Imagine having to deal with a life filled with setbacks and so-called failures. What would you do if your resume read as follows?:

"He failed in business in '31. He was defeated for state legislator in '32. He tried another business in '33. It failed. His fiancée died in '35. He had a nervous breakdown in '36. In '43, he ran for Congress and was defeated. He tried again in '48 and was defeated again. He tried running for the Senate in '55. He lost. The next year, he ran for vice president and lost. In '59, he ran for the Senate again and was defeated."

With these setbacks, it is easy to understand why someone would want to give up and not keep trying.

The above partial resume (taken from a Successories motivational poster) listed some of the real events in the life of Abraham Lincoln. These events happened before he was elected as the President of the United States in 1860. This is quite a surprise since many historians and others believe Abraham Lincoln was one of the most successful and influential presidents in U.S. history. There are hoards of books written regarding his life and presidency. His diligence and persistence in leadership oversaw the nation through a tumultuous period in American history - the Civil War. Even in the darkest days of the war, Lincoln never lost hope and never gave up - whatever the odds were or what others did or said. He is credited in history for saving the United States as one nation during this period.

Leading a maintenance and reliability improvement effort in any facility, business or company requires a large amount of persistence and perseverance - probably not as much as exhibited by Lincoln in his life, but it is needed nevertheless. The culture change required to transcend an organization from reactive to proactive habits is enormous. There will be many successes and significant positive results and rewards along the way; however, there also will be setbacks and difficult periods that will challenge you.

There will be challenges, some of which I will elaborate upon. I have been called a "Reliability Zealot" and other names maybe not so complimentary. I've been told that I may, at times, come on too strong using too much logic in my responses. It has been explained to me that "we cannot afford to do it right and be best-in-class." M&R leaders have been asked "to cheapen it up" by ignoring known-best practices and principles. Many outsiders have argued that "we're different, and this does apply our business." We have made decisions that did not result in exactly the outcome we wanted. We used these as learning experiences on what not to do. These situations and many others have occurred for the last 15 years, continue today and most likely will continue in the future.

So, how do you combat these and other challenges? There are many ways and different methods. I will highlight my thoughts with the following list:

  1. Stay focused on the final vision and goal or "end in mind". Envision the rewards for everyone involved when the final goal or vision is achieved.

  2. Stay well-grounded in M&R principles through continual education.

  3. Teach others these principles. This activity solidifies your knowledge and ability to communicate the principles and best practices simply to others.

  4. Benchmark with other facilities internal and external to your company. External benchmarking with different industries is most important. Do not become inwardly focused.

  5. Network with other M&R professionals at every opportunity.

  6. Develop and build allies within the M&R field and in other disciplines.

  7. Use your network for help and reinforcement. Attend industry conferences. Join professional organizations such as the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals.

  8. Adhere to the foundational M&R principles. Do not waver when challenged or attacked.

Therefore, the next time you encounter a setback or so-called failed endeavor, remember that such events are a normal part of life and not a reason to give up. Think about Abraham Lincoln's life and his overwhelming persistence and perseverance to inspire you to continue the M&R improvement journey.

Tim Goshert is the worldwide reliability and maintenance manager for Cargill, one of the world's largest food and agricultural processing companies (more than 1,000 facilities worldwide). He is responsible for the company's global reliability and maintenance initiatives and is chairman of the company's Worldwide Reliability and Maintenance Steering Committee. Tim is an active member of the Society of Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and serves on its board of directors. Contact him at tgoshert@hotmail.com or Timothy_Goshert@cargill.com.