No amount of failure mode analysis, high-tech laser alignment and vibration monitoring systems, or RCA analysis will result in sustainable reliability improvement without the one key ingredient: buy-in. If the people on the plant floor and in the boardroom – and everyone in between – do not genuinely believe in the need to improve reliability and thus understand how they benefit from working in a reliable plant, then change will be resisted and old habits will return the moment the reliability focus is lost. Jason Tranter, Managing Director of Mobius Institute, outlines the reasons your reliability improvement program might be failing, and some practical tips to get buy-in from your people.
When you consider the savings that can be made to operations and maintenance costs and the improvements in the plant availability, plus the reduction in safety and environmental incidents, plus the increase in job security (due to a plant’s improved viability), a reliability improvement initiative should be strongly supported by everyone within the organization. However if those benefits are not properly explained then, to most people, a reliability improvement program either means requests to spend more money in a time when budgets are tight, or changes to the practices that have been in place for many years. And for some people, those changes may appear to threaten their livelihood.
It is no wonder then that these changes are resisted.
In our surveys, human issues (lack of leadership support, loss of the reliability champion and resistance to change) dominated all other reasons for reliability improvement programs to either fail to get started or fail to be sustained. Whereas it is relatively easy to make changes to specific problems, such as lubricant contamination, changing the minds of people who have been working in industry for many years is a far greater challenge. Sadly, that challenge is often overlooked and no specific plans are made to meet and defeat that challenge.
Here seven reasons you might be encountering resistance to your reliability improvement program and some practical tips to get buy-in so that resistance turns into contribution.
1. You Don’t Have the Support of Senior Leadership
Repeated surveys indicate that the most common reason for programs to fail is lack of leadership. In a recent poll of 80 maintenance and reliability professionals, 57% said that lack of senior leadership was the primary reason why their program failed.
If senior management does not believe in the value of reliability improvement, the program will not be supported and the culture of the organization will never change. And if a program does get off the ground and make any progress it is likely to be a change in leadership that causes the program to be cut in the name of “cost savings”.
Senior managers often do not support the reliability initiative because:
- It is never actually presented to them in its entirety. Applications are made for expenditures on items such as condition monitoring systems, lubricant filtration systems and training, without presenting the bigger picture.
- When the bigger picture of the reliability improvement initiative is proposed it is done so in a language that does not get the attention of senior management. Rather than making a proposal on “touchy-feely” (some may say “commonsense”) benefits that may be appreciated by engineers and practical maintenance people, senior management need to see that it benefits the issues that affect them, such as safety, shareholder value, business reputation, regulatory compliance, and investment value that takes the time-value of money into account.
- If a reliability improvement initiative has been running for more than two years, but the benefits are not measured and frequently communicated, then it is quite likely that the program will be cut, especially if there is a change in management. If reliability has improved then it may appear that the problem has been solved. The answer is to keep senior management abreast of the continued value and importance of the reliability improvement initiative.
If the initiative was treated the same way as the safety-improvement initiative then we would see far greater progress. Senior leadership would see how the business will benefit and will thus publicly and frequently state the importance of reliability to the business.
2. You’re Rewarding the Wrong Behaviour
If you thank a person for one activity, and make no comment about another activity, which activity is the person likely going to repeat? So if a person fixed a broken machine, especially at 2:00 am, you are likely to reward that person financially and emotionally. But the person who laser aligns a machine to the highest tolerances will usually receive zero feedback unless they are chastised by the supervisor who wants the machine up and running faster.
It is therefore important to recognize the high quality of a person’s work (and make sure the supervisor also values that work). The champion who comes in late at night can be rewarded, but it should always be said alongside comments that the failure should never have occurred.
3. Your People Fear Change
People will resist change if they fear the outcome especially if the change will result in a loss of income, a loss of status, or even the loss of their job. Reliability improvement initiatives will cause change, but it should not result in a loss of a person’s job, and will only result in a loss of income when overtime is taken into account.
4. You’re Asking the Wrong People for Input
Who do you think knows most about the status of equipment and the reasons why they fail? An engineer may understand the science behind the equipment, and may have some hands-on experience, but the operator works with it every day. The operator develops an innate feel for the equipment. The operator knows what wastes their time, what impacts quality, what causes slow-downs and minor-stoppages, and what ultimately causes equipment to fail. Sure, they may not know everything, but who better to ask for advice when performing the failure modes analysis or root cause analysis.
But do we ask them? Usually not. And if they do make suggestions, do we listen? Usually not.
So how do you think they feel when people from middle or upper management propose yet another change process; be it RCM, TPM, six sigma, etc.? Might it be dismissed as another “flavor of the month” initiative? Are people likely to get behind it?
Now, how do you think they would feel if their opinions were sought? And what if we acted on those suggestions? And if the suggestions could not be followed, for technical or financial reasons, imagine how they would feel if those reasons were explained to them. You would develop a strong relationship built on trust and respect. Who doesn’t want that?
5. You’re Ignoring the Efforts of Your People
Motivation is one of the keys to success. Anyone who takes any steps towards improving reliability should be encouraged and motivated to make additional steps. But what happens when changes are made? Research has shown how ignoring the efforts of people can destroy motivation. And to dismiss those efforts has an even worse effect.
6. Peer Pressure is Overwhelming
Whether we like to admit, we are heavily influenced by our peers. If the norm is to perform activities that are counter to reliability, research has shown that even if we know that the tasks should be performed differently, we will act the same as our peers. The goal, therefore, should be to target the “peer-leaders” the genuine leaders who tend to influence others within the organization (who may not actually hold leadership positions).
7. You’re Forgetting About Training
Training is one of the best tools for changing culture. Whether it involves outside trainers/consultants or in-house seminars and “toolbox talks”, training clarifies why the changes are needed, demystifies how the changes will actually improve reliability and demonstrates that you are willing to include them in the process and invest in their education.
Changing the reliability culture is not easy, but it is necessary. Senior leadership must provide a clear, consistent, and repeated message that reliability improvement is necessary for the future growth (and viability) of the business. Middle managers and supervisors must lead by example – provide education, ask for suggestions and provide feedback, recognize improvements and be consistent. If we recognize the strength of peer pressure, and the demotivational actions we can inadvertently make, we will have a better chance of being successful in developing the right culture.
Jason Tranter is the Managing Director of Mobius Institute, a worldwide provider of reliability improvement, condition monitoring and precision maintenance education to industrial plant managers, reliability engineers and condition monitoring technicians. Jason is a past presenter at Mainstream Conference, an asset management conference for companies that care about leadership, people and culture, held annually in Australia, USA and South Africa.
1. Mobius Institute surveys conducted publically and during workshops
2. Ariely, Dan, Emir Kamenica and Drazen Prelec (2008), ?Man?s Search for Meaning: The Case of Legos,? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 67, 671-677.
3. Martyn Shuttleworth (Feb 23, 2008). Asch Experiment. Retrieved Mar 06, 2015 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/asch-experiment
Image courtesy of aopsan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net