From Mentee To Mentor Why Good Leaders Never Stop Learning 640005de749ef

Why you should allow your plant workers the opportunity to fail and learn

March 2, 2023
"How do we make sure that we're doing the right stuff on the front end, to think about total lifecycle costs, versus just making it a maintenance problem at the end of the day"

Jeff Shiver, CMRP, is the Founder and Managing Principal at People and Processes Incorporated. Jeff guides people to achieve success in maintenance and reliability practices using common-sense approaches. He's also a contributing editor for Plant Services, authoring two columns to date. His current department, From The Plant Floor, features reports on what Jeff is seeing and hearing from a practical, hands-on perspective. He also authored a library of columns called Ask Jeff, where he answered readers' questions on a variety of topics, including planning and scheduling, reliability centered maintenance, best practices implementation, leadership, and much more. In the introductory episode of our Meet the PS Experts podcast series, Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk spoke with Jeff about the improtance of mentorship and fostering a culture of continuous learning if you want to developing future leaders.

Listen to Jeff Shiver on The Tool Belt Podcast

PS: Quick story. I was just down at the ARC Industry Forum event, which attracts as many C-level workers as frontline practitioners, and that column drew some attention from people I was talking with. A lot of the challenges people spoke about at this event were centered around when you focus on things like changing your maintenance practices, digitizing your operations a little bit here and there, embracing sustainability initiatives. Everyone kept saying, "Well, the toughest part is implementing change with the teams." They didn't look at it as an impossibility, but they all said, "Yeah, this is an issue." And when people would see that page in the magazine, Jeff, I had two or three people, say, "Can I have that from you? Can I have that issue?" It's interesting that you point that out about challenging people, because that's something which I wish I would have heard more at that event: when it comes to these goals you want to meet, especially your sustainability goals, why not challenge your employees? Best, middling, worst -- give them a challenge. Show them that you're there for a good reason. If mistakes are made, you learn from them and keep going. Give them the mission and challenge them.

JS: You bring up a good point. How do you become a learning organization where you can make mistakes? We don't want to injure people from those kinds of mistakes, but we want to make sure that we have the opportunity to fail and learn from that. And when we talk about change management, I always say that people buy into what they help create. Many times, we don't allow people that opportunity. We don't put them on a team. I just had a conversation only about a week ago, around auditing and taking three work orders out of the stack that are completed and walking them down. And they said, "Well, we're going to have the manager and their supervisors do that." I said, "Okay, but what about the technician? What about the planner? What about the person from the storeroom?" And they said, "Well, no, we're going to do it. If something's wrong, we're going to have a conversation later with the technician or the planner, or whomever indirectly." I was like, "But you're losing a heck of an opportunity." 

When you're walking down, you can take those people with you. And this focus shouldn't be on the individual. The focus should be on the business processes. Did we initiate the work order in the right way? Did we properly scope it to identify the child asset that was necessary? Did we plan the work? Do we get the materials? Were the materials kitted and staged? Did we schedule it properly? Do we have time to do the work? Was it coordinated? When we take the planner, or when we take the technician, when we take the storeroom operator, even the plant manager, we can set expectations in a coaching manner. It's a mentoring opportunity where we can say, "Hey, that ceiling tile is stained. We should get that replaced." Maintenance technicians and other people tend to have blinders on. And so, what happens is they go out, and they just look at where they go, and they don't really look around and say, "I hear that bearing going over here, or I see the seal is leaking on this pipe, or things like that. And that's where you can train people. 

I actually had another mentor. I used to have a plant manager who was originally a controls engineering manager when I was a controls engineer. Later, he became a plant manager, and I reported to him at that point too at a different site. We would go out together, and he would set those expectations. Later, when I would go out, for example, with planners or other people in coaching through People and Processes, I would walk the plant floor with those individuals. Here's a great example. I was in a mine here in Central Florida. They had a rock washing station, and there was a beater bar up on the top, and they were looking at a pump and a motor mount, and how they're going to plan the job and that type thing. At this agitator bar, there was a guard. Interestingly enough, there was a small hole in the guard, and I could see that the belt was broken. It was almost broken, and it was just barely hanging on with the webbing. When they came over to me, I asked, "Do you need this when you start back up? And they said, "Yeah, we've got to have that." And I said "You need to get somebody to fix the belt." I showed it to him, and he said, "How did you see it?" I said, "I was looking for it." 

