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Issue No. 19: November 2008


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Text Box: A Typical Maintenance Culture
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By Rolly Angeles


I would like to touch about this topic on “CULTURE”.  First, let me defined it in its most simplest term, it means how people perceived and do these things around here.  It refers to common values and beliefs, while others refer them to as shared thoughts and feelings. According to Schein, culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group had invented,  discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that had worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore taught to new members as the correct way to perceived, think and feed in relation to their problems.  


I had worked in many industries, and from the very first time I stepped in their plant, and sat in their lobby waiting for an interview, you just can’t resists the temptation to look at the walls and read their vision, mission, values, beliefs and thought  to yourself, what a great place to work. You can read such words as Teamwork, Effective Communication, People first and many good things.  They speak very highly about its employees in the most kind hearted manner. The words are fashioned together making you think for a moment that this is the best industry in the planet to work with and so you do your best in the interview and with a little prayer, finally you got hired, a dream come true. 


On your first day at work, since, you are new to the plant, they treat you a little bit mild but the longer you stay, the more you have a better understanding of what their culture is all about.  I hope this sounds familiar.  Through the years, I’ve worked with different industries, I was privileged enough,  (I think that is not the right word),  I was “APPALLED” enough to have worked with people who have Masters and PhD degree in Anger Management and Reactive 101, or perhaps Bosses who never get the hang of being satisfied.  As I reminisce the past,  I vividly remember some of my unforgettable recollections and as time passed by, I just laughed at them out loud (LOL) as it fills out my experience career path.  I recall one time when I was just a couple of weeks in this industry X, the Big Boss told me, and asked me were where you last night ? I was looking for you.  He asked me what time I went home, and I said 5:30 pm.  (This company have a free bus shuttle as part of its benefits to their employees and so I thought to myself to use it.)  The Big Boss told me that if I’m here, then you should be here, and then he shouted, everyone should be here, and from that day forward, I only went home when ELVIS had left the building. 


As an engineer in a plant, part of my work that you can’t find in your job description is to prepare a weekly report on what you had accomplished for the week, every week. Not only do we need to write this report but during my times, we also need to present this to my Boss, just to give you an idea of what this Boss was like, in my lifetime, I have never seen this person smile.  He is the sort of creature that never tends to get satisfied, and usually had a built-in loud voice, some say he came from the military. I just can’t tell sometimes if that was his natural voice or he had a built in microphone in his lungs, I guess it’s what makes him happy. Our regular staff meeting is set every Monday from 1:00 to 2:00 pm to give us around 10 to 15 minutes time to present, but believe it or not, sometimes the meeting ends up in the evening, since he spends a great amount of time on each one of us scrutinizing what we presented and interrogating us most of the time.  This “Creature” never gets pleased even if you have accomplished something good for the week.  I recall one of the engineers that smilingly told me, Rolly, this time, my time with Boss won’t be long, and he showed me his report, and I was amazed by what he had accomplished for the week, and so the time had come for this person to report, there was silence as he spoke and the Boss was listening most of the time, and as he ended, again a moment of silence was observed and then I recall the exact words uttered by this “Creature”, “Are you insulting me?” And the engineer to his surprise, said No, Sir! Why?  You dare come to my office and present your report in front of me without even combing your hair and shaving, and your shoes are dirty, that’s why we have lots of problem in this plant, because of people like you, even though its too early for church, the next hour is spend on sermon, telling us during his days these was how they do things and that sort of stuff.  I am beginning to think that some industries hired these kinds of “Creatures” just to get mad all the time and they are being paid well for that.  I think the song by Eric Clapton are meant for these kinds of people in doing their nasty things with their people. I must be strong, and carry on, cause I know, I don’t belong, here in  “heaven” (by Eric Clapton, Tears in heaven)


I am now inclined to think that the real culture is not what is really written and hanging on the walls of each plant that can be read as People’s Values and Beliefs, but rather, the real culture is confined on how your highest person in your department runs the show, if he is somewhat the tough type of person that don’t know how to smile, then this is what he wants to project in each of his people, if you can mirror yourself like him, then you have a pretty good chance of being promoted and become one of his disciples, but if you don’t then you’ll be considered an outcast and might probably belong to the resistance group, and soon the pressure will build on you to transfer to other departments or perhaps just leave the plant for good. He is the type of person that says, I make the decisions here so leave the thinking with me and just do your job. If you can’t do your job, just tell me and I’ll find someone who can do the job for you. Understand !!!


