Developing and Sustaining a Reliability Culture for Lubrication

Matthew Adams, Noria Corporation

Developing and Sustaining a Reliability Culture for Lubrication

Whether your site has an established, well-functioning lubrication program that has been in place for several years or you have just begun the journey of building your program, if long-term, recurrent success is the end goal, the challenge of developing and sustaining a reliability culture will need to be addressed.

Through the years, general guidelines have emerged for this often-overlooked portion of lubrication program development.

The process will involve identifying an organizational stakeholder along with a lubrication champion and a cross-departmental team, evaluating the current state of the program, constructing short-term and long-term goals, establishing a path forward with proper documentation and processes, creating awareness across the site, rewarding individuals and groups for successes, and assessing and revising the program.

Identifying the Team

The first step in developing and sustaining a sound reliability culture is to identify who should be part of the team and what their roles and responsibilities will be.

These team members will be the driving force in initiating the culture change, so they should be role models who have a positive attitude and are highly engaged.

It is also imperative to obtain buy-in from these individuals. Any large-scale project in the development of the program should include feedback from all team members.

This team should consist of an organizational stakeholder, a lubrication champion and a cross-​departmental team. The organizational stakeholder position should be held by someone from the site’s upper management.

This individual does not need to be directly involved with maintenance but must ensure that the program and the proposed changes have the support of management.

If management does not show an interest in this process change, you will be set up for failure before you even get the plan off the ground.

This position is also critical from a communication standpoint, as it helps to make management aware of what is going on and how they might help address major roadblocks.

Although the organizational stakeholder is not involved with the program on a day-to-day basis, he or she should regularly attend lubrication-related meetings that affect the program’s development.

In addition, this individual should function as the lubrication champion’s right hand to form a direct chain from the lubrication team to upper management, as well as identify issues and opportunities to all levels of plant personnel.

The lubrication champion is probably the single most important member of the team. This individual is the owner of the lubrication program.

He or she should be responsible for making certain there is active participation among team members, documentation is recorded, training is being delivered, upper management is kept informed, and the program is moving in the right direction.

The lubrication champion should also drive the majority of meetings and be involved with the program on a microscopic level.

The final team members are the cross-departmental lubrication team. These individuals should be the ones who perform the lubrication tasks within each department.

They are responsible for completing actions in the field and delivering feedback to the lubrication champion. This team should also be included in the program’s developmental side.

Because much of the plant sees these individuals carrying out lubrication tasks on a daily basis, they can provide a visual representation of the cultural change in the program.

Status Evaluation

This evaluation should consider where the program has been in the past, what its current status is and what the goals are for the future. Before working toward the goals, review how the plant has been successful in the past and what the shortcomings have been in defining a cultural change in other areas.

This helps to identify where additional support is needed and where it will not be necessary to “reinvent the wheel.”

Each plant must contend with a varying degree of established or sustained culture. Some start at the ground level with non-interactive departments where there is a “silo” effect in which communication is extremely lacking. Other sites have a reactive-only mindset, which makes driving a proactive reliability culture a great struggle.

Another issue is coping with the “heroes versus zeros” effect. Over time, plants can become dependent on certain individuals for specific tasks without document-driven results.

A hero-type mindset is then created. This mentality is cause for concern, as it not only puts a strain on the company but can also have negative cultural effects within the department.

An often-overlooked element is the cyclical decay of the program over time. This issue can send even the best reliability cultures into decline. A plan must be put in place to ensure the program’s continued success, including documented guidelines and processes that are entrenched into the plant’s culture.

Otherwise, the program will begin to decay over time due to turnover. This deterioration of the program through individuals leaving or taking different positions within the company can occur at any level. Once it has begun, redirecting its course can be difficult.

One final consideration in this stage of development is the benchmarking or assessment of the program against itself as well as other sites. It is critical to know where you started so you can identify and illustrate your progress throughout the journey.

As you share best practices, common challenges and paths toward excellence with sister sites, the possibility of creating and sustaining a culture change becomes more optimistic.

Constructing Short-term and Long-term Goals

Like any process, changing the culture requires detailed short-term goals, broad long-term goals and non-negotiable standards (or lines in the sand) to define the scope.

As goals are established, be sure they are measurable, realistic, feasibly completed within the specified timeframe and paired with an action.

Short-term goals should be defined with detailed steps on how to execute the plan. These goals should be able to be accomplished in less than a year and show continued success of the lubrication program.

They should also be reviewed at every meeting to confirm that the lubrication team is working toward the overall vision.

Long-term goals should be a bit broader and can often be used as a platform from which the small-term goals derive. These long-term goals, which may vary in length from 18 months to three years, should be reviewed at least on a quarterly basis.

By creating standards or non-negotiables for your program, you can establish lines in the sand for possible future concerns. These standards may be identified from several different areas, such as within the company’s overall vision or based on best practices determined through benchmarking at other sites.