The challenge gets to be, how do you teach people to look for things? How do you teach people to understand, are we following the process? I'll share this with you too. What I find is that people want to do the right thing. So, what they're doing is they're working around the processes typically because something in the process is not right, and so you need to go back and fix the process, hence the audit piece. In that way, it enables them to do the job the way you expect them to do it. It's another challenge. My good friend Doc and I talk about this all the time. How do you rely on the skills of the craft, but yet still set a standard? 

The organization I was in the last couple of weeks, they experienced the same kind of thing. They said, "We struggle with planning because the technicians don't want to follow the plan." Well, that's because we really didn't work with those technicians to develop the plan. We didn't give them an opportunity to buy in. We gave them a gift, and said, "Here's the plan." And they say, "I know how to do my job." But the real challenge is how do we take those individuals and get them all doing it the same way. If Tom does it his way, and Jeff does it his way, and Alexis does it her way, and at the end of the day it fails, which way caused it to fail? We have to have one right way to do it. But I'm not trying to kill the creativity of the crafts. If Tom has a better way, then let's all get together and agree that that's the better way, build it into the process, and built into the job plan. We've all agreed, and now we all go out and do it the same way. That way, we can guarantee the longevity of the reliability of the assets that we're trying to nurture and preserve.

PS: We all agree that a job plan is a living document. I've heard you and Doc both say that as you find improvements, it can grow. It's not going to be a static one-and-done document. It's going to be alive. It's going to have to be.

JS: I like to say that there's no such thing as a perfect job plan. There's always opportunity to improve it. I want to go back and touch on one thing that you mentioned, and that was around the defect eliminations. I've seen Joel Levitt ,another great individual, talk about this too. We've made a mistake, in a lot of ways over the years, in maintenance, and we finally learned from it. I think most of us have learned from it, but it's still an opportunity, especially when you think about the number of people that are moving through the different positions, and who was a maintenance manager two years ago is no longer the maintenance manager. But on the defect elimination side, in Winston P. Ledet's book, "Don't Just Fix It, Improve It!", he talked about how it's not about planning and scheduling more work. It's about eliminating the need to do that. You see the P-F curve models that now have specify, design, install, and so forth. From an RCM perspective, that's really not inclusive, it's not really inclusive of a PF curve. It highlights the point of how do we design for reliability? 

One of the sites that we worked with in the past had geology issues with the ground when they built the plant. They had to take $14 million out of the plant construction budget that was going to be used for stainless steel and more rigid pump bases and those kind of things for the equipment, and go in and fix the geology of the ground. They installed, for example, carbon steel, which quickly rusted away, and other installation methods that made it a maintenance issue. They couldn't keep the equipment running because they couldn't keep it aligned. They couldn't keep the bases stable. And the operators couldn't operate it well because it was falling apart on them. But again, maintenance was supposed to fix that, right? It comes back to the conversation of rather than focus on more planning and scheduling or more preventative maintenance, how do we make sure that we never get into the state where the equipment's going to fail? We can't prevent all failures, obviously, but the focus should be more to the front end, is how do we make sure we operate it right? How do we engineer it properly? How do we make sure we've got solid bases?  Ensure that we have done the laser alignment on installation?

If we look at places like universities, it's basically low-cost provider, at the end of the day. Who can sell me the part in the least expensive way possible? It's not about best value, but least cost. What happens then is in the storeroom, for example, you have a mismatch of parts, literally. You have so much duplication, but the mounting is just slightly different for this versus that, and yes, you can overcome that with standards, but unfortunately, not everybody has their construction standards that they should really abide by. 

That's where the focus is. How do we make sure that we're doing the right stuff on the front end, to think about total lifecycle costs, versus just making it a maintenance problem at the end of the day.

PS: You've got an educational series coming up pretty soon, which wraps a lot of these concepts together, and also adds in a strong element of leadership. As you mentioned before, a lot of times the maintenance managers don't have the mentoring support, once they get in those positions. It's a four-part series called Maintenance and Reliability for Managers, and it kicks off in March. Could you tell our listeners about that series, where they can find out information about it?

