"The Resource Centre For Hazardous Area Professionals"

Social Media

Leaders in maintenance: A good idea, perhaps?

Print PDF
User Rating: / 0

MaintenanceMahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization. He replied that he thought it would be a good idea. The same thought comes to mind when considering management skills in maintenance departments.

Maintenance personnel often become leaders by the touch of

I’ll share some thoughts on maintenance leadership, especially for all the people out there who have crossed paths with the wand.

Suggestion No. 1: A leader must first know what to lead toward.
The whole idea of being a leader falls apart if the leader doesn’t know what beliefs to lead toward. What is the long-term purpose of reliability and maintenance management in your company, plant, area or department? Hopefully, your company has documented and disseminated beliefs for reliability and maintenance management. If not, the company, plant, area and/or department have set up its leaders to fail.

When asked about the most important thing to know as a leader, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani said you must know what you believe in before you start leading others.

If you are a maintenance or plant manager, consider if you have set up a clearly defined “place to go” for your maintenance and reliability efforts. Those who read my last column (see “Plan a clear path to reliability improvements” at will recognize the suggestion to define “best practices.” IDCON does this work for many organizations and usually divides the checklist into these categories:

Maintenance leadership and organization

Preventive maintenance

Planning and scheduling

Spare parts management

Root cause problem elimination

Engineering’s interface with maintenance

Technical database

Skills improvement for hourly and management

Facilities, tools and workshops

You may want to consider using this categorization as a start for your list. The idea is to make a checklist within each category that is very clear to the organization. In the PM section, you may state “we will store lubricants properly”; or, in spare parts management, “we’ll have an inventory record accuracy of 95 percent or higher.”

Regardless if you are a corporate manager, plant manager, maintenance manager, planner or a supervisor, ask yourself if you have a set of beliefs to lead toward. If not, I suggest you make a list together with your organization.

Suggestion No. 2: Understand the role of a maintenance leader.
Many people believe the role of a maintenance leader is to tell other people what to do. I think this is wrong. Other people feel the role of a maintenance leader is to motivate and encourage other people. I think this is somewhat misguided, as well. Let me explain.

The role of a maintenance leader is simply to get other people to do what you want them to do. Encouragement, motivation, group decisions and much more are tools that steer people in the right direction. But at the end of the day, a leader is trying to make other people do what he or she wants them to do. Again, if a leader is successful, we hope the company he/she works for has defined in simple terms where to lead.

How can maintenance leaders make people do what they want them to do? I think this is an art few master, but many can improve on. I’ll continue this topic in the next issue, starting with some thoughts around making people do what we want them to do.

In Part 1 of this series on maintenance leadership, I explored two points:

Maintenance leaders need to know what to lead toward in order to become effective leaders.

The leadership role is all about getting other people to do what you want them to do.

Let’s expand on that second point.

To get people to do what you want them to do, you must continuously build business processes that enable them to perform at their best. As a maintenance leader, you must realize that people can never be more effective than the system they work in.

In a recent Web survey of 442 maintenance leaders, IDCON asked: “How much time does your maintenance planners spend actually planning maintenance work?” Sixty percent of the respondents stated less than 30 percent of planners’ time is spent on planning work. Twenty-six percent said planners plan less than 10 percent of the time.

In a follow-up survey, we asked, “Why do planners not plan?” Given 11 choices, the respondents said the top three reasons are:

Too many emotional priorities (work that could wait breaks schedule).

Too many do-it-now jobs due to equipment breakdowns.

Operations does not support the planning process.

In this example, leaders must help set up roles and responsibilities for planners and people involved in the planning and scheduling process and then make sure the processes are followed. They should work with operations, stores and engineering to agree on work order priority rules, schedule cut-off times, identify critical equipment and spares, and much more.

The chance of getting people to do what you, as a leader, want them to do increases drastically if enablers are instituted in the plant.

Walk the Talk
Realize that your people follow your lead. Employees do what you do, not what you tell them to do. It’s critical to “walk the talk” by following up and sticking to the plans, best practices and enablers that you, as a leader, have put in place.

A leader that constantly starts meetings late will have a very hard time instilling good scheduling practices in the organization. A leader can’t expect quality work order plans if he or she constantly asks for completion of unnecessary last-minute work. A leader can’t expect world-class craftsmanship if craftspeople aren’t trained, or there is a lack of financial support for repairs, no time given to complete jobs, no standards or no detailed expectations.

If you are a true maintenance leader, make sure each attempt at improvement has substance behind it by producing a solid plan where cost and benefits are considered before involving the whole organization. It’s very common to see a plant sign up for the project of the month, only to have it replaced by a new effort a few months later.

While visiting a plant a few years ago, I mentioned that reliability improvements should go on forever. It is a continuous process. A craftsperson in the audience said, “In this plant, forever is eight weeks, and the yield for reliability improvements in eight weeks will most likely be fairly small.” Not understanding quite what he meant, he further explained, “All started improvement efforts are announced to last forever. The average life of a new improvement initiative in the plant is about eight weeks. Therefore, forever in this plant means an eight-week project.”

Even though the statement was meant partly as a joke, he was right on the money for this particular plant.

In parts 1 and 2 of this column series, I outlined the need for developing maintenance leadership skills. The main points were:

Maintenance leaders need to know what to lead toward before becoming effective leaders.
The leadership role is all about getting other people to do what you want them to do.
Enable your people by understanding and supporting basic business processes.
Walk the talk. If a change is initiated, stick with the program.
In this Advisor article, I will explain the roles of execution and motivation in effective leadership.

