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Anchoring behavioral management

Jan. 14, 2013
Stanton McGroarty says actions must be aligned with objectives to create behavioral change.

Two of the hottest concepts in industry today are cultural development and behavior-based change. Loosely, “culture” is what groups of people do. “Behavior” is more often focused on what individual people do. Otherwise they’re not much different. Both are based on the idea that what people do is important. How’s that for a breakthrough concept?

Consultants have come to the realization that, as important as training, technology, organization design, and new software are, none of them amounts to much until it changes what people do. Actions must be aligned with the objectives that the other stuff is designed to accomplish. Without action, none of it will work.

Of course this “use it or lose it” notion is not new, but talking about it is now very fashionable.

The idea is that, by watching and coaching what people do in the course of their work and by providing consequences for rule following or breaking, we can help to create behavioral change. Behavior-based safety was one well-known and successful effort of this type.

The most recent behavior-based safety project I followed began with a set of all-hands meetings in which the company promised a new strict enforcement policy for existing safety regulations. This was couched in the context of a new dedication to the sanctity of everyone’s personal safety.

A very visible tightening of enforcement of the driving and parking rules on the plant site was a well-publicized part of the effort. Soon everyone knew someone who had to beg rides to meetings because his or her driving privileges had been revoked for a few months due to a citation for speeding or running a stop sign. This was followed by a program requiring everyone to remind fellow workers of job safety missteps. Supervisors were ordered to remind workers for a month and then to begin formal discipline whenever reminders weren’t enough. Responses to major infractions like ignoring confined space rules or working without a permit were made zero tolerance from the beginning.

Soon safety performance as measured by accident rates and infirmary visits began to improve, and the program was on its way. There was no rocket science applied, just a day after which infractions would not be allowed. Of course this program had the cultural importance of safety behind it to help it work. Efficiency initiatives are not supported by the same cultural norms that personal safety is, but similar methods can be used to advance them.

As with safety initiatives, group behaviors are the key. For most workplace initiatives meetings are the centers of group behaviors. It is in meetings that the workers from widely scattered parts of the organization come together and align their efforts toward common goals. Many of the needed meetings are already on the schedules, but they are often poorly attended by unprepared participants who don’t really share the objectives the meetings serve. Sound familiar?

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at [email protected] or check out his .
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The best examples I have witnessed of performance improvement through improved meetings have been in maintenance planning and scheduling initiatives. Here a planner who has properly reviewed the backlog and planned the upcoming work should be able to address the groups who will provide all the needed services and other resources to get the job done. When managers visit the meetings to ensure that all needed services are represented and that the participants are prepared and engaged, they can begin to understand schedules and police results.

If the right KPIs are in place, the reduction in unscheduled work and a corresponding improvement in performance of scheduled work, both repair and preventive, can be obvious in surprisingly short order. A good planning meeting will provide a window on the quality of preparation and participation of all the necessary services for the planned jobs to be done. Management will be able to look through this window with a weekly commitment of about an hour and then another hour to coach the people who need coaching. This is much more efficient than following the workforce around all week.

If we support the KPIs with reviews of which jobs were not performed and what caused the schedule-breakers, a set of enforcement tools begins to emerge. If management shows a new, iron-clad commitment to enforcing the schedule, much like the commitment supporting the safety initiatives, a new way of working will evolve.

Like the safety program, it isn’t rocket science, but it is a process that will change behaviors in an important part of the operation and begin a culture shift there. As the behavior changes spread, the effort can save a lot of money and, ultimately, a lot of jobs. For more information on the relevant scheduling rules and tools, readers can take a look at the series of three columns I wrote on data-driven maintenance columns.

Meetings, when they are properly planned, attended, and executed, can help to anchor the behaviors that will get work done right. When management drives maintenance and reliability with this kind of behavior and culture change, they can begin to improve control of equipment condition and performance. If they use sound KPIs to measure and demonstrate the improvements, behavior based change is underway. Can a culture of success be far behind?