JS: Sure, and thank you for mentioning that, because it's so important. You know, we hear all the time that we just don't know where to start from a maintenance manager perspective. In addition, that course, is great for you know, I don't necessarily call it a prep course for the CMRP, the Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, but it definitely touches on all the parts of that, because the CMRP body of knowledge was actually used along with other things like GFMAM, ISO 55000, some of those standards are built into the methodologies within the course. 

But what I want to say about that course is many people use that course, as an initial path into their journey for reliability. What do I mean by that? Well, we've got lots of cases where, I'll use one in particular, actually presented a couple years ago at the SMRP Annual Conference. What happened is, an individual maintenance manager brought his plant manager and brought his planner to a public class, just like we're talking about this particular one is, it's located in Dallas. He brought those people who happened to be in Ohio at the time, and they got excited about it, they learned, here's the different parts and pieces. 

What makes the class so cool, Tom, is the fact that you go for a week for three days, and then you disappear for basically six weeks, and then you come back for the class, and ideally, you can have a project. So once again, is you get the benefit of actually doing some projects, so the business is getting a return in addition to the return coming from the training itself. Then they get to present so they present every time they come back, hey, this is where I'm at with that, with this particular project, I'm working on whatever it is, and then they get feedback, both from the instructor and from their peers that are in the class: "We tried that, and here's where we struggle, so think about it this way." And so that becomes very, very powerful. And then ideally you should be in a great state to take the CMRP, when you finish the four parts. 

Many organizations use it, and it happens, that particular organization where that maintenance manager came, what they did is they then brought it back to their plant. And they opened it up, and they did it within their plant and then opened it up for the regional plants around that and started bringing them into that. As that organization continued, executives got excited about it because they saw the change going on within the region. So now they put in a reliability management structure, they dedicated resources to improve the reliability, because they were getting such great returns on all the activities that were happening. And then they spread it out across the continental U.S., and some of Canada. And now every plant manager is required to attend that course. It is foundational and we do that course every year for them. They've been doing it every year now for the last probably five years, if I remember correctly, so it's been awesome. We used to do it in Houston sometimes, in certain organizations they would put two or three people in every time we offered it publicly. It was a way that they could change the culture, they were slowly but surely changing the culture, because everybody got the same message at the end of the day.

PS: Very cool, and that kicks off pretty soon, right?

JS: It is coming up March 7-9, and it's incredibly powerful. And even if you couldn't make the first session, you can still sign up for the course and come back and make up the first session on the next round of courses as that's one of the cool things about it is you have that flexibility too. You can find it at:

PS: I do have one more question for you Jeff, and it's going to lean a little bit more towards the personal side. I have seen a number of your presentations at conferences, at SMRP, Reliable Plant, MARCON. And I've seen you stop the room, when you start talking about why we do what we do. And in to paraphrase what you've said, I hope I capture it closely enough, you say "we're not in the asset health business, we're in the family health business." And you could hear just a pin drop when people digest that, because you're speaking to people who believe already that, yes, this is a job, it's a profession we like doing where a lot of us are engineering oriented, or engineers professionally. But the reason why we do this thing, it's  so that people can live their lives and have good family lives too, they go home safe after a day's work, you have to wake up fewer times at 2 am to rescue the asset, hopefully, if you get reliability going. So that always struck me as really powerful, Jeff, and it's a dimension of empathy that comes out into columns you write for us too, where you never lose sight of that mission, that we're here for people first.

JS: It's incredibly important that people succeed, and that's really a personal mission for me. Our tagline within People and Processes is "make plant reliability your success." How do you balance the work that you do? And how do you make sure you're doing it the best way you can? So that's one of our goals is how do we educate people? How do we coach, how we mentor them to become truly successful in what they do? 

There's so many great, there's so many great resources, and so many great leaders. Bob Chapman is one, and you can obviously get to all the TED talks. I'll share this with you very quickly: I'm so sad when I see that statistics show that maintenance managers only read about one book a year. I read many books a year because I'm always trying to stay up on the thoughts and the processes and the technologies. But you're right, at the end of the day, a reliable plant is a safer plant. There's just so many stories, and if you if you have access to OSHA, for example, and just all the different events that happen, and you look at so many tragedies or injuries that are just so needless, at the end of the day, because somebody didn't do something right, or some process wasn't followed, or the company didn't even have processes around that. 

