Investing In Employees

The business case for investing in your employees

Nov. 15, 2022
In this episode of Assets Anonymous, George Williams and Joe Anderson explore why companies need to focus on employee growth and development.

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 the importance of training and developing your employees.

PS: Well, we're on step seven today, and the first six steps covered foundational topics like understanding reactivity and proactivity, and knowing both where you stand and where you're going. All of which is leading to Steps 7-12, which seem to involve making decisions and taking actions that'll be important to continue making progress. Today's episode is focused on investing in people, and we were just talking: Do we really have to do that? In the plant?

GW: You are not obligated to invest in people. There is no statute, law, or regulating body that will require you to invest in your people. Maybe OSHA.

JA: From a safety perspective, that's about it.

GW: Unfortunately though, the. keys to success all lie in that space. And so, you know, I think the downfall we see in industry is not having a focused effort on that. I'll let Joe chime in here, but you know what's interesting to me that I find is that HR departments have these goals and objectives to actually do just that, and departments don't necessarily utilize them to their full advantage. So through no fault of anyone else's own, the employee ends up being neglected.

JA: Well there's two pieces to that, right? One is the chicken and the egg syndrome. and the other is the fact that we operate in silos. And so I'm not even sure, for example, a maintenance manager understands what budget lies out there for training through HR to use it to their advantage. That's one piece. The chicken and the egg piece is, companies now are going, “well, to invest in people, it requires a cost” but again, if you don't invest in people, you'll never get better. So it's kind of, uh, this dilemma that they're in. And of course, when things start going south, the first thing that gets eliminated from every space is the training program, and then right behind that is their reliability program. And so you lose knowledge, skill, development, that type of thing, as well as the overall reliability of your facility.

GW: And that spiral, right? Think about like what's happening right now. You have all these companies that are in dire need of people, and if they've had a longstanding history of not investing in their people, they probably are on the worst end of that spectrum where people are leaving the organization to go elsewhere. It's not always about pay. And, and so I think organizations that have done this well have probably had better retention. Now, I don't have any statistical data to prove that theory, but my guess is that's the case. 

JA: I know new statistics have come out. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), every year they put out, uh, the compendium of productivity indicators. And they do it by country based on GDP, labor hours and all this type of stuff. But what's interesting is in the United States, we've averaged since 2005, right around 1% or less of GDP per labor hour, which means our productivity is horrible. And a lot of that I think is because we've shift focus from results to other things that I really won't state here because it'll get me in trouble, but it's more political, I'll just say from that perspective.

There's basically three areas that you should focus on. One is your talent management, two is time management, and three is energy management. Talent management is, you know, professional development, succession planning, preparation for advancement, those types of things, coupled with the education and training needed for their position, and all that stuff is pretty much gone at this point within most organizations. They don't even train their people how to operate equipment at this point, like almost all of it is out the window. 

The other piece is that we're horrible with time management and no one utilizes a calendar properly, and they don't use the calendar to manage their time. If you just look at managers today, I think the statistics that I saw, it was like managers have less than seven hours a week of uninterrupted time in their schedule to do deep strategic work, which should be a majority of their job. Instead, they're doing all this shallow work and things that don't add value to the organization because they're caught up in things. 

The third piece is energy management, which is basically inspiration, right? Where's the inspiration? An inspired employee statistically has two to three times more productivity as a satisfied employee than an unsatisfied employee. And we know the statistics with dissatisfied employees. It's horrendous, right? What can we do to refocus and gain those things back? I think it's because priorities in business have shifted, and that's what's caused a lot of these issues. 

GW: I know that segment made me feel better, very inspired, and I'll probably be much more productive 

JA: Yeah, right (laughs).

PS: Well, Joe, you've tackled a couple of these topics in our pages in the past. You did a story this past January on operator driven reliability. Maybe we could talk a little bit about that because you covered how to inspire operators a lot in that segment too, what they can do to take control and take more authority over the health of their asset. 

JA: There's a few pieces to that, right? I kind of break in people down into three categories. There's the top 10 percenters, the middle 80 percenters, and the bottom 10 percenters. And what I mean by that is the top 10 percenters are those that are willing to change. They're naturally motivated and they want to do well all the time. They're always looking for ways to improve. The problem with that group is typically they lack direction, because of a lack of leadership, and people don't understand how to steer those people and utilize them to their advantage, to gain that productivity. 

The 80 percenters are the people that show up every day. They do okay at their work, but every time a new initiatives launched and it fails, it's just like, all right, here we go again. So when a good leader comes in and tries to inspire people, get them motivated to go do things, they kind of sit on the fence just to wait and see if this is going to be another failed thing or if they're going to get involved when success starts to come.

