Industrial Training / Career Development / Workforce Development

What unicorns and reliability engineers have in common

Thomas Wilk asks, "Who are the unicorns roaming in your plant?"

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

There’s a proverb on winning and losing that is attributed to Italian diplomat Count Galeazzo Ciano and was popularized by John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s: “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”

This phrase came to mind during a recent conversation among editors here at Putman Media. An editor from one of our sister brands, Food Processing, will be delivering a presentation next month on the ingredients for successful team-building. Although she has her own ideas on the topic, she also asked several of us in the office for our take on who and what the “parents” are when it comes to team success.

This is the kind of question that pretty much all of us have faced at one time or another, from dreaded “group work” projects in grade school all the way up to “cross-functional team meetings” on the job. How the heck am I going to help make this work? There are too many people here with too many different responsibilities. I don’t even like most of these people!

During our discussion, first we listed the usual suspects – frequent and transparent communication, setting a reasonable schedule, celebrating every win, etc. Then the conversation slowed until someone said: “You know what? To win big, you really need a unicorn.”

We all took a moment to ponder that point. My first thought was, “Well, the Bulls needed a Jordan to do what they did.” The more we mulled it over, the more it became clear that, at least among our group of editors, we were in agreement on the necessity of having that special someone on the team – the person who has the combination of subject matter expertise, persuasiveness, and verbal dexterity to get everyone else motivated to win, combined with the boldness of vision to step up and be counted as a change agent. Teams could be successful without a unicorn, we decided, but organizations would have a tough time either getting to or sustaining best-in-class operations without one.

I hope this has you thinking of the unicorns roaming in your plant. It had me thinking of this month’s feature story on the qualities of a modern reliability engineer. Every survey that Plant Services has done recently has indicated that “reliability engineer” is the fastest-growing job title in our industry, with the number of respondents who say they are reliability engineers more than doubling in the past four years.

In his article this month, Michael Blanchard maps out the on-the-job expectations faced by these workers: leading teams; building strategic partnerships; and managing change, continuous improvement, strategic planning, integration of digital technologies...

Chances are that you have already thought of the name of at least one reliability unicorn at your plant. I’m here to add that the quickest way to find the next one is to take a deep breath, and then look in the mirror.