Culture Counts

'When you embark on lean, you're not just trying to engage the hands of your employees. You want their hands, their hearts and their minds,' Mike Fitzgerald, director of lean and reliability services for Advanced Technology Services Inc. asserts.

At its essence, lean is all about finding and removing waste. For a lean deployment to be successful, though, its principles have to become embedded in the culture of an organization, notes Mike Fitzgerald, director of lean and reliability services for Advanced Technology Services Inc. (ATS), a Peoria, Ill.-based provider of equipment maintenance services.

"When you embark on lean, you're not just trying to engage the hands of your employees. You want their hands, their hearts and their minds," Fitzgerald asserts.

Perhaps nowhere in the plant is the culture more embattled than in maintenance.

"It's like maintenance is looked at as just a sewer line -- a drain -- where money goes down, and that's all it does," says Joel Levitt, a Lafayette Hill, Pa.-based maintenance consultant and author of the book "Lean Maintenance."

Consequently, adds Jeff Owens, president and chief operating officer of ATS, "many maintenance departments have lost their engagement."

"How many maintenance guys have you seen in large industrial plants who have lost the spring in their step or the sparkle in their eye?" Owens says. "A lot of them."

Adding to the culture challenge is that many maintenance personnel associate the term "lean maintenance" with downsizing the maintenance department, Levitt says.

"A lot of [manufacturers] just arbitrarily cut a maintenance department and call the program lean maintenance' or a lean effort' or something like that, so that a lot of people think lean means how to wield the hatchet rather than attacking waste," Levitt says. "It seems to me that there are these what I would call bad guys' who have adopted the language of the good guys, and now everybody is confused about who is a good guy and who is a bad guy."

John Kravontka, a Manchester, Conn.-based maintenance consultant who started out as a machine tool maintenance apprentice at the age of 19, believes that establishing a lean culture in maintenance "all comes down to leadership." Leadership needs to view maintenance "as a department that can add value" and lean as a tool to remove waste -- not lop heads, he says.

Owens asserts that leadership must communicate to employees "that they care about them and that they have a lot to contribute."

"Our philosophy is you really have to be one with those employees. You have to engage with them. You have to communicate. You have to bring them into the program. Once you have that, the sky's the limit," Owens says. "The maintenance department is typically not paid a lot of attention to. They typically don't get a lot of investment, and they're viewed as a necessary evil, as a cost. If you can shift that to more of how can they contribute to the bottom line, the profit of the organization, and you invest in new tools and training and hiring of new people, there can be great benefit from that."

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