Universal buy-in vital for initiative launch

Part 1: David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says it's important to focus on getting universal buy-in when you’re trying to launch an initiative.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Your success as a leader depends to a large extent on your ability to make things happen. This is one of the most important lessons learned by anyone who assumes a leadership role. Superior technical competence, such as being the best electrician, the CMMS guru or an expert in Lean, is no guarantee of success as a leader. To make things happen, you need to do two things: Get the attention of top management to support your proposed changes, and alter the behavior of the front line so your proposed changes are accepted and implemented.

Getting buy-in from either constituency is difficult, as evidenced by the poor track record of project implementations such as replacing a CMMS. The reason is that maintenance, operations, engineering and project management usually are more comfortable with the technical aspects of a project than with the strategic or human aspects of making things happen. Also, they’re unfamiliar or uneasy with both the change in life style and the process that effectively manages change. These concepts are discussed in more detail below, as well as in Part 2 to be published in the October 2008 issue of Plant Services.

Getting brass to buy in

To get senior management’s attention, you must consider what drives their agenda. Review their recent speeches, peruse the annual report, discuss with your boss how senior management performance is to be measured this year and, in general, try to understand what will help turn your senior managers into heroes in the eyes of the shareholders. This information will assist you in shaping your deliverables and stating the benefits in a way that gets top management’s interest.

For example, suppose you wish to implement or upgrade your CMMS. This requires a significant investment. Obviously, senior management will be looking for the return on investment, like for every other project, but they might be focused on other key issues that you can use to differentiate your project from the many others. Perhaps your company is embarking on a green program, or is focused on some tough new regulatory pressures, or has recently launched a Lean program. The CMMS upgrade can be sold easily because it supports tracking energy costs and emissions; it assists with the rigid controls that accompany most heavily regulated environments; and it’s an important tool that facilitates Lean implementation.

There’s no question that getting senior management’s attention requires you to do your homework. Understanding what keeps the senior team awake at night and then tailoring your project proposal to contribute to the solution is the goal. It’s much more complicated than it appears. But, if you’re successful, the effort pays off in terms of sufficient high-quality project resources and adequate funding.

Getting plant-floor buy-in

As difficult as it is to get the support of senior management, it’s an order of magnitude more challenging to obtain collective buy-in from the many front-line stakeholders. Implementing a new CMMS, for example, affects technicians, operators, engineers, project managers, receiving and shipping, stock-keeping, administrators, planners, accounting clerks, finance staff and many others, each with their own perspective on what the new CMMS will or won’t do for them. Building trust and excitement around the project is tough with so many stakeholders worried about their own self-interests. Pay attention to some key factors to gain the trust and support of the front line.

Solid leadership, in my view, is one of the most important elements in getting buy-in from the front line. Leadership means having a clear vision and plan that is easy to grasp by affected parties and is communicated consistently throughout the organization. With a new CMMS implementation, is it clear what success looks like? How will each stakeholder be affected and what are the expectations to ensure success?

The vision and plan must be qualitative and quantitative, complete with performance measures and targets that define success for stakeholders. Furthermore, it should be clear what the reward will be for meeting or exceeding performance targets, as well as the consequences if targets are missed. The reward need not be monetary. You might buy pizza for the maintenance staff when equipment availability and performance hit a certain target percentage.

Leadership also means that there’s support for the project through action, not just statements made in a speech or newsletter. For example, how will front-line supervisors be involved in the CMMS project? What front-line resources will be available to the project team to ensure there’s real business knowledge when determining the behavioral changes success requires?

Clear roles and responsibilities are required before soliciting support from the front line. This includes front-line resources involved in the project design and implementation phases, as well as those left to handle day-to-day operations shorthanded. You also need to understand the effect that new roles and responsibilities will have on the organization, otherwise current and future states might be adversely affected.

Continuing the CMMS project example, the lack of day-to-day resources and role clarity might mean poor response time or equipment isn’t repaired properly. The CMMS project might also be adversely affected if resources are inadequate and responsibilities are unclear. Avoid milestone delays and poorly designed processes.

Constant communication, meaningful and in both directions, is the secret to getting the front line to change behavior. Develop a communications plan that outlines how stakeholders are to be informed about the project, how feedback will be solicited and how expectations will be managed. Remember, you’re answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Plan each communication well in terms of target audience, key messages, expected effect or outcome, timing and frequency, and the most effective medium to use (town hall meeting, informal discussion led by front-line supervisor, newsletter, etc.). In the case of a CMMS project, this is especially complex and important because of the great number of stakeholders and industry’s rather poor track record for successful implementations.

Flexibility is mandatory. If there’s one certainty for a project as complex and important as implementing a new CMMS, it’s that circumstances and needs will surely change. There is, therefore, a need to be flexible in terms timing and the nature of the behavior change you seek.

For example, if your initial CMMS project scope focused on increased equipment availability, but key front-line stakeholders are complaining about the quality coming off of the production line as a greater irritant, you need to adjust accordingly to get critical buy-in. This might require, for example, root cause analysis, which, in turn, might lead to additional operator and technician training.

Strategic thinking is needed for a project such as implementing a new CMMS because it is considered technical in nature. Don’t mistakenly oversimplify (as so many project folks do) by thinking it’s a matter of taking out the old and plugging in the new. It’s not like replacing a big, old CRT screen with a new, low-energy, small-footprint, flat-screen LCD monitor. If only it were that easy.

Thinking strategically about the project means linking project objectives to goals, objectives and performance targets as outlined in your asset-management strategy, which, in turn, is linked to the overall business strategy. Without this linkage, front-line behavior won’t align with what you used for getting senior management to buy in to the project in the first place. And, behavior misalignment will seriously reduce your chances for success.

Part 2 of this column will appear in the October 2008 issue of Plant Services.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at david@wmc.on.ca.

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