13 Ways To Change Your Maintenance Team Culture 64da7ee858c53

13 ways to change your maintenance team culture

Aug. 14, 2023
Many talk about the importance of human capital, but do they walk the walk?

I’ve attended a number of maintenance and reliability conferences over the last five years, and culture is by far the #1 challenge or roadblock for M&R professionals. Culture is defined as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group” by Websters. I would define it as the personality of your department, plant, and company that establishes the ease or difficulty of completing daily tasks and working together towards improving the process.

Every ship, plant, or organization I’ve been a part of the past 40 years has had a different culture. I’ve always heard “this happens only here” and really believe the differences between the various organizations/industries are subtle with universal influences. In my experience, there are three major influences on culture:

  1. Individual team members – Do they work together? Do they feel their voice is heard? Do they enjoy going to work every day?
  2. Supervision / management – Do they have an open door policy? Do they listen to employees? Are they willing to take acceptable risks with new ideas?
  3. Corporate – Are they driven by only the bottom line? Do they provide too much oversight?

Easy efforts to improve the culture positively include ensuring that corporate, plant, department goals are clear, posted and understood, that communication occurs frequently at all levels, and that appropriate personnel are involved at the right level for decision making. Some positive attributes of good culture:

  • Goals and objectives are clearly stated at every level.
  • Employees are recognized as the life blood of the organization and treated as such by having a voice, sound performance expectations and representative benefits.
  • Team member opinions and suggestions are listened to and considered in decision making.
  • Reacting to the challenges encountered are taken in stride.

There are clearly many facets of the culture within an organization. The culture will change when any person in the above groups move on and are replaced by a new employee. How will the culture sustain itself when this occurs? The rest of this article covers specific examples to consider as you and your teams work to positively impact the culture of your organization:

1. Creating/adding PM plans. You may find there are no PM plans or an inadequate number of them. Most folks will agree preventive maintenance is a good thing. Establish an objective to review/create needed plans and ensure management buy-in. Make sure to include the correct stakeholders (primarily maintenance technicians and operators) and promulgate a timeline that is not too aggressive. This will be a lot of work and require much data entry. Once the PM plans are in place, track the failures and there should be a positive impact on machine uptime. Don’t forget to share the progress and the results at every opportunity to communicate at all levels.

2. Adding head count. No one in management wants to hear this. Your CMMS should contain the labor data to support the right number of personnel. If it doesn’t, fix it. One plant I was in had many electronic problems (PLCs, VFDs, etc.) on third shift and would lose hours, if not the entire shift because no one on shift from the maintenance staff possessed the skills to perform a basic reset. Reducing downtime will get management attention with data.

3. Recording RCM wins. Show me the money! A great running plant with new management will ask the question “Why do we need reliability? Our equipment is running great!” It can be laborious and someone has to do it, but tracking the right KPIs, failures prevented, and costs/repairs avoided will solidify your case. This activity will significantly contribute to stressing the importance and reasons that reliability works.

4. Scheduling equipment downtime to PM. Production schedulers have a tough job. They deal with so many variables: production, shipping, raw materials, tooling, and personnel absences. You probably have to fight at times to get machine time. Knowing this is inevitable, my strategy was asking “when will the machine available?” and reschedule right away. And then ask, “are there any other machines available to take down”? This turned out to work most of the time. Occasionally a very busy machine would go a week or two and not be available, which forced me to PM on a Sunday if necessary. I was lucky the operation was not 24/7.

5. Invest in training. Many companies are reluctant to spend money on training, because they are afraid of the employees leaving to get a better job somewhere else. But consider, don’t conduct any training and all the employees stay but lack the skills to perform their job well. You have to train your people! Conduct “train the trainer” sessions, either internally or externally and create SMEs. Push the training budget with management, but ensure it is the right targeted training to improve your process and fill knowledge gaps. It is highly unlikely to not experience any turnover, but with the great culture you develop, people will feel part of the team and not actively look for the greener grass.

