Expanding the definition of reliability to include the human element can transform an organization’s culture and boost overall business performance.
By Jeff R. Dudley, HSB Solomon Associates LLC
Question: What’s a common denominator among the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates?
Answer: The ability to change the game in their respective vocations or pursuits.
Game changers are entities that transform existing situations or activities in significant ways. They develop ideas or means of performing that completely alter the way a situation, profession, or even an industry develops. Each of aforementioned groups or individuals had a profound impact on their profession. At times, they appeared iconic, having a significant impact on the culture around them. Looking at them, you would label them as leaders, innovators, and proactive in their approaches.
When businesses exhibit these characteristics, they are thought to have great leadership and considered to be forward thinking or proactive. They’re also typically highly successful in their respective sectors.
All businesses develop a culture that defines them. The more leadership-focused an organization is, the more proactive it becomes. Figure 1 illustrates a culture continuum moving from highly reactive to highly proactive, highly manager-led to highly leader-led, and low reliability to high reliability. As an organization’s culture moves more to the right side of the chart, the opportunity for achieving game-changing performance increases. That’s good news. The bad news is that it’s still uncommon to find organizations moving toward and performing on the far right.
Unlike individual game changers, countless organizations that hope to achieve game-changing performance often lack the culture to sustain the dedication and commitment to excellence that will keep that performance going. Instead, they languish in a reactive, manager-led state. The biggest obstacle to their success is that it is simply easier to be complacent than to constantly strive for improvement.
Staying reactive leads to inevitable outcomes
By necessity, reactive organizations have to be manager-led—everybody has to be told what to do. Since seeking permission is standard operating procedure, things happen much slower. With risk-taking held in check, very little innovation occurs. As a result, such organizations become stuck in “this is how it has always been done” mode.
Following the same old path and holding risk in check, however, has another downside: Reactive work, coupled with lack of planning, leads to greater risk to employees and the business itself. Let’s examine some data that support this pattern.
The Solomon Associates, Dallas, “International Study of Plant Reliability and Maintenance Effectiveness” (RAM) study shows that third- and fourth-quartile (Q3 and Q4) performers are more reactive than first- and second-quartile (Q1 and Q2) performers. (All Solomon studies break results into performance quartiles with Q1 being the best and Q4 the worst.)
This research also shows that the majority of work done by companies with reactive cultures is significantly less planned and scheduled. Moreover, there’s an elevated potential for high-level emergency work that must to be completed. All of these factors potentially put employees at a higher risk. According to the compiled data, reactive organizations do approximately twice as much work as their proactive counterparts.
So how does the reactive culture put businesses at risk? Reactive cultures incur significantly more asset downtime and, as a result, are not capable of producing as much product as they could, therefore becoming less profitable. Reactive cultures are also less productive, from all aspects of running a business. They experience higher operating costs, compared with proactive cultures, and generally spend less time operating their assets and more time fixing them.
Another issue to consider has to do with the frequency and severity of environmental incidents. Solomon’s data indicate such incidents occur more frequently in a reactive culture and become more noteworthy than with proactive cultures. Obviously, these types of issues can have a negative impact on business sustainability.
In any organization, profitability is driven by asset availability and the cost to produce that availability, assuming a saleable product with sufficient standard margin. Reactive cultures typically have a strong cost focus, allowing cost to drive reliability. This type of environment creates a short-term focus on profitability and often results in de-capitalized assets and unsustainable profitability.
As a culture moves to a proactive mindset, the organization becomes more resilient and possesses the capacity to turn the previously described negatives into positives—something we refer to as “LeadeReliablity.” This is where game-changing performance occurs.
As proactive organizations evolve, they become more leader-led. Administrative leaders trust that employees have been trained, know what to do in most situations, and will do it well. They use their leadership skills to teach others how to lead in their area of expertise, developing leadership traits in all employees. As more personnel apply their skills and ideas, innovation and improvement flourish. As the pattern continues, the organization transforms itself. Everyone begins to act like a leader, and performance, as a whole, improves dramatically.
Risk also is minimized because of the proactive nature. The opposite of what was previously discussed is true: Fewer employees are involved in every task and overtime is typically held to a minimum. Tasks are planned, scheduled, and completed on time, with little emergency work. Employee risk is minimized because most work and potential hazards are thought out ahead of time. These organizations typically have stellar safety results and performance.
Business risks are minimized as well because these organizations are reliable suppliers to their customers—and their customers know they can depend on them. As a result, these organizations are the ones other customers turn to when reactive organizations cannot meet their commitments. Proactive organizations create customer loyalty.
Proactive cultures focus on reliability first and allow cost to create the desired reliability, which sometimes means that, in the short-term, they spend more in a targeted fashion to address a specific issue. The outcome of this mindset is high reliability at the optimum cost to achieve it.
While proactive cultures that continue on their reliability journey become game changers in all areas, the change in reliable performance is especially noteworthy. These organizations stand out because they have patiently and bravely followed a path that has made them significantly different from others. They excel in the following three areas:
Culture: Organizations that excel in the area of culture focus tirelessly on minimizing unplanned events, identifying the abnormal, and not allowing the abnormal to become normal. They plan, schedule, commit to, and complete tasks as planned and scheduled. They do not accept the status quo and know they can continuously improve.
Individuals in these types of organizations think of themselves as a “leaders” who can make a difference in what they do. By constantly focusing on “what could go wrong,” they don’t allow unplanned events to be disruptive. If and when problems do arise, they have already decided what to do about them. They believe they can learn from everything and take every opportunity to teach what they have learned. They are well trained and follow procedures, yet treat each procedure as a living document that can be improved. They have authority and freedom to act to address any situation. They use experts inside and outside the organization to reach solutions. Others desire to be a part of such organizations.
Reliability: Organizations that excel in this area consider reliability in broader terms than those with an asset focus. Their definition of reliability also deals with how personnel conduct their business and meet their commitments. They realize that, without reliable personnel, their assets don’t stand a chance. Because their focus is on a long-term commitment to reliable assets, however, such organizations deliver impressive results. Q1 performers consistently deliver more than 97% mechanical availability. More than 75% of their downtime is due to planned turnarounds.
Spending on Reliability and Maintenance: Cost control is not the driver for organizations that excel in this area. During their journeys, spending is optimized to deliver desired asset reliability. The culture has a positive impact on the amount of spending that occurs. A focus on proactive discovery, addressing abnormal conditions, planning, scheduling, and efficient completion of the work drives costs to the optimum level. As the culture continues to develop in such organizations, spending is driven down. Note that game changers are not the lowest-spending organizations. In fact, our research has shown that the lowest-spending operations typically have poor reliability and are normally Q3 performers).
If you want your organization to be the Michael Jordan of its industry, you must focus on reliability. Your definition of reliability will put employee-behavior at the forefront. Reliable human behavior creates reliable asset operation.
During the journey, you will focus on growing a reliable culture and target your spending. You understand you are not under any less constraint than your competition. But, because you are constantly becoming more reliable, you target your spending to eliminate future spending. As a result, you are constantly becoming more profitable than if you had not started this journey. You do not make promises to customers, employees, and stakeholders that you cannot keep.
As a result, you and your organization become a game changer in the area of reliably running your business and create customer loyalty, employee engagement, and sustainable profitability. MT
Jeff Dudley is a senior consultant with Dallas-based HSB Solomon Associates LLC (SolomonOnline.com). He has spent more than 30 years in the reliability and maintenance arena. Contact him at Jeff.Dudley@SolomonOnline.com.