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2:55 pm
April 18, 2017
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On The Floor: Management Rapport? Thumbs Up and Down

Mechanical and electrical plant roomsBy Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

For some reason, the following question about management rapport really kicked MT Reader Panelists into high gear this month. Lots of them (more than usual) wanted to express their opinions (some in far more detail than they typically provide). The result is that we can’t include all responses on these two pages. 

Q: What was the state of rapport between their sites’ plant-floor reliability and/or maintenance teams (or their clients’/customers’ teams) and upper management, and why?

Here are a few of the responses we received. As usual, they’ve been edited for clarity and brevity.

Industry Consultant, West…
Management rapport [with maintenance and reliability teams] is one of the main indicators I use when working at a new [client] site. If there’s tension between these departments, there will be communication breakdowns—virtually every time.  Performance will suffer greatly, and each group will blame the others.

In general, I find a good, strong, open, and honest working relationship in less than 30% of my clients’ operations.  If I can resolve issues between the groups, and improve relationships, the parts of the maintenance and reliability puzzle fall into place rather easily. In the age of e-mail, texting, and voicemail, however, it’s much easier for silos to exist and not handle issues face-to-face.  In my opinion, it seems to be getting easier to let site relationships erode rather than repair them.

Maintenance Technician, Discrete Mfg, North America…
Not the greatest here (always a struggle because upper management is constantly looking to cut corners). They call it risk management, yet when something goes wrong, they panic. Some of our older equipment has been paid for many times over. Now, though, we’re into a stage where it’s hard to get parts for this equipment. We [our team] really tries to stress the importance of preventive maintenance (PMs) and taking care of things, as in “if you take care of your stuff, your stuff will take care of you.” But it becomes frustrating when that idea seems to fall on deaf ears and they [management] seem to dodge another bullet. (This opinion is based on personal experience; I’ve been working in this plant for many years.)

Industry Supplier, Southeast…
With regard to my customers, management rapport, in most cases, is still not very good. I work with a lot of plants where plant-floor staff need help, but must get upper management to buy in. Most preventive-maintenance (PM) personnel don’t have the knowledge to make their case. When I’m able to meet with both sides at the table and pitch ROI (return on investment), it seems that they begin to understand each other better, i.e., that the ROI for Management is dollars and the ROI of PM teams is reduced failures and workload.

Reliability Specialist, Power Sector, Midwest…
Our team has an excellent rapport with all levels of the organization.  The secret to good rapport is to not only talk the talk, but to walk the talk. The site’s PdM/PM program mission is to use our knowledge and appropriate technologies on the facility’s assets to provide the operating group safe, efficient, and reliable equipment.  In the same manner, we are to use our knowledge and available technologies to safely and effectively reduce the facility’s operating and maintenance costs.

Industry Supplier, Midwest…
It’s ugly (management rapport, that is)! Many of my plant-floor customers have lost budgets and been reduced to performing reactive work, as opposed to proactive maintenance. They’re dealing with plants that are already in bad shape and disrepair, and answering to management that still wants to run full production. They have no inventories, no spares, and no orders for items with extremely long lead times. It’s not a pretty picture. One ray of hope [a slight improvement] is that site management is now being forced to go to corporate for monies and also discuss why equipment was allowed to go so long without repair. The overall situation, though, leads to pain and agony for those having to do work, that, if it had been done when needed, would have been a simple fix, not a catastrophic fix.  

Industry Consultant, North America…
There’s no guarantee that upper management has a solid understanding of reliability excellence. This is especially true if no executive-level stakeholder exists. Quite often, the focus from the top is solely on cost management (not on failure prevention or defect elimination.) In my experience as a consultant, a common complaint at the working level has focused on incoherent, ongoing initiatives that aren’t solidly linked to goals. This issue could be resolved if long-range plans were created based, say, on ranking of each initiative by priority and benefit and then stretching them out over a period of time. Leadership should encourage these types of plans for excellence, and involve plant personnel in their definition.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…
As noted in some of my past Reader Panel responses, maintenance used to be the redheaded stepchild at our facility. The problem started with the fact that plant managers and senior managers seemed to come and go [change] frequently. Because of this, “flavor of the month” programs were the norm. This changed with the arrival of an outside consulting firm. When upper management listened to suggestions and our plant-floor personnel saw that their ideas were listened to, maintenance took ownership. This made a big difference with proactive versus reactive work. We’re now getting our preventive maintenance work done as well. Things are looking good.

