Continuous improvement more than just maintenance practices

By Kevin Campbell, Senior Editor April 8, 2007

Cut the clutter and skip the small stuff. Grow your people. Provide them with leadership. Stretch to meet challenges. These were just a few of the “gems” that Rex Gallaher, former executive manager of the U.S. Postal Service’s Maintenance Technical Support Center, gave during his presentation, “Continuous Improvement in Maintenance,” at the Maintenance & Reliability Technology Summit and Conference March 14 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL.

“Continuous improvement comes from continuous learning,” Gallaher said. “Improvement comes from putting learning into action.” Whether it’s through seminars or practical experiences on the floor, plant personnel have to observe their conditions and apply resolutions for the continuous improvement process to work.

Perhaps the most important part of the learning process is growing the organization’s people. Part of their growth involves entrusting them with the knowledge — the information — they need to perform their duties.

“Give them the information they need, not the information you think they need,” Gallaher said. “Let them throw (it) away if they don’t want it.”

Once the people have direction; once they have the information they need, step back and let them stretch to meet the challenges they face. Because, Gallaher said, that’s what they’ll want to do.

“Do your people know what their best is? Have they ever been pushed that far? Have they ever driven themselves that far?” he asked. “They don’t need to be pushed; they can be driven that far by their own internal clock, if there’s a reward for that.

“Can you get it in your mind and in your heart — that belief in people; that they can behave this way? And that they really want to behave this way?” he asked.

Providing consistent leadership is another key to making the continuous improvement process work. It requires that plant managers give the information needed for the job to be done right and provide recognition when it’s deserved. By empowering the workers, continuous improvement can lead to the many challenges plant staff face being met.