In my trainings, I often joke a lot, not just to keep the delegates awake, but to build rapport and let them feel at ease with me so that we can interact more with each other.  I often say that, if you want to stay long in your industry, here’s my advise apply “Newton’s” law of gravity which states that what comes up must come down, similarly what goes in must come out,  and point to my ear, meaning what comes in (whatever you hear even though its unpleasant) must come out the other ear, because if you retain that in your mind and mix it with your emotions then it makes you crazy. I failed in this subject, that’s why I retired early in industry.  


The 5 Gorillas In A Cage


To understand how culture works is to understand “The Gorilla Story”, if you have not yet heard about it.  This is a story about culture. This story starts with a cage containing five gorillas and a large bunch of bananas hanging above the stairs positioned in the center of the cage. Before long, a gorilla goes to the stairs and starts to climb toward the bananas. As soon as he touches the bananas, all the gorillas are sprayed with cold water. After a while, another gorilla makes an attempt and gets the same result, all the gorillas are sprayed with cold water.  Every time a gorilla attempts to get the bananas, the others are sprayed. Eventually, they quit trying and leave the bananas alone.


One of the original gorillas is removed from the cage and replaced with a new one. The new gorilla sees the bananas and starts to climb the stairs. To his horror, all the other gorillas attack him. After another attempt, same thing happened and he is attacked, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted. Next, the second of the original five gorillas is replaced with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with such joy and enthusiasm.  Next the third original gorilla is replaced with a new one. The new one goes for the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four gorillas that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest gorilla, but I guess they enjoy it.  After the fourth and fifth original gorillas have been replaced, all the gorillas that were sprayed with cold water were gone. Nevertheless, no gorilla will ever again approach the stairs. Why?  Because that’s the way it had always been done here.


Each industry have their own distinct culture, it’s like a fingerprint, no industry have exactly the same culture and in every industry it will even boil down to each department having their own set of cultures.  Many industry rely on the don’t reinvent the wheel concept, since this is how they do it and they are successful, so this is how we should do it.  In my thoughts “How very wrong they are”, they forgot the most important part of their organization which is their “CULTURE”  If you want something to work for you in your plant, it must be accepted by their culture, otherwise you will just end up wasting a lot of money and effort.  Company Y wanted to initiate a TPM Program and so they hired people with extensive knowledge on this subject, after a couple of years, the people they hired resigned because there was no commitment and involvement most specially from management.  If your plant is in a reactive mode and still on the status quo or your still on the initial phase of struggling,  you will understand what I mean.


Is it possible to change the maintenance culture?


Many articles and books are written regarding this subject on culture change, some are nice to read but rather difficult to implement.  Some suggest on having a catalyst inside your plant that can influence other people. All I can say is that there is no easy answer to this question, it depends on many factors but what I know is that to change culture ain’t going to be done overnight.  It will take time and a lot of time.


An industry is like a piece of equipment, an equipment have their subsystems, and each of these subsystems compose of hundreds or even thousands of parts, each of these subsystems serves a specific function and that all these functions must be in harmony in order to deliver a common good or product.  Likewise, an industry, have different departments and that each department serves a specific purpose, and that whatever purpose or mission your department is, should always be in line towards the goal of the company. But the main difference is that people think while machines don’t.
















Operators will always be the first line of defense on any equipment failures and breakdown since these people will encounter the failure first before maintenance, hence it is important for operators in industries to understand the symptoms of these failures before they occur.


From a maintenance point of view, everyone agrees about the importance of reliability. And that the reliability of our equipment depends highly on how we maintain it, yet there is no doubt in my mind that most managers will think about cutting cost first before initiating any reliability improvement in their plant.  I think this story fits well.