A few examples of these non-negotiables might include maintaining mutual trust among all levels of personnel or sustaining a culture of continuing education within the team.

Establishing a Path Forward

Once the program’s status has been reviewed and goals and standards have been developed, the next step is to establish a path forward. This is where many lubrication teams follow through on an interim basis but struggle to make continuous progress.

Poor documentation of the process is often to blame. Addressing this concern will go a long way toward creating and sustaining the culture change.

Documentation can help to ensure all projects, work instructions and general lubrication tasks are performed the same way regardless of the individual, shift or department.

It also leaves a footprint on the program for future team members to know where it has been in the past, what obstacles have been overcome and the planned overall direction of the program.

Among the key areas to focus on with program documentation would include identifying a criticality matrix, tying components to maintenance strategies, and enhancing the plant’s maintenance planning and scheduling strategy.

A criticality matrix should determine the component’s overall value to the site. It should begin as a complete asset list and include factors such as criticality to the process, cost to replace, likelihood of failure, possibility of catastrophic failure and what the associated downtime would be if the asset failed.

After the criticality matrix has been created, it is time to put it to use to decide which maintenance strategies to employ. If a piece of equipment has a low criticality score, costs very little to replace and does not have a significant impact on the plant, it might be a good candidate for reactive or breakdown maintenance in which no work is performed on the equipment until it fails.

A large percentage of the plant’s equipment likely will fall in the preventive maintenance realm. These pieces of equipment require attention on a set frequency. One overlooked concept behind this strategy is utilizing historical data to drive the frequencies at which the tasks are performed.

Adjusting these timeframes can eliminate wasted downtime and labor as well as allow better use of the associated maintenance time.

Predictive maintenance strategies should be employed on more critical equipment where it is imperative to address failure as soon as it happens, while proactive maintenance strategies should be utilized across all areas of the plant to resolve problems and minimize the number of issues that occur.

Keep in mind that an asset may have more than one maintenance strategy associated with it, and each strategy should be documented in the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

Planning and scheduling can also play a major role in the continued success of your lubrication program.

The procurement standardization of assets and hardware, evaluation of minimum and maximum spare parts based on need and lead time, advanced dynamic scheduling of incipient asset repair, and detailed instructions for each lubrication task or work order can yield immediate results for cultural enhancement at the plant for years to come.

Creating Awareness

Creating awareness is an important aspect of any process and is especially critical when changing the lubrication culture. Having your team report new program initiatives, successes and recurring concerns will help to raise awareness.

This action should be led by the entire lubrication team and vocalized at every level, from upper management to the employees on the plant floor.

This is often demonstrated during town-hall meetings where a large portion of the plant is present. While this strategy for improving employee awareness is still useful today, there are other methods that can reach individuals more effectively and on a more personal level.

For example, sending quarterly emails from the lubrication team is another great way to reach employees. Other options include plant-wide newsletters, bulletin-board postings in high-traffic areas throughout the plant and five-minute pre-shift discussions on lubrication development.

By connecting with multiple shifts, departments and organizational levels, you will increase your chances of producing a living, breathing cultural transformation over time.

76% of lubrication professionals say their organization has attempted to change its lubrication culture, based on a recent survey at

Rewarding Successes

Rewarding individuals and groups for program successes is a form of incentivizing that not only can highlight members from within the lubrication team but also those outside the established team who played a role in improving lubrication.

These actions might be as small as an operator reporting known oil leaks on equipment to as large as team members installing lubricant storage and handling units. When implementing a rewards program, base gifts on statistics and not on a manager’s or team’s fondness for an individual or group.

Assess and Revise

The final phase in developing and sustaining an improved reliability culture for lubrication involves assessing, revising and documenting the results. This is addressed by ensuring all implemented cultural transformation steps can be tracked and enhanced as your team continues its progression.

Key performance indicators (KPIs), statistical process control (SPC) charts and lubrication-related area audits are all great tools to help your program function with a positive culture from year to year.

KPI options might include measuring the compliance percentage of lubrication-based preventive maintenance tasks, the compliance percentage of contamination control hardware installation or the compliance percentage of the training initiatives.

SPC charts should be utilized, documented and reported for oil targets such as cleanliness, moisture content and additive levels. Area audits can be as simple as 5-S reviews of the plant’s lubrication-related areas, such as the lube room or satellite cabinets.

These methods should all be focused on achieving the current and future goals that were set in place when the program was developed.

Continually Advance and Evolve

If recurring success is the end goal for your lubrication program, you must develop and sustain a flourishing reliability culture. The steps mentioned previously provide a sequential progression for program success.

Remember, this is a process and not a project. Your program should be continually advancing and ever-evolving. Putting this course of action in place not only will help ensure a strong program in the near future but enable long-term achievements as well.

Need help developing a sustainable lubrication program at your facility? Learn how Noria can help.


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About the Author

Matthew Adams is a technical consultant for Noria Corporation, concentrating in the field of predictive maintenance. He has experience in multiple condition-based maintenance technologies and fo...