Podcast From Mentee To Mentor Why Good Leaders Never Stop Learning 6400d4205f815

Podcast: From mentee to mentor — Why good leaders never stop learning

March 2, 2023
In this episode of Meet the PS Experts, Jeff Shiver, author of From the Plant Floor, shares his thoughts on effective leadership and how to build a network of both formal and informal mentors.

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.

PS: Every time we meet at events, not only do we have great conversations, but I always take away something that I can learn from and think about until the next time we meet. One of the things that I took away from your presentations is one of my favorite sayings of yours, it's backlogs should not have birthdays. I know we're jumping into some of the details, but Jeff has a really accessible, practical, memorable way of phrasing tips and best practices that make you want to do better. So maybe we can start with that. Where did the phrase "backlogs should not have birthdays" come from?

JS: Honestly, I don't remember. I was working with a client and something came up around the birthdays, and we were able to make the relationship between the two. And it's so real because, if you think about it, many organizations will only report backlogs that are less than six months old. In some organizations, they hold items in the CMMS as placeholders. It might be some capital project they want to do in the future or other things. But in reality, if it sits in there for more than a year, you're not going to do it. One of the biggest challenges we have is keeping the database clean and scrubbing the database appropriately so that ultimately we can use that data to make good business decisions. That's a really key piece for us is how do we make sure we do it in the right way? It truly is a challenge. I go to so many places where they don't do a god job. I just did an assessment at a major university, and as part of that, we had the very same conversation, and they said, "Well, we've got a ton of work orders out there that we just haven't had time to close. I've got them. I know that they are there. I just need to close them. The work has been done." But the problem is we're not managing the data from a business perspective. We're not helping maintenance engineering or reliability engineering improve the processes when we fail to close items and have lots of backlog.  Interestingly enough, we often measure backlog in terms of work orders. And in reality, we need to think about it in terms of workload hours. Is a job two hours or is it 200 hours? What we really want the planner to do is a quick estimate when the work order comes in, is it two hours, 208 hours, or whatever? Then we can come back later and plan it in more detail. That's a key piece for us, to understand what is truly the backlog.

PS: That's a good point. A backlog of that size just has the effect on the plant teams of a crashing weight. At some point, people come to work realizing, "Oh, another crisis day. We're never going to get ahead of this. We'll just do our best." And it becomes more of a drudge than a pleasure to do this kind of work.  I want to look at your most recent column for "From the Plant Floor." You talked about FMEAs and the way that you were trained by a couple of folks to do them. Part of your column focused on how to take an FMEA up from the asset level and look for at the line or at the plant level. I thought that was really a great way to look at it. I want to ask you about some of your mentors in this profession. You mentioned in that column that you worked with both Keith Mobley and Ron Moore, and that they both had an influence on the way you approach this discipline. Could you talk a little bit about those two mentors or others you've had and how they've influenced how you approach this?

JS: I think one of the struggles that most maintenance managers and other professionals, at the end of the day, have is we don't build up a network of both formal and informal mentors. I spent the first part of my career working at Mars, so think Snickers, Skittles, Pedigree, Whiskas, Waltham, and things like that. And Mars had a mentoring program at the time. During that time, I was mentoring a number of people. But one day, the light bulb went off, and I said, "You know, I really don't have anybody that's mentoring me." I went over to HR, and I had a conversation with Bill (I'm not going to tell you his last name, but he's a great guy, he's actually retired now), I said, "Bill, I don't have a mentor." And he looked at me, and he said, "You know, Jeff, most people might need a mentor, but you don't need a mentor, because you have so many informal mentors." And it's the approach I've always had. 

For example, I might want to do something, a particular project or something, within the plant. And I would go and present a proposal in a way to individuals. I might go to you and say, "Tom, I'm thinking about this. What do you think?" And I would get that feedback from you. Then I would build that in when I went to see Jane and say, "Jane, what would you do here?" I would get that feedback, and I would build it in and then ultimately, at some point, I would present it to the leadership team, but everybody had already seen it. So at that point, it was pretty much rubber stamping, to say, "Okay, boom, here it is." One plant manager told me, "You know, you have a bedside manner, like a doctor that goes into the hospital has a bedside manner." It's about number one being humble all the time. There's always an opportunity to learn from everybody. So that's the mentoring piece. 

