How to bust silos and engage your people

ask jeff shiver time tested formulaQuestion: Jeff, we are way too reactive. We have processes but don’t do what we said we would with them. It seems like we are all heading in different directions. We seem to be working against each other. When things don’t go well, which is often, everyone gets frustrated. What do we need to do differently?

Ellen, production supervisor, NM

Answer: Hello, Ellen. When it comes to transitioning behaviors to drive sustainable improvements in reliability and operational excellence, you must focus on the people and the processes. Both must be coupled as one. You can develop all of the processes and procedures you want, but without the hearts and minds of those who execute the work, you have nothing.

We can measure mechanical utilization, schedule and PM compliance, safety incidents, and so on. The last time I checked, however, the real measure is, “Did we produce what the customer is willing to pay for regarding product, quality, and on-time delivery?

To gain the hearts and minds of your people requires building relationships and empowering people down to the lowest levels in the organization so they can act as one entity. Producing a quality product, delivering it on time, and generating a profit to stay in business requires all to be on board. Consistently meeting those objectives day in and day out requires discipline and structure, i.e., processes and procedures executed in a precise manner.

In nearly every organization, plant, conference, or Rethink Maintenance Roadshow that I guide, I hear the same stories when I arrive. Maintenance mechanics complain about the production operators. The production operators blame maintenance. Production fails to meet goals and costs are too high. Both the people and processes are broken apart into often dysfunctional silos.

Realize that people are a product of their environment. Our hearts and minds are shaped by what we consume. In the current political climate, the media is shaping your perceptions based on polarizing slants, often sensationalized to drive views for ratings. Ever consider that companies are media outlets, too? Your site is a media outlet for the employees. It’s not about producing more presentations or graphics; it’s about aligning everyone. Take a step back and look at what you are communicating. What is the message?

If your message is anything other than how we engage hearts and minds to unite our people toward the common goal of satisfying our customers and generating profit, it’s time to rethink your approach. If you don’t have mechanisms in place that enable the production operators and maintenance personnel to act as one team, it’s way past time to make changes.

From a communication perspective, I see silos. Silos cut off communication. Silos encourage complacency. There is the safety presentation scrolling on the television in the break room and another display with current production metrics. I find many organizations that separate maintenance and production workers into separate shift changeover meetings—two meetings with a different focus in each. Rarely do you find yourself in collaborative environments where the operator acts as a helper and pairs with maintenance personnel who are working on the very same equipment that the operator runs. It’s not often that you find individual technicians and operators grouped into continuous improvement teams that focus on defect elimination and ongoing improvement activities. Speaking of improvement, I hear talk of implementation but little action. I find revised PM procedures, root-cause analysis output, and task lists, but I rarely see execution. I hear, “we are too busy,” but we can always get time to fix or produce it again when the problem goes uncorrected.

Let’s face it: We are often our own worst enemy. Dr. Deming taught that 94% of the problems are caused by the systems and structure we put (or failed to put) in place. Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”  Mistakenly, we often believe that errors and problems are the results of bad employees—those who simply don’t care. I find that when employees don’t care, it’s because they have tried to change things in the past, weren’t successful, and have simply given up. When I question a strategy and hear the frustrated response, “That’s above my pay grade,” I know to dig deeper regarding the lack of employee empowerment.

If we are to deliver to the customer and the business, then we must put in structures and communication processes that enable everyone, down to the lowest levels of the organization, to act as one from an execution perspective. When we break down the silos, people have the opportunity to connect with their hearts and minds with others. Trust is built. It can’t just be a strategy; it must be delivered. We must align the communication to ensure people are consuming the right approach. There must be urgency. Then, we must have the discipline (auditing) to ensure we can sustain the processes and continue to empower the people. The structures, i.e., meetings, organizational alignment, clear roles and responsibilities, communication methods, collaboration between departments, and job-specific training, all must foster the single unified direction.

What insights would you add?

Send me an email at the address below and I will respond or place your questions with my answers here.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have problems in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.