6. Do what you say you will do. This one thing will solidify your reputation at all levels. Folks will bring you suggestions when they know their ideas aren’t doomed for the circular file. The most important aspect of these suggestions is to ensure that you provide direct feedback to the person that brought the idea to you. You can’t do everything folks suggest, but explaining the reasoning why or why not will be greatly appreciated and spawn more great ideas.

7. Post progress of KPIs, goals, and projects. Post these in a prominent position that people will see daily, preferably a location they can’t ignore them. Employees want to know how the plant is doing. Whether they are plant goals or department goals, tracking the progress and knowing their efforts are making a difference will motivate them to contribute to the cause.

8. Communicate machine downtime hour by hour. Unexpected downtime throws a wrench into the daily plans of many departments, whether production, shipping, customer service, or even sales (to alert customers if shipments are delayed). Arming these cross functional teams with timely and key updates will raise the credibility of the maintenance department and make everyone feel like part of the team. Although eliminating unscheduled downtime is paramount, ensuring it is as short as possible reflects a positive team spirit.

9. Communicate the importance of reliability up and down the chain of command. Most plants have, or should have, periodic communication meetings – from the plant level down to the department. Updates to goal status, capital projects progress, new customers, and upcoming HR processes should all be discussed. Some aspect of reliability should be a plant goal and emphasized during these meetings at every level. Emphasizing the importance of reliability and ensuring folks know what it means, will eventually make it an everyday aspect of operating the plant, instead of an afterthought.

10. Maintenance deserves longer breaks. I found most maintenance departments feel they should take longer than authorized breaks since they may occur off schedule due to a machine breakdown, finishing a job, or some assigned task. Sometimes lunches are delayed due to these unavoidable events. Maintenance personnel deserve their breaks like everyone else, which is accentuated in the union environment. There are other ways to reward good behavior instead of compromising good practices where everyone in the plant believes that maintenance folks are special. I once had to remind a maintenance employee that taking breaks while a machine was down countered the mantra of maintenance. When he responded that production takes their breaks on a schedule, I reminded him that he is in maintenance, and he was welcome to bid into a production job if desired. Seems a little harsh, but sometimes the reality of good discipline must be followed.

11. Reduce stagnant inventory. There is a cost to store inventory parts. Of course, you can’t hold every possible spare part on-hand and you can’t cover every part needed during every breakdown. Periodic reviews of what should be critical spare parts, parts used during breakdowns, and any looming obsolescence parts will solidify your program. Reducing the carrying cost of parts that may or may not be needed regularly will help your company’s bottom line and reduce the administration of inventory management.

12. Knowing your people. Self-assessments, getting results, leadership training all certainly contribute to an improved culture. But knowing what motivates your people, what life events they are going through, what their hobbies or personal priorities are, will go a long ways towards motivating them to work for you. People work for their bosses primarily, and some work for the money, but many people leave their jobs due to their boss.

13. Bad apples. These types can be a huge hindrance to a great culture. Sometimes folks will leave your department or company because they don’t agree with the direction you are leading. If this happens, it will probably have a positive effect. You may have to deal with a difficult employee whose nature is to complain and no matter what you do their behavior doesn’t change. Discipline is normally negative but can be necessary to ensure standards. Just ensure it is consistent. At some point you may need to make the tough decision and encourage that person to another job, whether voluntary or involuntary.

It is clear that there is not one single silver bullet that affects culture. There are many aspects of the workplace besides profitability, a good safety record, or a great company picnic that set up the overall environment and make the team a well-oiled machine. Many talk about the importance of human capital, but do they walk the walk? Changing the culture is like the rudder of a large ship setting the direction. It is a slow turn, there are opposing waves, and adjustments are necessary, but you can set the proper course towards the destination. Culture can be changed and the effort is worth it!

About the Author

Lee McClish | CMRP, CRL

Lee McClish is the Director of Maintenance and Reliability for NTT GDC Americas, a global telecommunications and data center company. He holds a BSME, MBA, CMRP, CRL, and CPMM, and is the author of a recent book, “Maintenance Leadership 101,” which is available on Amazon.

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