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Do We Really Want to Be Proactive? (Part 2)

Do We Really Want to Be Proactive?

(Part 2)

by John Crossan

In Part 1 of this article (Dec/Jan 2017), we talked of how good managers must always try to keep their organizations energized, moving forward and upward. To do this, they must find ways to constantly disrupt complacent, status quo thinking and behavior.

But finding the right way is vital. Managers cause damage when they constantly demand immediate, unplanned, crisis response to equipment failure issues, when this level of response is not needed. This fosters reactive behavior and hurts efforts to develop a proactive culture, as well as damaging overall reliability and organizational improvement.

So, the questions then become:

How Do We Do Both?

1. Recognize the Constant Crisis Problem

Just like with any addiction – because that’s what using the constant crisis mode is – the first step is recognizing that there’s a problem. The constant game of Whack-a-Mole, even though we seem to like playing it, isn’t making us any better. In fact, it’s really hurting us. Until we realize this, we’re not going anywhere. We need a better game.

Of course, we need to energize folks to deal with issues, but we have to do it in a different way. This is a management culture issue.

2. Understand Issues and How to Deal With Them

Recognize that daily loss issues are just symptoms of processes that need to be improved. Just fixing symptoms and never addressing the underlying process deficiency won’t make us any better. We need to deal with both.

With equipment failures, it’s not simply replacing a broken part as quickly as we can. We have to look for the reason the part broke and determine some ways to eliminate that cause.

But then, we also have to determine why we didn’t know that it was getting close to failure, and fix that detection process, too.

Recognize that daily loss issues are just symptoms of processes that need to be improved.

The manager’s job is to constantly coach those most directly involved with any issue, to deal with it correctly, in the right time frame. It’s also to make sure they analyze and put the longer term, corrected process steps (e.g., preventive maintenance (PM) inspections, operational process improvements, equipment fixes, equipment improvements, checklists, training, etc.) in place to assure that particular issue does not recur.

Those involved have to do the work to own and value the process. People will resist processes introduced by others if their input is ignored.

Dealing with issues isn’t just something that has to
be done and gotten out of the way quickly.

Done properly, it’s actually the mechanism that
continuously improves the organization.

Daily Shift Meetings at the line and department level, followed by a management group meeting that has rotating wider participation, are the best places to do this. It’s a standard process for dealing with all types of loss issues, that provides not just the mechanism for fixing them, but also, and more importantly, for communication, learning, developing and energizing.

It’s where people hear constantly about how they, themselves, are systematically and successfully dealing with plant issues by improving their processes, and they feel good about it.

Most places do a pretty poor job of routinely and widely communicating when issues have been fixed and small improvements made. Folks typically only hear about the negatives, about the failures, and we wonder why nobody seems to feel particularly good about the place, or about each other.

It’s always easy to get tied up in fixing specific issues. But, the manager’s job is to improve the processes and the people of the organization.

For those impatient with a problem and want to “Just Fix It,” it’s key to emphasize that it's always easy to get tied up in fixing specific issues. But, the manager’s primary job is to improve the processes and the people of the organization. That’s his or her task always, and it’s much, much more than just dealing with some single issue as fast as possible.

Process for Dealing With Issues:

1. Just Mitigate the Situation

2. Every Day Review the Major Loss Issues From the Previous Day

3. Analyze and Plan

It’s pretty much impossible to make that correct permanent fix at the drop of a hat. All we really do is waste our valuable time and resources.

4. Monitor the Analysis and Planning

5. Make the Fixes

6. Review for Effectiveness and Improvement

Large whiteboards in the meeting room may seem, in today’s world, like an old-fashioned way to process information, but the constant, bigger visibility by all, of the issues, responsibilities and follow-up dates is essential. Access by computer screen is still not immediately, and continually visible enough to everyone.

This process, combined with our maintenance work management processes, has to make sure that issues don’t get forgotten or bypassed forever. People need to have confidence that their issues and improvement ideas will be dealt with (often by themselves).

Proactive or Reactive

The manager has to make sure that this essential, routine meeting process absolutely happens every day and attendance is not optional, even if there are important plant activities. Visiting senior managers, for example, are invited to the meetings. The meetings are not canceled because of them. Even on days when it seems there are no important new loss issues, the process always goes on. There are always issues ongoing, and the process itself is an important improvement issue, that folks are counting on being there.

No matter what, just keep plugging away with this process. Absolutely guaranteed, things will get better.

I still remember sitting in one of these meetings one morning, after months of working at this. And all of us suddenly just looking at each other in surprise, when we realized that, for the first time, there really weren’t any significant losses from the previous day. Still plenty of smaller issues, but not the size we were used to.

3. Energize the Organization by Fixing Processes and Communicating Successes

The energizing effect comes from constantly using issues as a way to develop people and processes. Making sure our processes are owned, valued and constantly improved by those who use them and the resulting productivity improvements are communicated and celebrated ongoing. Making sure people know they are empowered and responsible to improve their processes.

If processes are constantly improved by dealing with issues properly, the issues get smaller and smaller. They impact the organization less and less. They’re dealt with routinely at the action level, always in a non-blaming manner, and this is a source of satisfaction to those folks. This energizes people continuously and the lack of a sense of urgency is not a problem. The excellent book, “Drive” by Daniel Pink, gives examples and many references on this.

Involving everyone, especially operators, in issue resolutions and improvements, and developing their role in constant equipment monitoring and care, gets them involved, interested and builds the ownership that is the vital ingredient for success. It also builds capability and off-loads the maintenance team a great deal from minor trouble calls.


Organizations do have to be constantly energized. The sense of urgency for improvement has to be developed and constantly maintained. But, it has to be a rational, well placed, non-frantic, nondestructive sense of urgency that constantly improves the people and processes of the organization, moving them to routinely and systematically act proactively. Not constantly driven directly by the manager, but fostered by his or her behavior and coaching, and owned and maintained by the people in the organization themselves. To give people reasons, and foster an environment where they will constantly push for improvement in a way that’s healthy for them and the organization.