Recently I was sitting in a session for leadership and overheard a discussion by two people seated next to me. The discussion stemmed from one of them, a maintenance manager, who was afraid to ask for help from third-party companies to assist in her initiatives, feeling that she would be looked upon as incompetent or not the right person for the job. The other individual voiced the same opinion, but as a reliability manager he didn’t even have defined roles to know who to ask for help.
After listening to their discussion, I leaned over and asked both of them a question: “Did you get put into your position because you know absolutely everything about that position along with knowing everything about the assets and processes in your facility? Or did you get put in that position because leadership feels you can make the right decisions and perform how the role is defined to meet the demands of the company?”
They got quiet for a few seconds, then they both answered that it was the second part of my question. Then I made the statement (and I take zero credit for this statement—I have heard it throughout my career), “How do you know what you don’t know, if you don’t even know what it is?” This started us talking about how they need help, and where to start looking for help to make immediate and effective changes.
Problem #1: overcoming internal fears
Why does it appear that managers are afraid to ask for help, especially from outside companies that specialize in almost every area within a facility? There can be several reasons why a manager may be afraid to ask for this kind of help:
- fear of appearing incompetent
- concern about job security
- perception of self-reliance
- lack of trust or support
- perceived time constraints or overwhelming workload.
Managers can benefit from recognizing that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness, but rather a demonstration of humility, resourcefulness, and a commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes. To overcome the fear of asking for help, managers can take several steps:
- Recognize the value of asking for help—Understand that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness, but a strength. It shows a willingness to learn, collaborate, and find the best solutions for the organization.
- Foster a supportive work environment—Create a culture that encourages open communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Emphasize that asking for help is encouraged and viewed as a positive approach to problem-solving.
- Build trust and relationships—Develop strong relationships with colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. Establish trust by being reliable, supportive, and approachable. When you have built trust, it becomes easier to ask for help without fear of negative consequences.
- Clearly define expectations—Ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. When expectations are well-defined, it becomes easier to identify when assistance is needed and determine the appropriate channels for seeking help.
- Seek out mentors and networks—Connect with experienced professionals in the operation and maintenance field who can provide guidance and support. Join professional networks or associations where you can learn from others' experiences and share your own challenges.
- Develop problem-solving skills—Invest in developing your problem-solving and decision-making skills. The more confident you feel in your abilities, the less afraid you may be to ask for help when faced with complex or unfamiliar situations.
- Start small—Begin by asking for help in low-risk situations or with colleagues you feel comfortable with. Gradually expand your comfort zone by seeking assistance in more challenging or unfamiliar areas.
- Communicate the benefits—Share with your team and superiors the advantages of collaborative problem-solving and how it can improve efficiency, productivity, and overall performance. Highlight successful instances where asking for help led to positive outcomes.
- Reflect on past experiences—Analyze situations in which you didn't ask for help and assess the impact it had on the outcome. Recognize that seeking assistance could have potentially mitigated issues or improved results.
- Practice self-compassion—Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that everyone needs help at times. Accept that asking for assistance is a normal part of the learning and growth process.
Problem #2: overcoming budget resistance
The other statement I often hear is that it will cost too much to bring a consultant or other outside company on-site, or that the budget can’t afford an on-site visit right now. Keep in mind, I’m not the one saying this, but I’m asking the question.
Wayne Griffin, reliability consultant at RCO Consulting and former global reliability director for Guardian Industries (a Koch Company) as both a consultant and a corporate leader working with managers, says “The two biggest fatal errors that people can make are the lack of integrity or humility. Leveraging outside help can produce faster value than struggling on your own. Unfortunately, purchasing policies relative to consulting can create a difficult path to getting help. In a tight cash environment, people will choose the easier path short term and try to implement without help. Penny wise and pound foolish perhaps, but understandable.”
I’ve been on both sides of this question. I watched a company that was #6 out of nine companies in production of wood products become #2 in production in only two years. They achieved this by improving their operations and maintenance skills base; identifying incorrect or redundant processes; adding operator rounds; utilizing PM optimization for PdM, PM, and lubrication rounds; redefining their planning and scheduling process; and training their leadership in correct management skills and initiatives.
However, I’ve also seen a facility switch gears after meeting or exceeding production and revenue for more than 10 years, and cancel all on-site training for both operations and maintenance; switch their CMMS after three years of integration from the previous change; purchase sensors for every asset (excluding run-to-failure); utilize software to track and schedule rounds and PMs without any person-to-person input; and change the planning and scheduling process to a more automated interaction between shops. Unfortunately, that facility shut their gates less than two years later.
The amount of consulting and maintenance companies currently in industry shows that plants are using these support resources to improve or upgrade processes, equipment, skills, and production in multiple ways. So if money is still being spent, and a lot of it, why are managers afraid to ask? Is it fear of asking to add to the budget? Or is it as simple as managers just don’t want to ask because they’ve been shot down time after time to improve the facility? The reality is this is happening, and facilities are showing it in the form of everything from more budget cuts, less production, more downtime, less revenue, all the way up to facility closures.
Help is out there
With today’s economy and the shortage of natural resources and imported goods, we can’t afford to not be running our facilities on all cylinders and pulling resources that can assist with this push to improve, retain, and out-perform. Asking for help can improve every facet of the facility or company, having the ability to pull the professionals and those that are true subject matter experts (SMEs) into each facility to provide and make positive change. Help is out there and looking to get you and your team to the next level; it is okay to ask for help!