When we talk about great individuals like Keith Mobley and Ron Moore, Ramesh Gulati, and lots of others like Doc Palmer and Tom Moriarty and all the other columnists, for example, that are part of Plant Services, it is the same kind of thing. Doc and I have worked together in the past, doing things, and he has his approach. I look at it, sometimes think about it, you know, I'm not necessarily exactly the same as Doc, but we're very much aligned on how we think. 

So here's the story on how I came to meet Keith Mobley. At the time, like many other people in the maintenance world, I didn't know what I didn't know. I knew that I was getting hammered by late-night calls and all the other things. I'd taken over maintenance from an engineering role. I took it personally that the equipment didn't run well and that we didn't have the reliability we needed, and that our costs were higher. It was like a saber had pierced my heart in the morning meetings, and I just said, "I have to fix this." So, I went out and I started looking for help. Again, I didn't know what I didn't know. When I brought in a consulting group, we went through an assessment process, we developed the plan of improvement, how we were going to approach things, and within that, there were specific areas. 

For example, I can always remember a caramel cooker, where it would actually cook the caramel for Snickers, and it was a constant problem. Because it was a reliability issue, it was associated with maintenance, and incorrectly so. So, I brought Keith in, and we did an FMEA on the caramel cooker. And I'll always remember the maintenance technician, who was part of that analysis, coming to me and saying, "Jeff, can we talk about this data?" And I said, "What do you mean? 'Can we talk about this data?' " And he said, "Well, it's not us. It's Operations. Operations is not changing over the tank properly, and not doing the CIPs, the clean in place procedure, and not doing all these things. And that's what's causing the failure." And that's what FEMA pointed out. And I said, "Well, do you have data?" And he said, "Yeah, we got data all day long." And I said, "Well, let the data speak for itself." That was my first encounter, really, with Keith, and it was awesome. It's incredible, that you have those memories, but at the same time, how do you become a continuous learner at the end of the day? I never really worked directly with Ron Moore. When we started People and Processes, Ron and I became somewhat friends, maybe more sort of acquaintances in a lot of ways too. Ron would share his wisdom, and I would always try to pick up on that through his presentations at the University of Tennessee, or at conferences, or during our conversations. And from his book, for example, we talked about the idea of using the line-level FMEA. And I've used that successfully with a number of clients, where you actually elevate it up and out of the maintenance round on a specific asset by itself. 

In one particular bottling plant, they had a lot of issues that were not maintenance issues. Sure, maintenance had their own problems, but HR took forever to replace employees that left, and the company didn't pay well, so there was constant turnover. Then they ended up putting temporaries, and the temporaries wouldn't get any training on, for example, the logistics side. Because of the limited floor space, what would happen is they wouldn't have places to put the product. And then the truck was bringing the cans to package the beverage, or the bottles to package the beverage, they would be the ones who would take away the product. And if the trucks were late, or whatever the case may be, you had nowhere to put the product, so you had to stop lines. Or, you ran out of raw materials. So, there's all these things that came out of, for example, the line-level or the plant-level FMEA, that were not specific to an asset. 

At the same time, they created downtime. And they caused excessive cost and the unavailability of the equipment as well. There were a whole lot of factors that came out of that. Out of it, just like you would do with an FMEA, you generate an action plan, and from that action plan, here's all the things we need to go fix. HR looks at you, their eyes glaze over and they say, "We're already working as hard as we can, Jeff." But how do we shorten the cycle? What do we do differently to make sure that we get in requests, and we can do value stream analysis, for example. There's part of this whole process to replenish somebody. What can we do to take out days at the end of the day? Or what can we do to train people better as temporaries when they come in, and what is the progression path from a temporary to become an employee? If you're bringing them in through a temporary agency, and they're great, then how do you transition them into employees where they become great operators? And then maybe at some point become great maintainers. And on and on, and on.

