Setting Goals To Achieve Your Vision

Where is your plant going? Setting goals to achieve your vision

Aug. 8, 2022
In this episode of Assets Anonymous, George Williams and Joe Anderson explore the power of setting goals and compartmentalizing the tasks to achieve them.

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX. ReliabilityX aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance. In this episode, George and Joe talk about how to more efficiently get where you're going.

PS: We're moving into knowing where you're going. The topic for Episode 5 was deceptively simple, I think we dove into some nuances that are more complex than they first appeared. How about “Knowing Where You're Going”? Is this pure map making or is this more complicated where it's going to be an extended process as well to do it right?

JA: It's a little of both.

GW: It is, and it really depends on how well you did Step Five. If you're still cloudy at where you're at, understanding where you're going gets a little more complicated, but it is a complex. Issue. It's more than the tactical pieces of asset management and operational performance.

Knowing where you're going also involves, how do you align to the overall organizational objectives? And does the language of where you're going align to that in such a way that you will gain support versus gain friction? There's a lot of pieces to where you're going.

I think what I typically – and I'll let Joe talk to this – what I typically come across is people are not looking far enough out. They're focused on tomorrow. And I think knowing where you're going is a deeper understanding of what the end result looks like, so that each day you can ask yourself, what am I going to do today to take one step closer to that goal?

JA: I'll tell you for a lot of organizations, if you could just focus on tomorrow, that would be great. It's true, right? One is, you have to know where you are, right? Because your future is a future state in which you've closed some gaps and seeing some results from the improvement. And so if you don't know where you are, how can you set a future plan?

But at the same time, depending on your level of experience – like for me having done this, you know, many times over and over now, I can map my future without knowing where I stand, because I already know where I stand when I walk into organization.

It should be more a five-year type plan: What is that vision of the future state? And it depends on the industry. In some industries, things move very, very, very slow. You have red tape and procedures and all this stuff that you have to get through to make movements. And in other industries, it's not so much, where tomorrow I could go out, write a PO, have a PO on my desk in five minutes, and already be initiating something. And in some organizations, it could take me six months to get that PO.

So there's a lot of nuances and a lot of variables and a lot of complexities to it, but to be honest, it's about setting goals. Having a vision, setting goals that align to that vision – that's just the strategic part. Then the tactical part is setting objectives and tasks that align to the goals and the vision, and making sure that it, like George said, it all aligns with the organizational objectives.

PS: This sounds like the elements of, say, the Project Management Professional certification that, like, a Microsoft would offer which aren't skills that are immediately associated with being a good maintenance tech. And yet I hear you loud and clear where knowing what to point to execute and then how to get there from that project management perspective, that's going to be key to success. Of the people you talk to, how many would you say are open to doing that or are already doing it?

GW: So, open to doing it, once you explain it, I think folks don't truly understand the power of setting goals, and then compartmentalizing the tasks to achieve them. Regardless of the leadership books, you read a lot of them reference studies on “writing your goal down” and what the power of writing a goal down is. The probability of succeeding is increased just by understanding what the goal is.

The next step is really compartmentalizing: What does it take to achieve that goal? and giving yourself subtasks. Right? So you're trying to break it down and break it down and break it down. You break the larger goal down into smaller goals. You break the smaller goals down into actions, you give yourself timelines for those actions, and then you have to figure out how to get it done.

And the first thing everyone ever says, when we go through all, this is, “well, I’ve got a day job. I don't have time to do this.” You're right, because you haven't done it yet. You, you have not afforded yourself the time to get better, because you are still in that reactive state. And until you change your mind, put a line in the sand, stomp your foot down, demand to be better, it's not going to happen. It just doesn't happen by itself.

So setting that goal is step one and then breaking it down into smaller goals and then tasks that you can control, is really the goal. And you're right, it follows Project Management Institute theory, everything you learn about project management, with the exception of, this doesn't have an end date.

PS: That is continuous improvement, like we said at the top of the podcast.