The bottom 10% are the people that they're there for a job and they're only going to do what they feel like doing no matter what. For whatever reason, we like to spend a lot of time on the bottom 10%, and it eats up a lot of our time, and I think that's a mistake. I think we should focus on the 10 percent at the top. Give them direction! You know, they're naturally motivated, it's not hard to inspire them. They want what's best and most of them know, but they have perceived obstacles or actual obstacles in their path that keep them from doing those things. So if we can remove those things, we'll begin to see success fairly quickly, and then once that snowball starts, that 80% starts pulling off the fence.

Then there becomes a point where you reach the tipping point where the bottom 10% will improve naturally because they're forced to. And instead of focusing all our energy on that bottom 10%, we should focus on the top 10%. 

It's the same with operations. You have these great operators that want to do well, but we will put something in place like “operators aren't allowed to touch a machine” because some operators at some time made a mistake and it costs the company money, and now maintenance is saying, we don't want them touching the machine. These operators, they're an extension of the maintenance department and if you can utilize them correctly, it allows you to give up some tasks that you shouldn't be doing anyway in the maintenance department.

But because we don't allow operators to touch machines, because we haven't done a good job training them and developing them, it hinders the business. If we can get that 10% motivated and get them doing some of those tasks and alleviating stuff in the maintenance department where we could focus on the higher, uh, bigger priority things that need to get done. I think that's key, it's one of those things where I don't think we have quite the understanding on how to lead that. 

PS: We've done surveys in the past in Plant Services on leadership. Tom Moriarty had driven those surveys, and one of the findings that came out of those surveys is that the average time between first promotion to leadership position and then leadership training was eight years. There's a huge, huge delta in people being moved into positions of authority, decision making authority, authority over teams, and yet very few get the immediate training on how to manage those teams, whether they have the skills or not. I just found that surprising and it backs up what you're saying about we've got to find some way to motivate those top performers. 

JA: What ends up happening with that statistic is there's two or three companies that actually train their employees and no one else. 

GW: Everybody else is zero, right?

JA: Yeah, it makes it an eight-year when typically it's a zero. This guy was really good at running this piece of equipment or fixing this machine, so we're going to promote him. They're not looking at him and going, this guy is a great leader. And most leaders aren't the most technical people. They know how to delegate work, get work done, they know how to do things like that. I can vouch for that because my first promotion to supervisor and maintenance was in the beef packing industry because I was a master of the K Pack machine, which was a chub maker for ground beef that made the 1, 2, 3, 5 pound chubs, because I knew that machine so well. They said, we’ve got to promote that guy, and I was promoted, and now all of a sudden I'm leading people with no training, no nothing, right? 

Listen to the entire interview

GW: It happens all the time, both on the maintenance side and operations and all over the plant. You do your job well, you're not required to find your successor. You're not required to groom or coach anybody or train them how to do your job. You end up promoted, so now there's a gaping hole in the organization when you get promoted. So if you're a maintenance technician, you get promoted to supervisor to give you zero training in how to supervise people. Then you get promoted eventually to maintenance manager, you get zero training in how to develop a budget, zero training in anything that deals with managing a team, change management, people skills, none of it. Then eventually you're the plant manager and it's, it's not much different. 

Organizations are talent-reliant, not because they have created great training programs and systems, but because they just happened to have promoted somebody that figured it out. Or, they didn't figure it out, and they keep going through that position over and over again. 

PS: Let's take a look at a couple of different positions then. Let's say you have a relatively new employee, fresh out of whatever program they trained in, to join the frontline maintenance staff. Given that you talked about one of the things you don't want to do is overload people so they get bogged down in the minutiae, how do you go ahead and invest in that person and make sure their time gets spent wisely? What are some of the things that you would do that you see top quartile plants doing?

GW: You've figured that out in the onboarding process. If you have not figured it out in the onboarding process, you've probably doubled your workload trying to figure it out later. So in the onboarding process, you should have done that skills gap assessment to see where that person falls in your current pool of talent and what training direction that person should be going in. If none of that exists, which is highly probable, then it's go shadow this person, and unfortunately in the maintenance space, the buddy system is a real thing, and you get coupled with somebody when you get hired and you're probably just going to work with that person for the next 20 years. They think two people get more jobs done than one person. 

JA: And that one person is a gopher for the first five years and not really learning anything. 

GW: Right, and so it, you know, that's a challenge. I think, you know, from my perspective, you have to vet out and have a path to success inside any area. But in the maintenance organization, it's all about your technical skill sets, and if you're going to have a path forward to supervision, what type of people skills do you have?

