Reliability engineers (REs) are technical subject matter experts with what you could call ‘left-brain’ skills. Their work requires strong skills in engineering, logistics, math, and statistics, skills that can result in communication gaps with non-REs. That becomes a real problem when introducing changes in terms of how equipment is used, maintained, or replaced.
These changes are generally directed at improving asset performance and productivity while preserving value. But they also have a direct impact on employee safety
That’s why that communication gap is such a big deal. Operators and maintenance mechanics need to understand why REs are recommending and implementing changes before they can get on board. When we can effectively prepare our people for the changes that accompany working with new technology — including the alignment of productivity with safety — true success is achievable.
The Importance of Communicating
In the manufacturing industry, it’s common for engineers to be more focused on physical tooling processes than people. Engineers have proficient knowledge of equipment and technology
from a technical standpoint, but sometimes they may overlook how change can impact people — particularly leadership and non-technical coworkers. Ensuring effective communication across the entire group that is impacted by a change in process makes a significant difference in the potential success of implementing that change.
A key element for success is a change management plan that represents a planned approach to organizational changes. When developing this plan, you should involve all stakeholders and acknowledge any and all possible risks
that could be introduced by implementing the change. Ensuring everyone is aware of these risks before the change occurs can help minimize unintended consequences.
, we put a lot of thought into communicating with manufacturing plant operators and trying to see the issues of asset management and process change from their perspective. Clarity and transparency are crucial in communicating the reasons why changes are happening, and why operators are being asked to perform their roles differently.
The engineers in any given plant typically have a strong understanding of the assets and processes in their operation, but they tend to focus on technical efficiencies from the point of view of the equipment
rather than the people involved.
That’s why LCE coaches
REs with a focus on how they can effectively communicate with the people involved in asset management and process change; much less emphasis is placed on the technical aspects of an issue, as technical issues are typically not why a change succeeds or fails.
Putting the People First
"No asset management strategy will ever be completely successful unless it’s approached from a people perspective. Safety objectives can easily align with productivity objectives when a transformation occurs. Communicating with people to provide clear, transparent information will not only help them support change, but also enable them to be more productive, stay safer, and ensure their equipment assets are continually reliable."
Know that resistance is common — it happens in virtually every instance where change is communicated. People have a natural inclination to resist change. They can make assumptions based on past experiences, and those assumptions can result in fear. An effective way to eliminate negative assumptions and fear in your audience is to provide direct, clear information, especially when answering an employee’s questions.
Most manufacturing plants have at least one or two dozen operators and equivalent maintenance
mechanics. Every one of them has to effectively buy in for any change to be successful. One-on-one communication and people coaching greatly increases the chances of that success. Again, you need to communicate the benefits of change as clearly and effectively as possible and ensure employees have a thorough understanding of what’s changing and why.
Commitment Is Needed at All Levels
When a change is not successful, we often find commitment lacking at every level of the organization. Leadership and the champions of the project are, of course, expected to be fully committed, but commitment from supervisors, senior supervisors, and other middle managers is also critical.
The landscape of an organization may also pose challenges to successfully implementing a change. For example, a process change may be eclipsed by other priorities that are perceived to be more important.
Regardless of the reason, when a change is unsuccessful, it’s important to take immediate action to diagnose the problem and understand what went wrong. Was the rationale communicated clearly enough? Was there poor understanding of the reason for the change? Addressing these issues and making the needed course corrections can increase the chance of success.
Safe Work Environments Also Improve the Bottom Line
No asset management strategy will ever be completely successful unless it’s approached from a people perspective. Safety
objectives can easily align with productivity objectives when a transformation occurs. Communicating with people to provide clear, transparent information will not only help them support change, but also enable them to be more productive, stay safer, and ensure their equipment assets are continually reliable.
It’s only when the transformation of an organization is approached from a people perspective that smart cultures and true successes are realized.