Reliability and responsibility: Highlights from the inaugural SMRP Symposium

Change leadership, personal accountability can help drive success, speakers say

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

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Whether dealing with a maintenance and reliability issue or some other type of challenge, “Successful people take responsibility to a level that others don’t,” XM comic and motivational speaker Kenn Kington ( told attendees at the inaugural SMRP Symposium in Atlanta this month. The symposium, presented by the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (, aimed to offer a deep dive into several maintenance- and reliability-focused topics in a short amount of time. Attendees had the chance to participate in four-hour interactive workshops, go on plant and maintenance tours, and take certification exams over the course of the two-day event.

In a keynote address on the second day, Kington described "four critical decisions" that successful people address: where and how to apply focus, anticipation, initiative, and responsibility. He encouraged all symposium attendees to identify and focus on their greatest maintenance or reliability challenge, anticipate which workshop was most relevant to resolving that problem, and then, back at work, take the initiative to define a solution and the responsibility to apply the change. He emphasized that it's OK to fail, as that's how people learn. “Go out there and take the step,” he said.

In one of the workshops, Alex Willems, senior reliability engineer for North America at Newmont Mining, discussed the value his company has gleaned from root cause analysis, or "industrial CSI." Newmont Mining is a global, multimillion-dollar gold mining company, and Willems offered some lessons learned by what he called a small but effective team focused on RCA and defect elimination.

“We were looking at root cause the wrong way,” said Willems. The old thinking was to eliminate the symptom with a fast fix and find someone to blame for the problem. “Change the conversation from ‘who’ to ‘what,’” he suggested. The company started measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) for improvements. “Change the one thing you think is the most likely root cause – not all 20 possibilities – and then measure that one thing because you need to know what fixed the problem.”

Finding the right facilitator to lead a reliability program is incredibly important, he said. The person must be well-organized, a critical thinker, a good communicator, and willing to use smart tools, such as 5 Whys, Ishikawa diagrams, and logic trees. “The best facilitator may not be the most experienced or the most popular,” he observed.

Andy Page, principal at Allied Reliability Group, hosted a workshop titled "Leading Positive Change – The Psychology of Resistance and Effective Measures for Managing It." “Where leadership and change management is strong, the probability of success is great,” he said.

Page said that because of how our brains are wired, the need to avoid risk is greater than the need for success, so it is important to make change seem safe. “Well-managed change creates no anxiety or ambiguity,” he said. “Eliminate fear; don’t create it.”

Training and education are not sufficient drivers of change because everyone has different underlying values and biases, he added. “The change leader needs to help individuals form new, guided, positive experiences – it helps to change their beliefs, attitudes, actions, and results,” Page said. He concluded with psychological techniques to facilitate a psychologically safe environment and behavior modification.

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