GW: Goals change, right? So the organizational envelope changes, the goals of the company change, there are lots of moving targets. And so while your overall goal is to run a well-established maintenance operations organization, the overall targets may change.

PS: You know, I remember a case study from, gosh, it's almost six years ago, guys, from a coffee company that was producing those K-cups back when K-cup emerged in the market with a bang. And the reliability team and the operations team was ordered to bring up 30 new production lines within the space of a year, and they would retroactively create a reliability program for each of the lines. The challenge for the team was get 30 machines which can actually make K-cups, and they had to source them from different OEMs, there wasn't single OEM that could actually provide all 30.

It stuck out to me because management mapped out where they're going, and so the reliability team that was working with the operations team understood for the moment the task was to get production up. And that was a reliability strategy, even if it wasn't what they wanted, but they still knew where they were going. So you get some crazy goals from management where you can still move work in a strategy for maintenance and reliability along the way that's beyond run to fail.

JA: Their business drove that need to get up and running. They got blasted right out of the gate, and so there's different modes in business that require different strategies. One is, if you need 30 lines up and running within a year, because your volumes are booming, your focus is getting the lines running and that's okay. You can improve them along the way. But if you don't get them running, how much business do you lose?

The thing is, a lot of times as maintenance and operations folks, all we see is our job. We're not big picture thinkers and thinking about the business. That's why it's important that you align with the organizational objectives. Because for example, if my goal as an organization is to get 30 production lines, but as a maintenance manager I'm submitting a plan that's going to show you lowest cost to produce, I am not aligned with the direction the organization is gone. My plan has to be aligned with how are we getting 30 lines up and running.

The biggest gap I see in most organizations is the fact that top leadership communicates what they want, but it doesn't leave the next line of management's hands, and so people are blind to the direction that the company wants to go. So you start asking folks, well, what are your organizational objectives? And they can't give you an answer, because they haven't been communicated down. They exist. They always exist. The thing is, is that they're not communicated down the chain.

And so that becomes, um, a mission in itself, trying to figure out what the organizational objectives are. If you understand where you currently stand, but you don't know what the organizational objectives are, you still can't develop the plan. You have to align with the business need. And like George said, it's ever evolving. You know, we have COVID hit out of nowhere. You have supply chain disruptions right now. None of this stuff was planned for in 2018 and 2019, I can tell you that. Right? So the business need changes all the time. You go from this line being my number one line to now we're making masks and face shields. The business need changed, like, out of nowhere. And so if you don't have a structure at least on how to be flexible and evolve with the business need and change your business plan … you could adjust, write your draft copy and send it around, and then COVID hit. You're going to have to redo your entire plan, right?

GW: I look at companies right now, they're taking a restaurant approach to sourcing, where you pay the highest price, you get the freshest stuff, right, if you want to be a high-end restaurant. Now people are trying to figure out their, loading up their sourcing organization because they need raw materials. And so the strategy for getting raw materials is no longer just place an order. You've got to be strategic in where you're getting these things and have a backup plan, and that didn't exist before.

For me, there's a couple of key points to what we're talking about today. One is, reliability is for the sake of the business, not for the sake of the asset. We as a maintenance organization in the past, and hopefully this is evolving continuously and changing, that's what Joe and I's mission in life really is – you're not there to fix the equipment for the sake of the piece of equipment.

You don't build a maintenance strategy for the sake of the piece of equipment. You don't utilize predictive technologies because you don't want the pump to fail. The pump serves a purpose to the organization, and that's what your job is. Your job is the organizational mission. Everyone's focus should be the organizational mission at all times, which is what drives your strategy and your actions, and hopefully drives your culture.

And the other piece is that alignment Joe's talking about, in how you represent what it is you're trying to achieve as a maintenance organization has to align. We just did a plant survey two months ago, and the organization, as we were asking our questions regarding budgeting and costs: “Oh, that's irrelevant. That doesn't matter. That doesn't matter. That doesn't matter.” At the technician level, at the supervisor level, at the middle management level. And we're not going to get into what the organization does or anything else. Costs were relatively unimportant because we just figure it out next year, and that was everyone's opinion.

