John Maxwell, renowned leadership and personal development coach, defines leadership as "the ability to influence others." He co-authored a book dedicated to the traits required to be an influential person, titled Becoming a Person of Influence. In this work, Maxwell outlines four main steps to achieving a high level of influence.
When reading this book, I cannot help but relate it to leading a reliability initiative within an organization.
Facing a Culture Change
One of the most difficult hurdles to cross when establishing a reliability program is culture change. Today's manufacturing facilities are filled with employees who have been on the job for 20 to 30 years. Maintenance personnel have become accustomed to performing tasks in a particular way, and don't necessarily open up and embrace change.
They are accustomed to being commended for coming in on weekends to repair a failed machine. And unfortunately, attempts to employ reliability tactics are often met with resistance and skepticism. There is a common fear that better proactive maintenance will result in reduced opportunities for overtime and possibly even staff reductions.
There is also a general fear within some maintenance organizations that precision lubrication and condition-based maintenance are just the flavors of the day. These mechanics have seen salesmen come and go, offering miracle products that are designed to save the day. Therefore, they have reason to be skeptical, although possibly for the wrong reasons.
The Importance of Quality Leadership
To overcome this mindset, it is necessary for a strong reliability leader to step up and take the reins. Establishing, achieving and maintaining a successful reliability program will reduce wasted time in front of a machine.
A well-designed predictive maintenance program will result in a higher level of performance from maintenance personnel. Gone will be the days of going out every other week to give a bearing "three to five shots," and gone will be the days of greasing a bearing every week when the calculated interval is actually six months.
The reliability leader must adhere to a set of leadership principles that have been proven to guide even the most doubtful people in the desired direction of the initiative. These principles must be able to reach across multiple personality types while achieving the same result. A prime example of such leadership principles can be found in those taught by the U.S. military.
Of the 11 Principles of Leadership taught by the U.S. Marine Corps, two examples are: "keep your marines informed" and "train your marines as a team." Translated into reliability terms, this simply means "keep your employees informed" and "train your employees as a team."
Keep Your Employees Informed
Some of the worst-case scenarios involving culture change in any environment take place when no advance notice is given. As the decision is made to employ an initiative that will dramatically change how work is performed, it is typically a better situation to inform those most likely affected by the decision as soon as possible. There are many exceptions to this rule; however, from the machinery reliability standpoint, this statement holds true.
By keeping the maintenance and operations personnel abreast of the future transition to reliability-based maintenance, the natural culture shock that occurs can be greatly reduced. A well-informed maintenance group will be more likely to embrace the new initiative, allowing for a smoother transition and an earlier realization of return on investment.
Train Your Employees as a Team
Training all maintenance personnel in the fundamentals of precision lubrication and reliability-based maintenance, will provide them with a better understanding and an easier acceptance of changes that will occur.
It is understood and accepted that different levels of training should be available; however, any person related to the operation or maintenance of machines should have some level of lubrication-related training. This will help establish an "across the board" understanding and respect for the reliability initiative as well as for the work performed by other members of the company.
There are nine other leadership principles taught by the U.S. Marine Corps that can be implemented in any civilian environment. These principles are used by companies all across the United States.
As stated by Frederick W. Smith, chairman of the board and CEO of FedEx, formerly captain, U.S. Marine Corps, "The principles of leadership taught by the U.S. Marine Corps, and based on two
centuries of experience, will produce outstanding organizational results in any setting, if those principles are studiously followed. In short, FedEx owes its success to this simple truth."
1. John Maxwell and Jim Dornan. Becoming a Person of Influence. 1997.
2. Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh. Semper Fi, Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way. 2004.