Tough Words to Top Management about Culture Change

Anyone who has been involved in reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives will hear that a culture change in work practices is necessary to accomplish to become successful. Examples on the culture change people talk about include:

  • Plan and schedule work.
  • Operations and maintenance partnership.
  • Shift from reactive to proactive maintenance.
  • Shift from cost reductions to reliability improvements, etc.

This is true and these changes are the same as 30 years ago. So why do not all companies succeed as well as they can with all these improvement initiatives?

My grandmother said “Nice words are seldom true and true words are seldom nice”.

I do not sell engineering services, hard ware or computer systems, so I do not need to be nice.

In my role as an adviser and consultant I must be honest.

This means that I often must tell people what they need to hear and not what they want to hear, and I try to do that in an as nice way as possible.

So here are some tough words (and true words) to top management about the reality of culture change.

The culture change that is so much talked about must first occur at the top level of the organization.

If the president of a company tells the vice president of manufacturing that he or she must cut the cost of manufacturing, this will trickle down in the organization and the focus will be on cutting costs instead of doing something about measures that can drive down the cost. Short term savings followed by long term losses will be the result of this culture.

If a plant needs to save energy it is obvious that heat recovery systems, better insulation, more efficient processes etc. will be considered and investments in these solutions will be made. These investments will drive down the use of energy.

The only difference when it comes to maintenance cost reductions is that many of these do not require capital investments at all. It is more a matter of doing better with what you already have.

The resistance to accomplish more cost effective maintenance is seldom in the maintenance organization.

Most maintenance managers are in a “budget jail”. This is the result from a top management culture that prioritizes short term saving before long term gains that are 10 to 50 times higher the consequences of deferring maintenance.

So to survive temporarily the maintenance manager will focus on cutting the cost until these measures leads to lower reliability and as a consequence of this he or she will be fired. I have seen this repeated many times and it make sad.

I have come to the conclusion that top management needs education in what a reliability driven organization is, how it can be accomplished and the huge benefits of a culture change to a reliability driven organization instead of a cost driven.

A two three hour session can accomplish this very well.

It is at the top management where the culture change must occur.

We can not afford not to implement measures that improve reliability which in turn will drive down maintenance costs.

It is perhaps the last significant improvement initiative we can make to stay competitive. The rest of the world buys modern equipment. With automation it is easier for anyone to learn how to operate.

The challenge will lie in how well equipment can be maintained and stay reliable.

I hear agreement from top management when I have the opportunity to talk with them.

But actions are different then the agreement.

I have heard the following many times: “We agree with you, better reliability is our greatest improvement potential but we must first cut costs”.

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Christer Idhammar

Founder, IDCON INC Reliability and Maintenance Management Guru

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