The importance of core competencies

Tim Goshert

If you wish to pursue success, you must surround yourself with others who are the best at what they do. These experts have the passion, knowledge and experience to help you succeed. They eat, sleep and breathe their particular core competency. Let us explore this topic.

C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel define core competency through these statements: "The real sources of competitive advantage are to be found in the company management's ability to consolidate corporate-wide technologies and production skills into competencies that empower individual businesses (and individuals) to adapt quickly to changing opportunities. Three tests to identifying a core competency are that it provides potential access to a wide variety of markets, should make a significant contribution to the perceived customer benefits of the end product, and it should be difficult for competitors to imitate."

In his book "Good to Great", Jim Collins calls core competency a company's "hedgehog". He defines it as "a simple crystalline that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three key dimensions:

  1. what you can be best in the world at;

  2. what drives your economic engine; and,

  3. what you are deeply passionate about."

I am aware of how beneficial it is to work with people who have a core competency in an area of needed expertise. For the past few years, I've been involved with the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals' leadership group and was elected to its board of directors. In its first 12 years of existence, SMRP was operated solely by M&R practitioner volunteers. The society grew gradually and gained some momentum. But in 2005, the board made a decision to hire a full-time executive director. After an extensive search, we hired Pat Winters. Pat is a Certified Association Executive. He had little knowledge of M&R business and principles. However, his knowledge and expertise was in properly leading and operating a non-profit association.

In the past 1.5 years, SMRP has benefited from Pat's specialized knowledge. He has led SMRP to obtain full-time legal counsel, obtain professional association management services and sort out various non-profit society issues. This advice and leadership has resulted in further stability and focus of the society.

That's one application. It's just as important to apply core competency to your M&R improvement processes. An example could be predictive maintenance (PdM). What is your level of organizational maturity and what are you attempting to achieve with PdM? If your goals are to prove that the technologies work, do cost avoidance calculations to justify program existence, and simply use the tools to optimize your "run-to- failure strategy," a fairly unsophisticated approach can help you get there.

However, if you want to use PdM to manage your asset health, identify and eliminate defects, enable the proactive workflow model and deliver bottom-line returns of higher asset utilization at noticeably lower costs, a comprehensive approach to asset health management is required. It starts by understanding the potential failure modes of a large percentage of your assets and mapping those failure modes to the appropriate PdM inspection methods.

You can use many predictive or condition-monitoring techniques to understand your equipment's present health. There are at least 25 technologies that have multiple applications, and these applications have multiple procedures. So in the end, you may need to apply hundreds of processes to be successful. This can be complex. So ask yourself, does my local electric motor shop - which offers vibration services - have the core competency that I need to meet my goals in this particular area?

Over the years, I've encountered many PdM programs. Many struggle and don't provide the expected value. I've heard some say, "PdM doesn't work for us or apply to our business." A common dominator is that these programs aren't led and delivered by people whose core competency is PdM. It's a side business or just another role. I believe this applies to "in-house" or "outsourced" PdM programs. What it boils down to may be that the wrong core competency was selected, and this set the stage for a flawed predictive implementation plan.

Great results from maintenance and reliability improvement efforts can be seen when experts are used for resources, training and advice. How many experts are helping you, and do they have the right core competency?

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