We bring in senior leadership, and ask what the goals are: “Stabilize costs.” That was the goal. The overall goal was to be able to predict and stabilize costs. No one in the organization knew that. Not one.

Listen to the entire interview

PS: You know, that brings me back to something we see in our surveys. We do those surveys with our readers once in a while on topics like workforce and predictive maintenance. One thing that emerged in the past year and a half given COVID in organizational goals is that we've seen our readers have a healthy skepticism on what they're hearing from management. Communication between the C-suite and the maintenance teams is always a concern – except for the past year and a half, where during the COVID pandemic, suddenly people thought communication was far less of an issue because there was so much of it. And it was interesting that in this moment of crisis, suddenly people did not really have questions about where the company was going. The issue that communication is an obstacle to success went way down on these surveys. I thought it was interesting that in a moment of crisis like this, especially the pandemic, what happened was that plants actually over-communicated and gave their employees a stronger sense of where they were going.

GW: That doesn't surprise me one bit. A burning platform needs to exist for continual change, and to be aggressive at achieving goals. And the only thing your study shows is that instead of creating a burning platform, the environment created a burning platform. What we're saying is that regardless of where you stand in the organization, it's your job to create that burning platform. You know, when you read change management theory and how people go through change, a burning platform is one of the key points. In this day and age, it got created for us. And what we're saying is if you proactively create the burning platform and align that to your company goals, then you can get the same results: people driven towards a goal.

PS: Let's talk about one more aspect of knowing where you're going. And I always think of a Bob Dylan lyric from “Tangled Up In Blue”: I helped her out of a jam, I guess / but I used a little too much force. People who know where they're going, but they push too hard to get there. And I'm curious about your thoughts on, is that an issue with these plans where you've got people who either they set the burning platform or they see where they're going and they want to get there so bad that suddenly there's steps that are being leapfrogged to get there. So, using too much force to move people down the path. What are your thoughts on that?

GW: In the past, there's no such thing as too much force, but that would've been a long time ago when I was more of a theory X kind of person, and I think throughout my career, I've learned that people have to be part of creating the burning platform. They have to understand the creation of it, and they have to be part of the strategy development and deciding how you will tactfully get better. That happens through understanding and being open, engaged, and inclusive as a leader. So I think if you're doing those things, then how fast you move is being regulated by the community versus just you as yourself.

But I guess that really depends on, on your management style. Like I said, in my past I still had decent success or was much more of a theory X kind of person: these are the numbers you need to achieve and let's go do it. I think as I shifted my leadership style to more of a theory Y kind of person, the success became more exponential than it was when I was just the driver.

JA: If you have to use force, you're not really a leader anyway. Your leadership requires influence, and so if you're forcing anything, that means you'd lack influence, right? But to be driven and to go out and drive to get success isn't force. That's the difference. I think a lot of people confuse the two.

Being aggressive and going out and getting it – there's nothing wrong with that. Where it becomes a problem is when you're mowing people down in your path to get whatever it is that you want. The thing is, it's not about what you want, it's what does the organization need? And if you're working and you're a team-oriented person, you're not going to be mowing people down that get in your path. Now, trust me in my career, there's been people I've had to mow down. I probably could have handled it differently, but I'm the aggressive driven type of person. At the same time, I don't think I would've had the success I had if I hadn't been that way.

But you know, you have to be careful on how you define terms, right? It's like today, the term “success” and the term “power” get changed out interchangeably, and there there's a big difference, right? For example, when you seek a position of power, typically your intentions aren't the greatest, so it's probably not a person that you would want in charge. But someone that's the most successful at doing things, as a group we typically elevate this person to a level of power. And that's why with success comes responsibility, because you've been elevated to that position by people, versus you seeking out a position based on the power that you get. It's two different things, but we often equate the two together.

