2023 industry wrap-up: The best of Leadership in Action

2023 industry wrap-up: The best of Leadership in Action

Dec. 26, 2023
In this year-end wrap-up, we shine a spotlight on Joe Kuhn's most influential columns.

Leadership in Action is a monthly column that explores how to become a stronger, more effective leader. In this column, Joe Kuhn, CMRP, president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC, and author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges,” offers his experiences on creating, maintaining, and evolving reliability culture at your facility. In this year-end wrap-up, we shine a spotlight on Joe's most influential columns.

“Go and see” is the first step in creating a reliability culture

I have found the creation of a reliability culture to be, by far, the best change to maximize impact for the effort. A reliability culture not only impacts the reliability of the asset at the lowest possible cost, this culture drives improvement in production, quality, health, safety, environmental compliance, employee morale, and employee retention. Further and most often overlooked, is the impact reliability culture has on opportunity cost. Poor reliability consumes the attention and energy of the entire organization. What is possible if everyone had 20% more time to focus on the business, instead of simply trying to survive the day? Newfound process stability can fundamentally change your business.

How do you fix a problem with team work ethic?

Circling back to the culture as it exists today, why do you think technicians are starting late, taking long breaks, and quitting early? What I have discovered is 99% of the time it is due to poor work planning and poor work expectations by supervisor. They are waiting for production to release the equipment, they are waiting for parts, or waiting for a mobile crane. Worse, supervisors have such low expectations from crews that they only assign 2-3 hours’ worth of work to each technician. Since they are expected to fix things with duct tape and bailing wire for a rapid return to production, they frequently complete tasks early – so what is the rush? Why are technicians commonly observed riding around on scooters?  Excellent chance they are looking for parts on a poorly planned job. You hired great people and put them in a poor system. The system is the opportunity.

Sometimes all a new leader needs is a little nudge in the right direction

I have worked and consulted in dozens of plants. I am a mentor and a coach to several more. What is crystal clear to me is that there is a vacuum of leadership in maintenance and reliability. I see two reasons for this:

  1. Maintenance is hard, often thankless, and is dominated by negative feedback.
  2. In maintenance, technical skills are prized over leadership skills. 

Great leaders can change these cultural norms. This is your call to action. The reliability and maintenance profession is desperate for leaders. Best practices have been known for decades, yet deployment eludes us resulting in plant closures, poor performance, low employee morale, and high turnover. Reliability journeys start and fail in months. We must do better, but culture change is only possible with great leaders.

Reliability sponsorship must be earned every day

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.

Prioritize root cause problem solving to improve performance at your facility 

This case study indicated we could get 20 times the results by adding problem solving and focusing on condition monitoring. This was just what I was looking for; how did I miss this? With this new knowledge, our leadership made strategic changes to greatly increase our priority on root cause and condition monitoring. 

Within few months our results were quietly beginning to materialize. We went from 500 unplanned work orders a week to 400, then 300 and even down to 200. Everyone knew something was different. We moved from a weekly crisis to biweekly and then monthly. Within a year every department realized giant leaps in performance with the bottleneck asset improving from 37% uptime to 78% (that is an improvement of 111%). Plantwide costs dropped by 42% in year three. Employee engagement catapulted from 37% to 89%, which was the highest in the company. Safety also improved due to marked decrease in unplanned work.

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