6 Successful Strategies for the Not So New Challenges of Today
6 Successful Strategies for the Not So New Challenges of Today
by Heinz P. Bloch
The challenges facing any industry sector today are the same that existed decades ago and were delineated at many conferences and meetings. They are still the same challenges because acting on preexisting ones would have added to the workload.
It was decided in the intervening years to continue the chase after the magic bullet and pay hefty fees for consultant conceived generalities and, occasionally, more automated predictive maintenance (PdM) devices. In other words, the lessons learned and explained decades ago were often disregarded by managers whose focus was short-range.
The focus today is even more short-range than it was 20 or 25 years ago. As you read this article, keep in mind that the people you come into contact with can be divided into three groups:
- The ones who already know the subject and understand what course of action to take in the best interest of stakeholders. They probably amount to five percent.
- The ones who are not teachable. Trying to communicate with them will be both frustrating and a waste of time. Twenty percent fall into that category.
- The ones who are presently uninformed. Let’s assume they would see merit in you showing them the benefit derived from listening to you. Let’s even assume they would be inclined to act on your advice. If you’ve kept track of the numbers, they would be the remaining 75 percent.
Think of the three Cs: communication, cooperation and consideration.
Quite obviously, if you are a vendor selling a product, you want to concentrate on Group 3. If you consider yourself a stakeholder, you really have a stake in your company being prosperous. Then, there are the user-purchasers. They, too, are stakeholders. Their stake is in seeing their companies prosper. Needless to say, if both sides prosper, you have a win-win situation. And you know how you can be guaranteed a win-win situation? Think of the three Cs: communication, cooperation and consideration (CCC).
CCC is not a play on words or a catchy play on letters, or something made-up because it sounds cute. Rather, practicing CCC is good for business. It’s good for developing products. It’s good for developing people. It’s even good at keeping a marriage together!
The Uninformed Workforce
Regardless of your job function, employer or employee, manager or non-manager, fixing eyes on today or on the future, it’s important to know the whole story.
- Today, organizations deal with a largely uninformed workforce. This adjective is not to be misunderstood, even a genius can be uninformed.
- The fact is, in 1953, the United States was in first place worldwide in terms of math skills and science education. Today, the country ranks 35th of 64, called “unimpressive” by Pew Research Center in February of 2015. Why should this be of interest to you? Because the folks who are now in school or have just started work are the present or future reliability technicians and equipment or process operators. They need to be approached with much forethought.
- The root causes of an uninformed workforce go back very far and can be traced to a generally shallow leadership. Shallow leaders cannot, or will not, give guidance or mentoring, or provide a nurturing environment. In-depth guidance, appropriate mentorship and nurturing take time, effort and dedication. Today, all of these attributes are in short supply.
In contrast, an informed worker:
- Identifies a problem;
- Outlines the options;
- Recommends a solid and well researched solution.
A Lack of Accountability
Accountability, or the lack of it, becomes a huge challenge. Intellectual dishonesty exists on a widening scale. Aaaaah—dishonesty! Everyone assumed that a prominent German automobile manufacturer made clean diesel engines, but now everyone knows better. Or, what about those advertising campaigns about clean coal. What happened?
Today, it’s not uncommon to see engineers trying to imitate the conduct and behavior of lawyers. The (understandable) aim and job of lawyers is to claim a client’s limited responsibility, to make a compelling argument in favor of non-culpability of their clients or to completely shift accountability.
In sharp contrast, it should be a reliability engineer’s aim and job to clearly define and outline safe and sustainable asset management. Substantive asset management is a detail task, which, regrettably, is either unappreciated or remains unrewarded. It should come as no surprise that such detail tasks are, therefore, widely shunned. In some companies, an incompetent manager is paid far better than a highly principled and well-rounded engineer.
