Changes in corporate culture needed to ensure spending’s effectiveness.

Changing the Narrative

“What does your corporate culture look like in terms of asset reliability? If you aren’t familiar with what a proactive culture looks like, it is impossible to execute one.” – Jeff Dudley, Senior Consultant

When it comes to reliability, two components drive improvement—targeted spending and changing corporate culture. By definition, targeted spending focuses on achieving reliability improvement through the assurance that the spending has a lasting impact and not a short-term impact. Changing company culture, on the other hand, accounts for the actions an organization takes in regard to day-to-day work processes and behaviors, including how the organization resolves issues with asset performance. Does the company simply repair the asset, or does it develop an equipment maintenance strategy to enable proactive asset inspections, or possibly reconfigure the asset to prevent the failure? While at least one of these is necessary, Solomon believes that changing corporate culture adds more long-lasting and impactful value than targeted spending. If targeted spending is not accompanied by changes in corporate culture, it will have to be repeated in the future because the culture is what will make the impact of the spend long lasting. If you buy a new car and don’t adhere to the defined process of how and at what intervals to maintain it, the car will have a much shorter life than if you do. Likewise, if manufacturing assets are not maintained by a company with a reliable culture, targeted spending to add assets that will drive improvement will be a wasted effort.

Proactive vs Reactive

In short, human behavior can be categorized as either reactive or proactive. In the car example, a reactive response would be to disregard a suggested tire rotation schedule, notice the tires are bald and then be forced to replace all the tires at once. A proactive response would be to regularly follow the tire rotation schedule to get a longer life from the existing tires and prevent future unscheduled repairs. While reactive behaviors are a natural response to conflict, proactive behavior leads to better reliability. Organizations spend less money in both the short term and the long term when they proactively address asset issues sooner rather than later.

Proactive Culture Needed to Ensure Reliability

Safety and reliability share similar cultures; however, reliability is developmentally about 15 years behind safety because most people within organizations are not willing to take ownership over reliability. When employees are asked who they consider responsible for safety, they point to themselves, co-workers, or supervisors. Collectively, it is agreed everyone is responsible for safety and this shared responsibility is valued by all who participate. However, if those same employees are asked who is responsible for reliability, the answer will typically not include themselves. Similar to safety, in order to drive reliability, all employees must take ownership in their role regarding reliability. If an asset fails, the initial discussions may surround the asset, but will shift quickly to the role of human behavior in the asset’s failure. Recognizing human behavior and intervention, and the vital role culture plays, are the driving forces behind improving reliability. While some organizations observe the significance of human behavior and culture, many still succumb to the fallacy that they can spend their way to reliability. If a proactive culture is not demonstrated, adapted, and ingrained, reliability will continue to lag behind safety, making it harder to achieve improvement.

Potential Obstacles and Solutions

When addressing reliability, assess how much is spent and how well an asset runs. Culture is intertwined in all aspects of spending and performance. For example, if an asset needs repairs, Solomon’s International Study of Plant Reliability and Maintenance Effectiveness (RAM Study) data indicate a reactive response would cost 6 to 9 times more than a proactive response. Reactive responses lead to repetitive and expensive failures. Proactive responses entail planning and scheduling work, good work-processes around execution, early identification of abnormalities, and prohibiting those abnormalities from becoming normal. The famous quote by author C. P. Sennett holds true: “If nothing changes then nothing changes.” Although reactive behaviors come naturally, we must change our thinking to view reactive responses as abnormal. We must avoid rewarding reactive behavior at all costs as it only perpetuates poor reliability.

Above all, we must remain patient as reliability is a worthy investment. Successful reliability does not happen overnight and changing fundamental culture and behaviors will take time. There is only one culture, and that is the one you create every single day.