I'm reminded of a company that is based in Atlanta, and it happens that they had a plant in India, and the VP for safety had to go over to India, because they were just killing too many people. And the plant manager really struggled to understand, he says, "you want me to spend all this money on guarding and machine safety and that type of thing. You know, I can just go out here and get another person. We have so many people in India that I can just go get another person." And you know that the VP of safety was like, "we cannot kill people. That's not acceptable. It's not acceptable for us to maim people, to harm people." 

When we think about the human aspects of it, at the end of the day, we hope we're doing all the right things. In reality, when you think about it, the real challenge is that you can pass away today and truthfully, in six months, they're able to have somebody right back in the same shoes as you walk the same path. So how do you do the right things for you? And as an organization, how do we do the right things for those individuals? We see so many times where somebody gets hurt, or they get potentially killed, simply because we didn't follow the right maintenance practices, or we didn't make sure the equipment was reliable or we didn't have safety. One of the things that I think is really important too, from an RCM perspective, is that when we talk about protective devices that are set up to protect individuals, protect the plant, protect whatever, many of them are in a failed state. Obviously, you go into chemical plants, they're much more rigorous about their approach. But in other plants, they might not even know about all their protective devices. And then they don't even have a maintenance program for them, so they don't know if they're in the failed state. Even when we go back to just basic PMs, we know that 40 to 60% of the PMs don't add any value, they don't address the likely failure modes, and that's a common issue. If I look at where I was at with the university, they have a generic program. What does that mean? Well, only for very critical assets do they have unique PMs, so they have the same PM for a fan, a different PM for pumps. It doesn't matter what the operating context is for the pump, it's just the same PM, you know, if we have 1,100 or 11,000 pumps, it doesn't matter, the PM is still the same. And the problem is, we don't take into consideration the operating context: does it run all the time or does it never run? Then we address that because the failure modes are different based on that. 

So it's the same thing for protective devices: how do we make sure we're doing the right maintenance at the right time? And we're checking to see if it's actually operational, because it's hidden, it's not normal for us to know that it's in a failed state. So I'll add this too, and most organizations struggle with this, but we manage maintenance by managing failure modes, and we truly have to understand the failure modes. What I encourage people to do is to take an introductory RCM class -- you might never do RCM in your life, and that's fine -- but what RCM does is it gives you a framework. We take RCM2 and the seven questions, it gives you a framework from which to think about PM optimization, and at least understand the function, the functional failure, and then a failure mode. And then out of that, you can go through a decision tree, how to make a decision on what strategy to use, and that's groundbreaking. Unfortunately, Tom, that came out in 1978, and RCM2 in 1984. It's not new, it's nothing new about it. But yet in many organizations it might as well have come out yesterday, because nobody knows about it. You don't know what you don't know.

PS: In a given organization, over 20 years, you've got a whole new generation in place, and it may be new to the organization, people may have changed enough, so I thank you for those references. For those listening who do want a framework, yes, start with this, it's a familiar discipline, and if you talk to anyone who who is experienced with it, they'll share the resources. Thank you for spending so much time with us today, Jeff. And hopefully, everyone listening got a taste of the kinds of topics Jeff writes about for Plant Services in both "From The Plant Floor" and the library of "Ask Jeff" columns. You can find all of his work for Plant Services under the heading From The Plant Floor, or just search for his name. Just as importantly, go to, that's Jeff's company and you can find more information about what he offers there, and then make sure you go to Maintenance and Reliability Management course link: Last question Jeff, will you be at MARCON?

JS: I will, I'm actually looking forward to it. I hope to see you there again. I'm doing a workshop around change management, and what I'm more excited about actually, I love to get an opportunity to do education and help people again succeed, but we've got a couple people from one of our client groups from Salt Lake that are coming over and they're going to accept their certification for their maintenance planning and scheduling certification through the University of Tennessee. So they've achieved that status, and they're going to do a presentation with me after they receive their certificate, and they're going to talk about all the great things they did to get there, you know, what they've done within their site, and all the changes they've made. And so I'm really looking forward to seeing those guys share their story.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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