How Rewarding is Your Lubrication Program?

Drew Troyer
Tags: industrial lubricants

“Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it.”
- Ralph Waldo Emmerson

A machine fails at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. It turns out to be a critical machine that results in stopped production. Fortunately, the parts are on hand and a team is called out make repairs. By 10:00 a.m., the machine is repaired and production resumes. The repair team saved the day, and was paid double-time to do so. Monday morning, the plant manager and the production manager both thanked the repair team. The maintenance manager was proud of his team’s effort.

The mechanics responsible for repairing the machine that fateful Sunday morning received both formal and informal rewards for their efforts. The formal rewards showed up in their paychecks as double-time pay. The informal reward was the recognition they received for their exemplary efforts. Both were appropriate and justified. The team properly reacted to a crisis and put the plant back in business. Therefore, they should be rewarded.

If we pay extra and hand out “atta-boys” and congratulations for responding to equipment failures, are we rewarding failure by default? People tend to behave in ways that maximize their payback. I can recall an occasion about ten years ago when I was promoting the virtues of contamination control in hydraulic systems to a team of mechanics. A master mechanic, for whom I had great respect, pulled me aside during a break. He said he was sure that contamination control would reduce the failure rate in the equipment, but we had a buy-in problem. You see, at this plant, about a third of the mechanics’ annual salary was overtime. So in effect, I was asking them to give up their boats, hunting and fishing cabins, summer vacations . . . you get the picture. Unfortunately, I couldn’t offer them much in return for that, except perhaps a windy discussion about the economic facts of life, complete with projections of gloom and doom. That kind of talk doesn’t inspire many people. What I needed was a new reward program, one that centered around proactive, not reactive, performance.

That day changed my perspective about maintenance reward structures. We simply must align reward structures more closely with the goals of the organization. In the 10-plus years since my metamorphosis, I have seen only modest progress in devising reward structures that recognize proactive maintenance activities, including machinery lubrication. In fact, when I perform plant surveys and audits to help people see their opportunities for improvement, I look for signs suggesting that effective lubrication is recognized and rewarded. But I see very little.

Researchers in organizational behavior seem to believe that we need both formal and informal rewards to be satisfied in our jobs. They say the absence of adequate formal rewards like pay, benefits, overtime pay, etc., can cause dissatisfaction in the job. They also agree, however, that adequate formal rewards alone can’t produce true satisfaction in the job. Only the informal rewards like making a difference, being recognized for a job well done or for making a contribution to the company or team can produce true job satisfaction. After more than 20 years in working life, I think their theories make sense.

How are lube technicians rewarded at your plant? While most companies do a pretty good job of rewarding reactive maintenance actions that are properly carried out, we tend to fall short in the area of rewarding proactive activities like effective machine lubrication. Day in and day out, a good lube tech resolves would-be equipment failures with little recognition and no fanfare.

When was the last time you saw a lube tech receiving a hearty pat on the back for properly greasing a bearing? Or changing a filter? Or replacing that hardened or damaged gasket on the fill cap? Or keeping the lube storage room neat and orderly? When was the last time a bonus was paid to the lube tech for hustling to drain the oil before all the particles settled to the bottom of the sump? These are proactive activities that have proven to increase the reliability of equipment. They should be rewarded. If you are a manager in charge of machinery lubrication, figure out ways to reward people for proactive efforts. It is a departure from conventional reward systems, but it is a much-needed change. Managers talk proactive maintenance all the time. Break with traditional plant reward structures and put your money where your mouth is.

Another theory supported by behavioral theory researchers is that rewards should be tied to measurable performance in activities that are within control of the individual or group. This is another area where I think they have hit the mark. The problem with lubrication excellence is that the desired outcome is improved machine reliability, a dependent variable that is influenced by a number of factors other than machine lubrication. This creates a dilemma, but there is a solution. Tie rewards to measurable activities that are within the control of the lubrication techs. For example, trend the percentage of machines conforming to fluid cleanliness targets, percentage of machines receiving the proper lubricant, performance on an audit by a manager or third-party entity, or achieving certification within the lubrication craft. There are dozens, if not hundreds of possible measurements that can be directly tied to the proactive tasks of equipment lubrication, or the individual’s development as an asset to the organization. The structure should include individual rewards to promote individual performance, and group awards to promote teamwork. In addition to money, be sure to include those all-important informal rewards. They are the ones that produce true job satisfaction, and create the passion that is so vital to success.

Is your plant rewarding failure? If you have not created a reward structure that is specifically tied to proactive performance, the answer is probably yes. What gets rewarded gets done. This is a great opportunity to make a positive and permanent change in your organization by restructuring your reward system to promote proactive behavior.

This is my viewpoint. As always, I am interested in yours.