JA: I think we need to get rid of employee evaluations, and start doing individual development plans, so that with the development plan, you're focusing on their growth every year, and you meet with them quarterly to see where they're at on their plan. Instead, we wait until, oh, they're due in January, well on Dec. 31 we're running through marking them as a number, 5-4-3-2-1, and then giving two seconds of feedback on it and turning it in.

The problem is, one, the maintenance manager has been so focused on reactive maintenance the whole year that he hasn't had any time to spend to develop their people. Because again, if they only have seven hours free because of meetings all the time, how do you spend that seven hours? And typically that seven hours is on the floor turning wrenches with mechanics because they're in reactive mode, so how are you going to spend time developing employees?

That's where taking a step back and realizing your job is 75% strategic helps. You've got to set the direction going forward. How are things going to change? What's your departmental plan? Including what's the development plan for my folks? And if you're doing a skills gap assessment at onboarding, you already know where your weaknesses are and you can plan accordingly to get the proper training to people and make that a part of their development.

PS: What are the differences in investment, would you say, in employees? Like we're talking about recent hires versus the 15, 20 year senior millwrights out there. The ones who, they sort of made it clear they're not comfortable getting promoted, maybe even beyond supervisor, but the ones who really do like working with the assets. Are there different techniques to use to invest in those people, to keep them again occupied or inspired on the job?

GW: People that are not necessarily looking for advancement, that's still a great thing. If they're comfortable where they're at, that's admirable. If they love what they do, that's good, that also means they're not willing to be promoted up until failure.

For folks that do want advancement, the organization has to have a pathway for that. Here's the training and skill sets you need, and yes, that pathway may be different than to brush up your technical skill sets. That's what maintenance management is all about, on top of the strategic thing, it's managing your organization, identifying the people that do advancement, identifying the people that want to broaden their mind and expand their capabilities and giving them a pathway to do that. That's how you retain people. A raise only lasts 30 days; people figure out how to spend it. So, that's not really a permanent way or permanent strategy to keep folks. 

JA: For the 20 or 30 year vet, typically most organizations aren't using PdM technologies, or if they are, they're not very good at it, and so it's really easy to develop champions that are veterans in the maintenance department by introducing them to these technologies. It's something new. It's something fresh. It's something that is easy to learn and it's a new skill. And most of those type of guys, they want as many skills as possible, so a good way to inspire them and keep them inspired is putting PdM technologies in their hands, or challenging them to create a different process, or how can we improve things where you're utilizing their knowledge and making them feel valued. I think that that's a key part with your veterans.

PS: We've got time on the podcast for one more topic and maybe I can turn to investing in yourself. Joe, you made a great point that it's tough for people, especially in leadership positions who haven't been trained, to remember that their job is so strategic. So let me frame the question this way. Let's say you either are a manager who knows that there's some gaps to fill, we can extend that out a millwright, who knows that there are some training gaps to fill. What are some of the ways to advocate for your own self advancement that you know work? What are some of those arguments that resonate? What are some arguments you can make that would help the people with the training budgets say, yeah, let's go ahead and do the training.

JA: Understanding root causes of issues is a big one that helps you develop case studies. For example, if, as a maintenance manager, I want to introduce ultrasound technology. One, I'm going to use my ultrasound provider to come in, do a quick assessment and show the value back to the company. Two, it's your ability to sell it to the organization. Most maintenance managers that I know are not well versed on how to sell that business case. 

I don't think I've really ever been told no when I asked for training dollars. The way that I look at things is, when I was a maintenance manager, they hired me to be the expert. And so it was my job to come to the table offering my expertise, and if I saw a gap in my maintenance department, I would present the business case and the budget needed to close that gap. But that's a big problem for a lot of maintenance managers, especially if you were just promoted because you're really good at working on a machine. How do you develop a business case? You know, what's the terminology, how do you speak the language to the upper management?

There's a lot of things to learn there. and again, I kind of taught myself, plus, you know, having mentors always helps, right? Try to find a mentor, find a coach, that can help you do this type of stuff because that's where the value comes in, is you being able to speak to the organization in a way that wins you that money for budgeting, for training and, and skill development. 

GW: Co coupled with that, I mean, Joe makes a phenomenal point in that you have to be able to justify what you're looking for, right? What business value the do you get back in exchange for that training? 

Once you've identified that, it now becomes, well, who can I get on my side? How can I create that coalition? And if it's technical training that if not done well could potentially result in an injury, then you get safety on your side. If it's technical training that reduces the mean time to repair and you can operate more and create more units, you get the production manager on your side.

Once you've identified what the area of opportunity is, figure out how to create the value for everyone else because the larger your coalition, the more probability of success in what you're asking.

PS: Those are some really great tips on not only how to motivate others, but also to do a quick self-assessment and get some third party feedback from coaches and other people who, uh, can help influence your self-investment.

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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