On one typical day the Plant Manager walked into the plant floor and found oil leak on the floor.  He immediately called the maintenance in charge and asked him why was there oil leak on the floor.  The maintenance indicated that it was due to a leaky gasket in the pipe joint above. The Plant Manager then asked when the gasket had been replaced and the maintenance responded that they had already installed 5 gaskets over the past few weeks and that each one seemed to leaked. The maintenance also indicated that they had already talked this matter to the Purchasing about the gaskets because it seemed they were all bad.  The Plant Manager left and went to talk with the Purchasing Manager about the problem on the gaskets and the Purchasing Manager indicated that they had been trying for the past two months to try to get the supplier to make good on the last order of 5,000 gaskets that were all seemed to be bad.  The Plant Manager asked the Purchasing Manager why they had purchased from this supplier if they were so disreputable and the Purchasing Manager said because they were the lowest bidder when the quotes were received from the various vendors.  The Plant Manager then asked why they went with the lowest bidder and he indicated that it was the direction he received from the VP of Finance.  The Plant Manager left and went to talk to the VP of Finance and asked why he set up that direction, the VP of Finance said, because you indicated that we had to be as cost conscious as possible and purchasing from the lowest vendor saves us a lot of money.  The Plant Manager was horrified when he realized that he was the reason why there was oil leak on the Plant floor. End of Story.


Rather than telling you how to change your culture, take the time to reflect and ponder upon these couple of thoughts :


Learn from your own failures and not from other people’s success


Leo Tolstoy said, Everyone wants to change the world, yet nobody wants to change them selves.  Whether from the lessons of life or from industry,  it tells us one thing.  A lot can be learned from our own failures.  Pain and failures are an unpleasant but necessary part of our lives. The most successful people that lived in this world are people who learn from their own failures and not those who benchmark other people’s success.  During my TPM days, many industry visited our plant to benchmark our success story, the benchmark includes a couple of hours of presentation and a line tour.  We only show them the good stuff, and we keep the rest to ourselves. When we first hired a JIPM (Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance) consultant to assess us in our TPM journey, one week before his arrival, the TPM office was so busy preparing production areas to clean their areas for unnecessary mess, we teach people what to say and so on and when the JIPM consultant arrived, he surveyed the plant and smilingly said, this is “TPM ONE NIGHT”, we were shocked and in our minds we asked, how the heck did he know about it.  Later on I learned that it was always his initial remarks to his clients.


Same is true for industries, with countries feeling the effects of “Global Financial Crisis”, industries tighten their belts as much as they can. Cost cutting is the name of the game everyone play. I tried to sent an email recently to a couple of clients should there be any need for some future trainings on maintenance for 2009, let me know.  Their response was they are cost cutting on training due to “Global Financial Crisis”.  I just nod my head and smile as I read their mails.  All I can say is just be careful on what you wish for with your cost cutting program most specially when it comes to reliability.  These two don’t mix.  A low maintenance cost is always a product of a good maintenance practice and it cannot be the other way around.


Some say that changing culture should start from the top, others say it’s a bottom-up approach, there is no easy and conclusive answer to this but all I can say is that change is something that must start from within ourselves.


Text Box:   No cost face shield just be sure you can breathe
Text Box:             Comfortable hard hat, fits anyone

Small problems matter most


Big problems are caused by small things, yet we tend to focused most of our attention when the problem had already erupted itself.  It is the small things and not the obvious failures that poses the most significant threat to our industry.  History tells us that the worst accidents and catastrophe are the cause of small things that had been neglected.  Challenger exploded not because of the O-ring on the right solid rocket booster, but because, the management of the solid rocket boosters decided not to listen to their engineers concern regarding the O-ring erosion.   Many times when we dig up the cause of big problems, you’ll end up on small things that should have been done in the first place.  A Facility Manager attended my training and asked me what sort of maintenance I can perform on their plant UPS, and I said, you need to have a redundancy. I can read his thoughts when I said that which states that, your crazy, do you know how much it costs.  A couple of years later, sad to say, there was fire in their plant and the UPS was affected which halted their operations for a day.  The next thing I know, they purchased not one but 3 new UPS the other 2 serving as a back-up.  Let us not wait for these kinds of things to happen in our plant and let us act intelligently on addressing these small problems.  And so until our next edition, I think that’s all I have to say about that and wish you all a Merry Christmas out there.


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Issue No. 20: December 2008


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