Bridge the Know-do Canyon
There is a small gap between inexperience and knowledge. There is an enormous canyon, however, between knowing and doing.

We know what to do. We know why we should do it. Often, we even know how to do it. Yet most of us don’t change, either as individuals or in the way we run our maintenance program. The problem is that most improvement efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is explain to people that things could be better and then tell them how to do it.

Does that work in real life?

“Smoking and excessive drinking is really bad for you.”

“Oh, really? Well then, I will quit right away.”

Our society would have no smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts, over-drafted credit cards or gamblers if it wasn’t for the fact that it is hard to execute on the principles we know to be true.

In my line of work, I train people in planning and scheduling, root cause analysis, storeroom management and preventive maintenance. The request for training and consulting is always a pleasant part of the business, but I always try to make a point of asking the potential client, “What will happen after the training is completed?” The answer is often that there is no plan in place. In many cases, it’s assumed that, for example, root cause training will solve the plant’s problems or that preventive maintenance training automatically will make people build a PM process.

Awareness training is one of the first steps, but we obviously need to remember what we know to be true: Execution is the key, not knowledge by itself. I refer to the previous four principles in this article series when it comes to ideas on implementing a “doing culture” in your plant.

Motivating Maintenance People
Do we need a different strategy to motivate maintenance people than the one we use for other plant employees? I don’t think so. A good rule of thumb is that people are people, even if they have funny nicknames taped to their hard hats, are union members or salaried employees. The question of how to motivate people often comes up in plant improvement efforts.

One thing is for sure: A pizza or cheap hat has never, by itself, motivated anyone to do a better job. The grand prize in the category of un-motivating motivation goes to the hospital where my wife worked as a physical therapist for several years. As a show of appreciation at Christmas time, all staff members were given a roll of Lifesavers candy with the note reading “you are a lifesaver.” How is that for motivation?

How do leaders motivate people? First, realize that few people in this world can motivate and inspire people in masses through rally speeches. With the exception of Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and a few others, leaders need to rely on motivating people one-on-one. Leaders must take the time to listen, discuss ideas and challenge approaches with each direct report in order to achieve change.

Pride in our job precedes other incentives for most people. Leaders must therefore provide honest feedback using skillful diplomacy.

In my opinion, pride and recognition of workmanship is more important than any gifts in motivating people, even though money has its place in any improvement effort. There are too many people dedicated to dangerous and relatively low-paying jobs as soldiers and divers for me to believe money is the No. 1 factor in getting people motivated.

With that in mind, set up the right work processes and closely follow up on the progress to achieve change.

In parts 1, 2 and 3 of this column series, I outlined the need for developing maintenance leadership (visit the Reliable Plant Web site at to read these articles). This column is the fourth and final part of the series.

I previously explained the system and procedures that need to be set up in order to make people do what you want them to do. Since people can’t be more effective than the system in which they work, you have to start by building a system and procedures. However, if you as maintenance leaders are going to get people to do what you want them to do, you are going to have to use diplomacy and psychology.

Consider the following situation: You are sitting down at home after a long day of work to read the newspaper. Your wife storms into the room and shrieks, “Get off of the couch! Start vacuuming, now! We have guests coming in two hours!” What would your reaction be? How would you feel? Would you cheerfully jump off the couch and start vacuuming while humming James Blunt’s latest hit, “You’re Beautiful”?

Is that a realistic response? I don’t think so. Your wife did not do a very good job of getting you to do what she wanted you to do, did she? In this case, she was not a good leader. (Yes, the wife is the leader at home, if anyone had a doubt.)

Instead, let’s say your wife came into the front room and said, “Dear husband, I have a problem. Could you help little me with my problem?” (I know that’s laying it on thick, but you get the point.) Since you are a macho man, you undoubtedly will say, “Of course. How can I help you with your little problem?” She says, “I need to clean, pick up the kids, cook a nice dinner and set the table within two hours, but there is not enough time. What should I do?”

Oh, yes, she got your number, but in a nice way. When you manage and lead people, it matters how you talk to them. Apply the same principle in the plant if you aren’t doing so already and you will see improvements in getting people to do what you want them to do, which is the essence of leadership.

People are not your most valuable resource

We are told all the time that people are our most valuable resource. This can’t be true. When I visit plants all over the world, I always get the same story. The plants tell me that they could send 10 to 30 percent of their maintenance department home and it would not make a difference the next day.

The reason is that 10 to 30 percent of the people never do anything useful. The cold, honest truth is that people are NOT the most valuable resource; the RIGHT people are your most valuable resource.

It is, therefore, as Jim Collins mentions in his book “Good to Great,” utterly and completely vital for any plant to “get the right people on the bus.” If you have a weak maintenance manager, supervisor, operations coordinator, planner, you name it, you will not be successful in your efforts to improve reliability.

Plant managers have to deal with poor performance. If they don’t, they will risk their own job because the same is true for a corporate vice president.

Bringing it all together

Summarizing this four-article series on plant leadership, improving plant reliability to the point of perfection is a long journey with many milestones. But, in my opinion, plant reliability and any other improvement efforts must start with the following:

1) Get the right people in the right spots.

2) Create a clear vision for the plant to strive for (best practices).

3) Managers must be leaders, not just managers.

4) Leadership must create a work system that allows people to be effective.

Looking ahead

I often get questions about best practices? “What are they?” And, “how do I get them?” As a result of your interest in this area, please read the next issue of Reliable Plant, where I will start a column series on “reliability and maintenance best practices.”

During this series, I will describe best practices and also provide a self-audit format for each article.

As always, if you have any questions about these or other maintenance management-related topics, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.