PS: All the things that you're citing with these examples, it just reinforces your attitude towards maintenance and reliability that it is not a single-sector issue. Like you said, you may work in the maintenance sector, but to solve some of these problems you're talking about, you do have to have contact with operations, with HR, with supply chain. The more you ask why, why, why, the more you dig deeper, the more you apply maintenance best practices and principles like RCM and FMEA, the more you get that holistic view of the plant. What I'm also hearing you say too, is that it is a relief to discover sometimes where the heart of the issue is. And it's not the people that are behind the issue. It's just the heart of the issue. Your reaction when you discovered the issue with the caramel cooker was not, "Hey, those guys in operations are screwing me up." It was, "Oh my gosh, we figured out where the problem is. I can sleep now, and I don't have to feel bad about not being able to maintain the asset. We found out how to maintain it as a team, and let's go do it now."

JS: One of the challenges that every organization faces as part of that is, how do you build at the CEO level, at the C-suite level, the VP level, the director level? How do you build in this culture around asset reliability and improving reliability overall? Even in the Mars world, we did all this great stuff. And I'll always remember a technician from when we first started our journey, and he said, "You know, Jeff, we did this 15 years ago." And I said, "Yep, guess what, we get to do it again, too." That's what we do to people at the end of the day. We constantly give them these cycles, if you will. Some new manager comes in, and it's his or her approach, and then they leave. Most maintenance managers, I think, stay in the role on average, about two years, and then they move on to somewhere else. Obviously, for me, its the same kind of thing. I moved from a maintenance manager role to an operations manager role. But then I left the business to start up People and Processes. 

When I left the business, they brought a new plant manager in, and the new plant manager says, "Well, we don't need to spend all this money." That individual had never spent any time in the plant to truly understand the costs. We had already harvested all the low-hanging fruit. And they basically said, "Well, we can cut the budget by 20%." And I'm like, wow. It wasn't the maintenance budget, they cut the whole plant budget. At the end of the day, you still have to produce X number of widgets. So many Snickers bars you need to make, so many Skittles, so many Starbursts. It takes so much production labor to do that. Where's the one lever, they get to pull? It's maintenance. So, they basically say we're not going to maintain things. This is what you pretty much get when you take a very proactive organization, and then you say, "Okay, we're not going to spend money anymore. We will save our way to prosperity," which we know never works. What happened is that a new plant manager came in, and they told the business, "Well, I need to spend about $30 million to get this plant back where I can run it again." It's one of those famous sayings, the old cliche, "pay me now or pay me later." At the end of the day, we'll still have to do the same work. 

But you're right, it's so real for it not to be just a maintenance thing. I was listening to a story from one of our team members just the other day, and he was talking about how they had so much waste, and they chased down all the waste. They found that it was really due to people not operating the assets correctly, not following the right operations procedures, and so forth. There was just so much opportunity there, and they were able to harvest a lot of that. We talk about the "hidden plant" all the time. And we find so many companies that don't believe the numbers initially, but then they realize, "Wow. We don't have to go invest in new capital assets in a new location, because we're now maximizing the capacity that we already had. We just weren't leveraging it in the right way." 

I'll share with you one of the biggest challenges. It's the personal accountability piece. We tend to be conflict averse, and we don't want to hold people accountable. We talked about mentors, and one of the best mentors I ever had was a boss. He was tough. He didn't let me slide. He set expectations and held me accountable to achieve those expectations. And I'll always remember him. We're friends to this day. He's long retired, but we're still friends to this day. He held me accountable, and I learned from that, and that's something we tend not to do. Managers, especially young managers, tend to look the other way. You don't realize it, but people are watching you as a manager. Then if you have a toxic apple, as they say, you taint the whole orchard. It just takes that one bad apple. And because they're watching it and because you don't do anything, the other apples eventually give up and they just fall back, and you lose the opportunities that you had.

Read the rest of the transcript

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

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...