your business) and perhaps other things. Therefore, all they really want to hear is how you can help them achieve their goals.

Therefore, rather than discussing technical issues, regardless of how practical and sensible they may seem to you, you need to focus on how reliability improvement helps them increase revenue, reduce cost, reduce risk, etc. You need to speak their language. You need to show how you can help them achieve their goals. And that’s how you will get their attention.

There is a lot more that can be said about how you get their support, and that is for another article, but here is a summary:

  • Understand what drives the business and how it measures success.
  • Assess the risks faced by your organization (e.g. safety, environmental, production loss, etc.).
  • Determine why and where the organization has poor reliability.
  • Evaluate the extent to which reliability improvement can help close the gap between the current state and the desired state.  Put a dollar/euro value on that gap. This is an investment after all.
  • Evaluate the extent to which reliability improvement can help minimize the risks faced by your organization. If possible, put a dollar/euro value on the risk mitigation.
  • Implement one or more pilot projects, and measure their effect, so that you can prove that it can work in your organization.
  • Establish a business case that demonstrates the value of reliability improvement which is supported by the results achieved in your pilot projects. Don’t provide technical information unless requested. Make it clear how the goals of the senior management team can be achieved which includes mitigation of risk.

Are you willing to do that?

Upon making this suggestion I saw his face go pale. Senior management? Business case? Investment? Company goals? Pilot projects? It was a daunting prospect…

Unfortunately, I was making life very difficult for him. I wanted to give him a simple solution - but over 30 years of involvement with these programs, I have not seen anything else work. People need an incentive to change. Senior management is in the best position to create that incentive. Of course, they need to understand how each individual employee will benefit, but regardless, they need an incentive to do anything.

Buy-in: Allow people to take ownership of the ideas

If I came to you and suggested you do something differently, how will you react? Will you think that I am implying that you have been doing something wrong? Will you see it as more work you have to deal with? Will you have any buy-in, or ownership, of the process? What level of personal motivation will you have to make those changes; especially if you do not clearly understand the benefits?

Sure, if I was your supervisor, and I required you to make a change you may make it, reluctantly. But unless I was very clear about the priorities, and I followed up with requests for progress reports, the change may not be made.

What if we instead engaged in a conversation related to a goal you are trying to achieve or problem you are trying to solve? What if, during that discussion, you came to the conclusion that a change should be made? And what if you were in a position to take ownership of that change, and you knew that you would be recognized for taking the initiative and helping your coworkers and the business?

Would you be more likely to make the change?

If an organization sees the urgent need to improve reliability, and everyone has a thirst for making improvements, then suggestions from others are more likely to be taken on board and implemented. But if there is no push from above, and you do not see how you personally benefit, and there is no accountability, then there is very little reason to make any improvements whatsoever.

Reliability improvement relies on developing a “culture of reliability” and engaging with people so that they actively contribute and benefit by the reliability improvement process. When it is a win-win, change will happen and the improvements will be sustained. If not, frustration will continue.

Are you willing to do that?

Upon making that suggestion I could again see some doubt. Technical people are not always great with the “touchy-feely” stuff. We may be interested in technical solutions, and we might want to dictate how things should be done and maybe even take credit for the change. That motivates you, but it doesn’t motivate the other person. So this is a tough decision to make. What’s most important, you or the people who are working with? What’s most important, you or the success of the reliability improvement program (i.e. the success of the organization)?

Conclusion

With strong leadership, reliability can be improved, and every employee will benefit. It is very difficult to force change, but when people are motivated anything is possible

Tranter_Jason_Mobius

Jason Tranter

CMRP, Mobius Institute

jason@mobiusinstitute.com 

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