Flexible leadership helps prevent collisions at your plant

Tom Moriarty says execute corrective maneuvers to avoid approaching collisions.

By Tom Moriarty

When navigating in the open ocean, your ship may be on a consistent course and speed. There may be other ships that are underway, also on a consistent course and speed. Under this situation there may be a risk of collision. If the paths of the two vessels intersect at the same time it will be a bad day for captains and crews of the two ships.

Constant bearing, decreasing range (CBDR) is a term used in shipboard navigation, and it means that two vessels are at risk of colliding if one or both vessels do not take action. Either through visual observations or the use of radar, the ship’s navigator can observe other vessels to see if they are in a CBDR situation.

You may have experienced CBDR while driving on a highway when another vehicle is attempting to merge into traffic from the on-ramp. You sense that you need to either change lanes or alter your speed, or the other driver must adjust speed. It happens almost without thought.

The earliest point in time that a CBDR condition can be identified provides the best chance of avoiding problems. Early identification of CBDR allows you to make small changes that will avoid the bad-day situation.

The concept of CBDR is a good analogy for a leader who is managing an individual or team or working with other people. Let’s say you are a maintenance supervisor and part of your job description is to have your shop personnel complete work orders on the day scheduled 80% of the time or better. You have 10 tradesmen in your shop. On average, two tradesmen finish their work orders ahead of schedule and seven tradesmen finish their work orders within the acceptable range. But one of the tradesmen seems to have difficulty getting tasks completed within the acceptable performance range.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com.

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In particular, two months ago this one tradesman was struggling but was marginally within acceptable limits. Last month more than 30% of the tasks were not completed on the day they were scheduled. With half of this month, in-the-books performance is getting worse; more than 50% of this person’s tasks are not being completed on the day scheduled. The lagging performer is now affecting the overall shop’s performance level.

Your course and speed are in a CBDR situation with the course and speed of the underperforming tradesman. What should you do?

First, the good news is that you are able to measure and see that there is an issue that needs your attention. The measures are like your visual observations or radar plotting of your shop’s performance. If you take no action, bad things are going to happen; you will be in a CBDR situation either with the individual in your shop or with your boss who will be in a CBDR situation with you.

Second, by recognizing the CBDR situation, you have the opportunity to avoid the collision. Because of early recognition you can take minor action to avoid a collision. It may be as simple as letting the person know that measures are indicating he is not meeting expected performance levels. Or it may be that the person is having personal problems that affect job performance — a child, spouse, or parent with severe medical issues, for example. It could be that the person wants to move on to another job.

Your job as a supervisor is to first check your own course and speed to make sure you’re moving in right direction and at the right speed. If you’ve been clear and consistent in your expectations, and have provided the capability for your shop personnel to succeed with the right tools and training, your course and speed should be fine. On the other hand, if several of the people in your shop are struggling, there may be unreasonable expectations placed on them by you.

If your course and speed are good, you must communicate with your team member to learn if there are problems with the rudder or propulsion system. Often times the simple act of communicating the issue is enough to improve performance. Other times more effort is required to get to the real issue.

A CBDR situation does not mean there has to be a collision. Nor does it mean that there needs to be drastic action to avoid the collision. The earlier you recognize the situation, the smaller your corrective actions can be.

Read Tom Moriarty's monthly column, Human Capital.

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