Are You Changing Oil When You Should Be Changing Your Culture?

Tim Atkin, SFR

I am not a maintenance guru, but rather a business person who has recognized the importance of total productive maintenance (TPM). More significantly, I have seen the sites that have not implemented this or any other strategy for improvement.

I find the latter to be more depressing than the success of the first. Repeatedly we ask ourselves why. This issue has become a focal point of my thoughts over recent months. In light of that, I want to address “the strategies that get away.”

There are many reasons for companies failing to embrace change and improvements. Having visited more than 200 different companies in the last two years, I can say that 99 percent of the reasons given for stagnation are worthless.

Is this sour grapes on my part? No, I am not referring to vested self-interest but to an observation of what I have seen - that these companies do not embrace change from anyone or any company.

It is often the case that individuals within a particular company want to proceed, but the decision-making process they are subjected to inevitably results in the request being denied. Getting a decision from some companies is a marathon exercise in itself. This takes up more than half the working life of most suppliers. If you are a buyer or you work for a major company that receives solicitations from suppliers, when did you last return a call? Do you ever reply to messages left on your voicemail? How many meetings did you miss, or delegate a junior colleague to attend in your place?

Becoming a world-class site involves becoming world-class in all areas. World-class sites employ people who always return calls. In your venture, be prepared to embrace innovation and ready yourself to push back the boundaries of acceptance.

Is it just a coincidence that these world-class companies make more money than those who are not? Or that these companies are expanding rather than downsizing . . . acquiring new sites and companies rather than closing them?

Where is the logic in investing millions of dollars in equipment and then expecting the equipment to work efficiently with no assistance from you? Or spending excessive time and money on breakdowns, then claim that you have no money to change or improve the situation?

A maintenance manager once told us that he could not understand what we were doing on his site, as his job was to fix breakdowns, not prevent them.

Another manager claimed that if our recommendations resulted in additional work for him, then regardless of any improvements, he would not proceed. Six months later, this company closed with the loss of 500 jobs.

Who is to blame for this culture? No single party; all personnel within a company have a responsibility or rather, share the responsibility. Directors may instigate change, but without the managers to drive it and shop floor personnel embracing it, nothing is accomplished. Managers may want to drive projects, but without funding, the project, or the initiative, comes to a standstill. Why should the shop floor show initiative if it goes unrewarded?

Is the answer to enact total productive maintenance? Would TPM be the solution to the challenges described above? In such circumstances, TPM would not be the path to success.

What is the answer then? Companies must introduce a culture of innovation. This is easier said than done, but it is not impossible. The message must be that “change can be good.” Remember, every system or equipment now in use was once just an idea.

Companies often do not know the condition of their equipment, equipment that represents the lifeblood of their production. They often have no idea what lubricant is in their machines, when they were last serviced or what filtration is currently being used. During a recent inspection, we tested the operator on his knowledge of the breathers he was using. He asked “what is a breather?” We replied, “you’re holding it.”

The alarming issue regarding such a conversation is that many companies - or rather, people within those companies - do not seem to regard this as an important issue. If they were made aware of the true cost of the current program, they would turn various shades of gray.

Costs are another issue. Put forward a credible formula that explains the cost of the current operation, and personnel may quickly deny such numbers. No matter how accurate the figures are, they will not accept them.

So in all aspects of a company structure, there are obstacles to change. For change to work, there must be a desire to improve the current situation and a belief that the improvements will prove successful, benefiting the company and the employees. A project is only as good as the people in it. Projects are generally driven from the top and completed at the bottom.

The path of change is a difficult one. This truism also applies to our personal life; no one welcomes change simply for the benefit of change itself. If this is true about us as individuals, then it is inevitable that it will manifest itself in our places of work. In my experience, people see a difficult road ahead, full of challenges when they are confronted with change. In the case of change in the work place, they find it difficult to see the benefit - mainly because of the negative attitude that exists in society and an acceptance of the routine - an attitude that “we have always done it this way.”

Try implementing TPM into a company full of people with low motivation to change. Again, not much chance of success.

For change to occur, someone high up in a company must want improvements to happen. This person must be the champion of the project, and not only in the early stages of development. His or her enthusiasm will be critical to its success.

The standards set must be high. Reach for what at the moment may seem to be impossible, such as zero breakdowns on equipment, production wastes reduced by 1000 percent, increased productivity by 2000 percent and so on. Take a look at your competitors or a world-class site and see what they are achieving.

To achieve these new levels of efficiency, you must convince the work force that these levels are achievable. Not all people will share your vision, so break the goal into small, achievable tasks so the results can be monitored. The selection of managers to drive it forward will be critical. These managers, as well as the work force, need to be motivated and rewarded for their efforts.

Once small goals that are part of a larger goal have been set and achieved, enthusiasm will grow. The key areas of TPM and its success are accountability, ownership and an open mind. The acceptance of mediocrity will become unacceptable, and the development of the project and the staff will mature with the success achieved.

The discussion of the path to success is merely a summary of the tasks ahead. The attention to detail and the structure of the program require planning and work.

The planning must be one of the last aspects of the project; the important issue is to first make the necessary changes in the minds and the culture of not only yourself, but also your workforce. Remember, when you start returning calls, responding to voice mail messages and e-mails and listening to new ideas with interest, then you have begun the culture change necessary to succeed.

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