You see this successful business guy and it's automatically assumed that he's either shady, he got his daddy's money, that he didn't become the best that he could be and drive to that position. And so success is seen as a negative by a lot of people in society today. And there's a difference. The confusion comes in is that there's a lot of people in power in certain positions that shouldn't be there because they did nothing to prove or to pave the path in order to achieve that “success”.

And then there's others that have lived that life and, and they grinded it out, and so those are the people that we should be elevating and following right in society, not the ones that are seeking out a position of power. I think that's where a lot of the problem lies in these organizations, right, is you play politics to get elevated to this position and haven't achieved anything along the way. Somehow you're in this position because you played a game, versus if I started as the janitor and worked in every position in this organization all the way through, and now I'm the vice president, it's completely different situation.

And I know people like that. The president at the time of National Beef, when I worked there, he started as a janitor with the company, honestly started as a janitor, and worked his way up through the ranks and became president of the company. And, you know, you just don't see a lot of that anymore. One of it's because of red tape through HR requiring a college degree. You have two people, two resumes that come on your desk. One guy that has 20 years’ experience turning around maintenance organizations, and another kid straight out of engineering school that's never worked a day in his life. The one that gets hired is the kid out of school because he has a piece of paper.

And I think that there's a balance that we have to have of having some people with it and some people without it, I think it balances an organization, but making it the strictest requirement known to man where you're turning away top talent in a lot of situations because they don't have that piece of paper. They have lived experience, which would go far beyond any piece of paper that exists. Right. It's kind of like you'll hear reports like out of Africa of this guy that's been practicing medicine for 35 years and he's one of the best doctors there is. And they find out that he didn't even go to college. And then they say you can't be a doctor anymore because you don't have a piece of paper. It's like, well, if he's healed, you know, thousands of people and he's done his job… I mean, if you're killing people, that'd be a different story.

But for whatever reason, the stigma has been smashed into our head that you have to have this piece of paper and we've elevated this piece of paper beyond experience. And to me, I would take a hundred people with experience over a person with a piece of paper any day of the week, you know? Because I want people I can bring in that can actually do something, where I don't have to train them myself.  right.

GW: Getting back to the “where are we going” piece, if you are that leader, recognize the leaders around you that you respect, and emulate what it is you respect about them. Typically that is that they are honest, that they do what they say they're going to do that, they hold themselves to a standard before they hold others to a standard.

Try to emulate those characteristics and be the leader that takes you where you're going. I always saw my position when I was a practitioner as just trying to tell everybody, okay, here's where we're going. Let's say it's the north pole. I don't know where each person is or each site is in getting there. What I need you to tell me is if you're going through the desert so I can make sure there's plenty of water and shade. Tell me when you're going through the jungle and I'll make sure you have a machete. My job is the tools and the capability and remove roadblocks. It's not to dictate your next footstep.

So when you're laying out where you're going as an organization, I think there's, for me, there's, there's two really critical pieces. One is, don't be a dictator. You're not there to dictate each step. You're there to guide and provide understanding. Because ultimately you want the organization to take steps forward, not you to force them to take one step forward. Cause there's no sustainability that way. You're trying to elevate people.

The second piece is, understand how to map your path forward in alignment with the organizational goals. Everyone knows it's, it's important to have a decent preventive maintenance strategy, and let's say you don't have one today. Going to senior leadership and just saying, “it's the right thing to do, we need a PM strategy” would be a mistake, in my opinion. Find out what the organizational goals are. Find out what a new PM strategy does to help success in that path. And that's how you explain what a PM strategy will do.

It's never about the PM strategy. It's always about the company goals. So it doesn't matter if it's the use of predictive technology, if it's doing FMEAs, whatever it is you're looking to do or what the next step in your journey is, figure out a way to express it in terms that align to the company goals. I think if you do those two things, you'll be successful.

About the Author

Assets Anonymous | Assets Anonymous

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX, which aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance.

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