Reliability Engineering Leader, Process Mfg, South…
If I had been asked this question a couple of years ago, I would have characterized the relationship between management and plant-floor teams as indifferent. It wasn’t adversarial, but more a matter of management viewing maintenance as a necessary evil than a competitive advantage.  That has changed significantly. Last year, leadership announced PM Completion Rate (with a target of 95%) as one of the top metrics for the company. That was a real game changer. Suddenly, everybody was interested in preventive maintenance—it had become part of their personal-performance expectations. Respect for the importance of scheduled maintenance compliance made a dramatic shift, and we exceeded our PM-completion target.  This coming year, unscheduled asset downtime is being added to the top company metrics and will be reviewed on a monthly basis by executive management. This is a clear example of how leadership from the top can really drive change. 

Industry Consultant, International
In answer to your question, this situation [management rapport problems] is brought on by local company politics, lack of training, and basic mismanagement among, other things.

While I’ve worked with various clients, including some where severe adversarial relationships existed between Maintenance and Production/ Upper Management, by coaching ALL responsible parties that state of the art reliability and maintenance saves money, increases OEE (overall equipment effectiveness), improves uptime, and increases productivity, etc. I have convinced maintenance and top management that maintenance/reliability is a business partner NOT a “ we break it/you fix it” stepchild.

After training of top-level maintenance, production and sometimes even general management personnel by professionals in reliability and maintenance management, common goals are identified and cooperation is much improved. Accountants watch the bottom line weighing these additional consultant/training costs against expense reductions and production improvements. Results are that teamwork builds and floor-operations to staff-level relationships smooth out.

“Equipment Ownership,” in selected cases, brings hourly production and maintenance crafts together and reinforces the hourly–personnel through management relationship. Although this has, at times raised, the eyebrows of union officers, they usually go along when the benefits to all are obvious.

Yes, I have seen too many operations where maintenance and production departments, which usually have the ear of top management, DO NOT have a smooth relationship. However, with the proper training and education of all concerned, this can usually be much improve to the economic and management benefit of all.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest
With regard to management rapport, for several months, maintenance (trades) forepersons at our institution have had to attend not only new-construction meetings, but even small-project meetings. The idea is that we (Maintenance) can add our concerns before, during, and after projects are completed. The problem with all this is how much time it takes. With so many projects and associated meetings [at our site] and the number of normal maintenance-type meetings we have, we almost always have at least one supervisor sitting in meetings 30 to 40 hours per week. Work for anybody attending these meetings gets pushed back and can delay repairs. It also creates more work for the people not attending.

Another problem we have is that only the person attending the meeting knows what was discussed and/or is coming up. Consequently, that individual has knowledge that other supervisors don’t. The system would work a lot better if one person could attend all the meetings and email a recap of each event so every supervisor would know where each project stands and what’s coming up, whether in his or her area/zone or not.

While most meetings cover such a wide variety of subjects that only 10% to 20% of their agendas can be devoted to individual trades, attendees must listen to everything. It would be better, if you were going to have a one-hour meeting, to break it down into four parts, i.e., plumbing, electrical, mechanical, architectural/structural. This way, a supervisor could attend only the part of the meeting during which his or her area was discussed, not the entire meeting, and, if email recaps were sent out, could still keep up with everything that transpires.

Engineer, Industry Supplier, Southeast
Management’s responsibilities are meeting production deadlines and goals while keeping operating costs to a minimum. The relationship between management and maintenance depends on how management views their maintenance program. Some management personnel look at maintenance as a cost center while others recognize it as a cost savings mechanism or in best case, the profit center. Understanding that maintenance is a part of the cost of the product being created softens the financial burden but also gives management a better perspective regarding the value their maintenance teams bring to the table.

Ours is an equipment-service operation that’s deeply involved in working with our customers to improve their PdM programs. As such we continue to invest a great deal of time educating upper management regarding the benefits of early detection of issues that will lead to premature failures as well as on-going inefficiencies. The more informed management becomes about heading off potential problems, and the tools and preventive measures available, the more they become involved with their maintenance teams. Informed managers will interact with their teams quicker and to a greater extent. Sometimes comparing the benefits of outsourcing major PdM activities is more appealing and acceptable to management personnel as it leaves their operators and technicians time to complete their daily routine assignments.

Maintenance personnel generally understand the need for planned routine maintenance. Their relationship with upper management is greatly improved when their leaders are also informed. Education is the key to improving the relationship between upper management and their maintenance teams as well as a way of improving efficiency and operational success of the facility. MT

Tip of the Month

“Add RED and GREEN colors to the face of standard pressure gauges. This allows anyone who looks at or takes readings on a single gauge (or dozens) to tell right away if a pressure is too low or too high. I’ve worked on equipment and in test labs where this little addition could have saved a lot of time and money, and helped any operator.”

Tipster: Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest (an MT Reader Panelist)

What about you?
Tips and tricks that you use in your work could be value-added news to other reliability and maintenance pros. Let us help you share them. Email your favorites to MTTipster@maintenancetechnology.com. Who knows? You might see your submission(s) highlighted in this space at some point. (Anyone can play. You don’t need to be an
MT Reader Panelist.)

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