Leaders in maintenance
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization. He replied that he thought it would be a good idea. The same thought comes to mind when considering management skills in maintenance departments.
Maintenance personnel often become leaders by a touch of “the magic wand.” The wand works in a mysterious way. The wand magically transforms a person who has never held a leadership position into a leader. It converts the person into a leader seamlessly without any training, coaching, job description or direction from peers. Its use usually takes place around 5:30 p.m. on
Fridays and magically (hence the name) transforms the person into a maintenance leader by 6 a.m. on Monday. The wand just may be the best maintenance tool on the market!
Examples of magically born leaders are young engineers taking supervisory positions, senior engineers becoming maintenance managers, craftspeople becoming maintenance planners and purchasing people becoming maintenance spare parts managers.
In this article, I will share some thoughts on maintenance leadership, especially for all the people out there who have crossed paths with “the wand.”
Suggestion No. 1: A leader must first know what to lead toward
The whole idea of being a leader falls apart if the leader does not know what beliefs to lead toward. What is the long-term purpose of reliability and maintenance management in your company, plant, area or department? Hopefully, your company has documented and disseminated beliefs for reliability and maintenance management. If not, the company, plant, area and/or department have set up its leaders to fail.
If you are a maintenance or plant manager, consider if you have set up a clearly defined “place to go” for your maintenance and reliability efforts and define best practices. IDCON does this work for many organizations and usually divides the checklist into
- Maintenance leadership and organization
- Preventive maintenance
- Planning and scheduling
- Spare parts management
- Root cause problem elimination
- Engineering’s interface with maintenance
- Technical database
- Skills improvement for hourly and management
- Facilities, tools and workshops
You may want to consider using this categorization as a start for your list. The idea is to make a checklist within each category that is very clear to the organization. In the PM section, you may state “we will store lubricants properly”; or, in spare parts management, “we’ll have an inventory record accuracy of 95 percent or higher.”
Regardless if you are a corporate manager, plant manager, maintenance manager, planner or a supervisor, ask yourself if you have a set of beliefs to lead toward. If not, I suggest you make a list together with your organization.
Suggestion No. 2: Understand the role of a maintenance leader
Many people believe that the role of a maintenance leader is to tell other people what to do. I think this is wrong. Other people feel that the role of a maintenance leader is to motivate and encourage other people. I think this is somewhat misguided as well. Let me explain.
The role of a maintenance leader is simply to get other people to do what you want them to do. Encouragement, motivation, group decisions and much more are tools that steer people in the right direction. But at the end of the day, a leader is trying to make other people do what he or she wants them to do. Again, if a leader is successful, we hope the company they work for has defined in simple terms, where to lead.
How can maintenance leaders make people do what they want them to do? I think this is an art that few can master but that many can improve on. Let’s expand on that.
To get people to do what you want them to do, you must continuously build business processes that enable them to perform at their best. As a maintenance leader, you must realize that people can never be more effective than the system they work in.
In a survey of 442 maintenance leaders, IDCON asked: “How much time do your maintenance planners spend actually planning maintenance work?” 60 percent of the respondents stated that less than 30 percent of their planners’ time is spent on planning work. 26 percent said planners plan less than 10 percent of the time.
In a follow-up survey, we asked, “Why do planners not plan?” Given eleven choices, the respondents said the top three reasons are:
Too many emotional priorities (work that could wait breaks schedule).
Too many “do-it-now” jobs due to equipment breakdowns.
Operations do not support the planning process.
In this example, leaders must help set up roles and responsibilities for planners and people involved in the planning and scheduling process and then make sure the processes are followed. They should work with operations, stores and engineering to agree on work order priority rules, schedule cut-off times, identify critical equipment and spares, and much more.
The chance of getting people to do what you, as a leader, want them to do increases drastically if enablers are instituted in the plant.
“Talk the talk and walk the walk”
Realize that your people follow your lead. Employees do what you do, not what you tell them to do. It is critical to “walk the walk” by following up and sticking to the plans, best practices and enablers that you, as a leader, have put in place.
A leader that constantly starts meetings late will have a very hard time instilling good scheduling practices in the organization. A leader cannot expect quality work order plans if he or she constantly asks for completion of unnecessary last-minute work. A leader cannot expect world-class craftsmanship if craftspeople are not trained, or if there is a lack of financial support for repairs, no time given to complete jobs, no standards or no detailed expectations.
If you are a true maintenance leader, make sure that each attempt at improvement has substance behind it by producing a solid plan where cost and benefits are considered before involving the whole organization. It is very common to see a plant sign up for the project of the month only to have it replaced by a new effort a few months later.
While visiting a plant a few years ago, I mentioned that reliability improvements should go on forever. It is a continuous process. A craftsperson in the audience said, “In this plant, forever is eight weeks, and the yield for reliability improvements in eight weeks will most likely be fairly small.” Not understanding quite what he meant, he further explained, “All started improvement efforts are announced to last forever. The average life of a new improvement initiative in the plant is about eight weeks. Therefore, forever in this plant means an eight-week project.”
Even though the statement was meant partly as a joke, he was right on the money for this particular plant.
Look for the second part of this article in the next publication.
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