Selling Reliability Why Communication Is Key To Changing Plant Culture

Selling reliability: Why communication is key to changing plant culture

Aug. 15, 2023
Joe Kuhn says a communication plan will help connect the dots between reliability actions and achievements.

A phrase every reliability leader must embrace, “No one knows the failures you did not have.” A critical step in every reliability journey is a carefully crafted communication plan. Everyone on the leadership team must connect the dots of action taken to the results achieved. Believe me, everyone will know reliability failures, but what about the failures that no longer occur? Even if they notice the improvement, do they know why or how the change occurred? Was it luck? Will someone else take the credit? Will people speculate cause and effect?

Everyone challenged to create a reliability culture is in sales. Specifically, I call this, “Connecting the dots,” for example:

1.  We improved our lubrication preventative maintenance performance on motors from 50% to 100% resulting in motor failures dropping 82% in the last six months. This has improved production by 5% and reduced maintenance spend by $93,000. 

2.  We added a job kitter/stager position and reduced our outage time from 24 to 16 hours. This has improved production by 3% valued at $20,000 per month.

What is critical to understand is that while best practices are proven, your current state culture is unique. Thus, your journey will be different than every other plant’s transition. You will have missteps, lessons learned, organizational conflict, doubters, and skeptics. Your job is to soldier on connecting the dots.  Unfortunately, connecting these dots of success is only clear in hindsight. A perfect deployment of best practices in the right sequence at the right time is an illusion fueling the skeptics.  

Many ask, “Why must I sell reliability; why can we not just let the results speak for themselves?” While you are sponsored to make improvements to your equipment reliability today, you must always prepare for challengers to plant priorities; especially the dark force of, “We need to cut costs.” This mindset will hit your plant. A focus on reliability can only win if you passionately, relentlessly, and with data convince leadership that a reliability culture is a waste elimination machine that needs to be sped up during business challenges and not postponed.

Plant leadership must have more confidence in reliability best practices than draconian practices of arbitrary cost cutting targets. Your passionate verbal pleas in the heat of business challenges to maintain the improvements achieved thus far will fall on deaf ears. The confidence in best practices must be established over time, with real examples, and with you connecting the dots of action–result. I have found no substitute. Reliability change efforts will never fail on merits; they fail due to lack of sponsorship; act accordingly. Sponsorship must be earned every day.

Actions to begin on Monday to sell reliability: 

1.  Set a target to write two emails per week with reliability success stories. I recommend these be very short and include a picture(s). Summarize the event, new action taken, the expected impact and the historical impact. Try to keep under 50 words and one to three pictures. 

Example: Our new shaft alignment standard was put in place March 1st, 2023. Typically, we fail three pumps a month resulting in $15,000 lost production and repairs each month. Since the standard change, we have failed zero pumps. To date this has been worth $90,000 and is projected to be worth $180,000 a year. (Insert picture of technician aligning a shaft.)

2.  Begin a monthly reliability summary and email to all stakeholders. In the note, summarize key performance indicators, success stories and failures. Connect the dots of action–result. List lessons learned, help needed, and detail plans for the coming month. My preference is to keep this under two pages and to use bullets. Results need to be obvious and not hidden in a novel.  


  • PM compliance improved 95% last month. In 2022, we averaged just 47%. 
  • Lubrication PMs came in at 100% compliance for the 8th consecutive month.
  • Unscheduled downtime for August was 4% bringing year to date to 5.2%. This is a 30% improvement over 2022 results and directly linked to our improvement in lubrication PM compliance.
  • We had an unplanned electrical outage of 22 hours due to a loose connection.   Loose connections produce a heat signature that is detectable before failure using infrared technology. We plan to begin infrared inspections on critical equipment in the next 30 days.   
  • Next month we will be adding a kitter/stager job position to improve our work efficiencies. We expect the change will drive down backlog from 14 to 5 weeks over the coming months.

3.  Create and know your “Why.” Why do you want to create a reliability culture? For me, it was the employee suffering that resulted from poor reliability. We had forced overtime, forced weekend hours, poor job satisfaction and pride of work, all stemming from running assets in a reactive culture. On one occasion, I had an entire department work Thanksgiving Day. There was no hope that tomorrow, next week, or next month was going to be better. Honestly, I was embarrassed of the culture I was leading. The culture at work had to have an impact on families. Production suffered as well. Organizational hope and pride were achievable. Verbally communicate your why one-on-one and in group settings.   

Culture change can cause business leaders to shiver in fear or even roll their eyes. However, I have a different history. I have found culture change to be quite simple and highly impactful. Culture changes one experience at a time and by connecting the action-result dots. Sustained over time, your culture will change. A successful transition to a reliability culture has many action steps. The technical nature of reliability and maintenance work presents a temptation to skip the people side of change. I have found this to be a fatal error easily avoided.   

About the Author

Joe Kuhn | CMRP

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on creating a reliability culture as well as financial independence to help you retire early. Contact Joe Kuhn at [email protected].

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