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Dos and don’ts for making permanent process improvements

Making process improvements that stick within maintenance organizations is a long-term commitment that requires a cultural change with a specific plan and a strong mandate from management that encourages workers to keep making positive changes on all levels.
By Steve Mueller, Daniel Penn Associates, LLC October 21, 2016

Making process improvements that stick within maintenance organizations is a long-term commitment that requires a cultural change with a specific plan and a strong mandate from management that encourages workers to keep making positive changes on all leveConsider this familiar scenario:

A team from headquarters has assessed a production facility’s maintenance department and has a goal to bring all facilities in line with a comprehensive set of practices, procedures, and outcomes developed from industry benchmarks and current best practices.

Implementing significant process improvement in an organization, however, is difficult because changing people’s work behavior in very specific ways is not easy. Literature on change management suggests up to 70% of all change initiatives fail.

The dos and don’ts of change

Those wanting to make a change in their organizations should consider the following tips:

Here are some dos and don’ts for organizations that want to implement change that sticks:

DON’T

Don’t allow politics and conflicting organizational issues to get in the way of implementing these changes. The implementation team should be working with area managers to counter these potential distractions.

Don’t ignore the potential impact of a constantly changing management team if this happens to be the case for your organization. Offset this challenge with continuity that is established by written procedures, established routines, process champions, and "tribal knowledge" that is held within the workforce.

Don’t confuse the organization with new names for well-known concepts. Change only what is necessary and leave the rest as a familiar context for the new ones.

DO

Define in specific and measurable terms the desired outcomes of the planned implementation. Measure and communicate progress against these terms on a regular basis to everyone involved.

Make sure there is active, visible executive sponsorship or senior management support. Meaningful change in an entrenched culture is never easy. All levels of management have to be on board and rowing in the same direction. Senior management had to walk the walk just like everyone else.

Change should be mandated. When management commits to a change, the message must be that the change is not an option. There cannot be any misunderstanding. When people have the option not to change, they usually won’t.

Appoint an effective change champion in the organization to support the change agents and the employees as they work through the implementation.

Create and follow a formal approach to planning and managing change. An unstructured approach will produce unsustainable and inconsistent results.

Get employees involved early in the change process so they have a chance to take ownership. Employees should be asked for their input when planning the change and they should be involved in determining the means. Management should ask for the employees’ help in identifying the best way to make the changes happen.

Assign a dedicated implementation team of skilled change agents for the implementation duration if the process is going to be done entirely in-house. the success of change programs depends on the quality of the implementation teams. Free up the best staff for this task while ensuring that day-to-day operations don’t suffer. If that isn’t an option, get outside help from consultants or other resources within the company.

Understand the risks of in-house implementation. Day-to-day work demands may conflict with the effort, especially if the implementation team still has their original jobs to do. Without the proper approach, the organization risks breaking into factions "for and "against" the new changes. If this happens, the objective may switch from attaining the original goal to surviving the interpersonal and inter-departmental battles. That ends up damaging the culture and perhaps even company performance.

Institutionalize the change to make it the "[company name] way." This helps overcome any "flavor of the month" objections and make it easier for employees to get on board with the initiative.

Implement a process for continually testing the effect of the new behavior using the department’s key performance indicators (KPIs) with employee feedback. This leads to a naturally continuous improvement program that fine tunes processes and procedures to help create and sustain new improvements.

Remember that reliability and maintenance improvement is a continuous process with no end point. It is not a fixed program with a hard stop at the end.

When organization change initiatives such as a maintenance improvement project fail, they make the next improvement effort more difficult because employees may feel betrayed or skeptical of management’s ability to effect positive change. Getting it right is critical, which is why so many managers get anxious about making process improvement changes.

Change takes time. Large-scale changes within maintenance organizations can take a year or more. Give employees sufficient time to adapt and take ownership of the new work process. The more entrenched the culture and/or the more significant the planned change, the greater the need for all levels of management to act together to support implementation.

Steve Mueller is director of commercial operations for Daniel Penn Associates, LLC (DPALLC). He is responsible for project development, management, and delivery of results for the company’s private sector and has over 30 years of consulting experience. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.