Budgets are defined by the lowest possible outlay. The cost estimating manuals at engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms often only show the least cost equipment. If these manuals showed operating, maintenance and catastrophic failure optimized equipment, the budget would need a multiplier of, for example, 1.09. Offering to build plants at 1.09 times someone else’s offer, the EPC would lose out to the competition. Why? Because EPCs are selected on the basis of bid price or some other yardstick that has little to do with how reliable your plant will be five years after it starts producing.
Industry-wide, much lip service is paid to asset reliability. However, asset reliability and lowest initial cost of assets are almost always opposites. They can only be reconciled or optimized by experienced and well-informed professionals. Assuming these experts are still around, they must be given early access to management. However, few, if any, are granted that access. But access is one of the solutions.
Because true experts are no longer groomed and nurtured, or because they are brought in far too late in a project definition and execution sequence, companies are now stuck in an endless cycle of reinventing “new” initiatives. Grooming and nurturing is one of the solutions.
In short, actionable implementation strategies require lots and lots of details. These details need to be learned, conveyed and supervised. You don’t get what you expect; you get what you inspect.
The Reward System
As you examine industry trends, you often see an unhealthy risk and reward system. Today, relatively few workers are motivated to learn because learning is not always rewarded. But, the fault is absolutely not on one side only. Both sides are responsible. Industry leaders are not rewarding the one who brings them the facts and all too often, not enough time is allocated to capture and convey facts. Worse yet, facts and opinions are commingled. Strong opinions reap rewards, even promotions.
Majority opinions may vastly outnumber factual findings. Here’s an example you can relate to: Hurricane Katrina did not hit or devastate New Orleans in August 2005. The levies that kept back Lake Pontchartrain broke and the federal government and the original construction decisions of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were, in fact, responsible for the widespread flooding.
Here’s an example of a typical reward system in place in many organizations: A supervisor with precise detailed experience is dissuaded in his pursuits by an inappropriate and often unjust risk and reward system. Someone will send him the signal: “We don’t need you. We don’t have enough failures here to justify paying you more than we pay so-and-so.” This supervisor quickly learns that only the quick fixers are rewarded. Those who prevent things from breaking are often viewed as laggards or sluggish performers.
These are all harsh and unpopular judgments. They cause great annoyance because they allude to the need to drastically change course. Verbalizing an unpopular judgment is like telling a mother her baby is ugly – usually not a well-received message, regardless of the facts in evidence. But, you will gain nothing by telling a mother your opinion.
In contrast, a plant asset can be valued on the basis of facts, carefully leaving off unsupported opinions. You, your employer, your clients and society as a whole may gain immensely if they’re consistently told the truth about your company. Yes, changes will be required and making them would have to start with conceding the futility of continuing on a course that years ago was already recognized by unbiased observers as leading to complications down the road.
6 Successful Remedies
Experience-based remedies are needed for serious challenges. No sweeping initiatives are needed, but the prevailing mind-sets must change. Accountabilities must be defined and adhered to and many of the present reward systems must change.
These six steps have been successfully implemented by smart companies and can be copied or duplicated and implemented without hesitation:
- Shared educational responsibilities, grooming of successors: Pick people with potential and treat them well. They will no longer be uninformed.
- Leading by example: Be intellectually curious and be very resourceful. The day still only has 24 hours, so delegate! Again, they will become informed!
- The end of reliability and maintenance being subservient to operations (“switching hats” is strongly advocated). Note how both sides will be fully informed!
- Specifications developed for reliability and lifecycle cost. Entire budgets must be governed by reliability thinking.
- Disallow operating in the safety margin of machines. Finally, one can achieve something very valuable.
- Nurture absolute accountability by assigning project managers to live with their decisions. The results will be truly astonishing!
And did you notice the three Cs embedded in these six points? You have come full circle!
Note: This article is based on many of the observations found in the author’s most recent book: “Petrochemical Machinery Insights” (Butterworth-Heinemann, September 2016) and his keynote presentation at the Maintenance & Reliability Symposium (MaRS), August 17-19, 2016.