Creating Culture Change – A Pathway To Improved Reliability

EP Editorial Staff | April 2, 2006

improving_maintenance_and_reliability_through_cullture_changePart II focused on what makes up an organization’s culture. This month, the author covers the crucial “Eight Elements of Change” and provides a survey to help readers build their own “Webs of Change.”

Editors Note: This article is based on excerpts from Improving Maintenance and Reliability Through Cultural Change, a book by Stephen J. Thomas. It is used with permission from Industrial Press, Inc.

In order for change initiatives to be successful, it is critical that all aspects of the process be integral parts of the design. This typically doesn’t happen in the majority of change efforts that take place. Instead, what usually happens is that an organization develops and works on its change initiatives at what is referred to as the “hard skill” level. This includes areas such as planning, scheduling and work execution. Unfortunately, the result of working only at this level is most often failure of the change initiative.

change_hierarchyThis is a two-fold problem. First, the effort into which the organization has poured so much time and effort fails to achieve the goals and benefits that were established at the outset. Secondly, and even worse, the failure leaves a sense of skepticism within the organization making future change efforts even more difficult. It is for these reasons that organization culture change must be an integral part of any change initiative. But,we can’t stop here. There is another level between the hard skills and the level of cultural change that must be addressed. This foundational level is referred to as “soft skills,” as shown in Fig. 1.

The soft skill level is made up of a set of eight key elements called the “Eight Elements of Change.”These include leadership, work process, structure, group learning, technology, communication, interrelationships and rewards. You will find a description of each of these in the book, Improving Maintenance & Reliability Through Culture Change. Each of these eight elements has its own full chapter dedicated to providing the reader with more detailed information.


The value of each element When you really think about the Eight Elements of Change, you will quickly recognize the value that correctly addressing each one can have on your overall change effort.

Leadership is the keystone of the soft skills and the Eight Elements of Change. Our leaders, whoever they may be, set the tone for all initiatives that are undertaken. If the leadership visibly supports an initiative, it is highly likely that money, resources and the other factors required for success will be provided. Conversely, if the leadership is not invested in making the change, the likelihood of success is diminished. Leaders provide the direction, guidance and support that enables an organization to undertake and deliver change.

Work Process is how our reliability and maintenance work gets executed. There is a drastic difference between reactive and reliability- focused work processes. Therefore, making a change of this significance is extremely difficult for an organization to undertake. Changing a work process not only means working differently, it also has a major impact on all of the other elements.

In addition, a change in work process also affects the culture. Think for a moment about the change in organizational values that altering the work process can create. There is also a major impact on the role models who have been rewarded (existing rites) and often promoted because they flawlessly executed the reactive work process (existing rituals).

Structure is how the organizational hierarchy is represented (and shows the linkages that depict how it interacts). Just like work processes, there are structures that clearly support reactive maintenance and others that support reliability-focused organizations. They are vastly different. Changing the structure of a reactive organization in which everyone understood their roles and responsibilities to one that is proactive will be a difficult task. It must, however, be addressed as part of the change initiative if the process is to be successful.

Group Learning is the ability of an organization to learn from its efforts and then to adjust. This is harder than it appears because we are not asking the organization to simply adjust its activities to be in line with its goals. We are asking it to re-examine its basic goals and adjust these as well. This can be very challenging when the re-examination requires the organization to alter its basic organizational values and approach to the work.

Technology includes the software applications that are utilized to support the reliability focus of the organization. Change often requires various levels of effort in the area of technology. First, we need to make sure that the applications we are using support the organization’s focus after the change, and, secondly, we must make certain that the functionality within these applications is optimally used by the organization to accomplish its goals.

Communication is also a critical element of the change process.We may design an excellent process that has the potential to deliver immense value, but if our intent is not clearly communicated to the organization, the initiatives will break down and the cultural infrastructure will have a field-day spreading gossip, rumors and other mis-communication that can undermine or even destroy the effort.

Interrelationships, or how people interact and work together, make up an equally important element of the change process. It is a fact that the majority of the work we do in the arena of reliability and maintenance is not done in isolation. For this reason, we need solid interrelationships among the various work groups and the people in these groups. Without solid interrelationships, even the best change initiative will fail.

Rewards are used to reinforce worker or work group activities.While money is often thought to be the ultimate reward, research has proven that this is not always the case. Job enrichment, group acceptance and praise for a “job well done” are other powerful reinforcers. Thus, it is important to recognize that rewards are needed to support the change effort, and to make certain that the correct rewards are selected.

Although it is easy to recognize how each of the Eight Elements of Change plays a critical role in the change process, it also is important to recognize that while each of the elements is important independently, they are far more important when viewed together as a dependent set. This is readily apparent when you consider the effect that a change in one of the elements can have on all of the others. For example, a change in leadership can, and often does, impact the organizational structure, the work process, how the organization learns and applies the learning, technology and how it is used, communications, interrelationships between individuals and departments and ultimately how people are rewarded. In other words, a change in leadership affects all of the other elements of change. This dependency equally applies to a change in any of the elements and the impact on the others.

the_web_of_changeWebs of change The Eight Elements of Change also have direct impact on the “Four Elements of Culture” discussed in Parts I and II of this article–organizational values, role models, rites and rituals and the cultural infrastructure.What this means is that you can’t have a successful change if you only address the hard skills. You must address the soft skills and the organizational culture as both independent elements and as a set of closely coupled dependent elements. The question is how can this be easily accomplished and delivered in a way that can be employed to drive towards a successful change initiative?

The answer can be found by using the “Web of Change” and “Change – Root Cause Failure Analysis (C-RCFA).”

The Web of Change is a radar diagram with eight radial spokes, each representing one of the Eight Elements of Change. Each of these spokes receives a score based on a set of change management questions that relate to that element. As a result of answering the questions for each element, a diagram as shown in Fig. 2 can be constructed.A high score indicates that the element is in reasonably good condition; a low score indicates just the opposite.

It is important to recognize that the scores and the resultant web diagram are not statistically accurate. After all, the score is obtained by answering only a few questions related to each element. It is equally important, though, to remember that that while statistical accuracy is not part of the result, trend information certainly is provided. You can be sure that low scores indicate an area where change-related problems exist and should be addressed.

You can build your own Web of Change by participating in the survey provided by MAINTENANCE TECHNOLOGY MAGAZINE. To take part, log on to: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/?p=WEB2255BUAD59B

survey_componentsThe survey includes a set of 24 questions divided as shown in Table I. Each question is a statement related to its specific element with which you can: strongly disagree (1 point); disagree (2 points); are neutral (3 points); agree (4 points); or, strongly agree (5 points). By adding up the scores for each question within each element and recording it on the proper axis of the web diagram, you can create your own web. For this survey, 15 would be the maximum score for any element, and 3 would be the lowest score.

There will be two results from the survey. First, you will be able to create your own Web of Change. Secondly, we will compile the results from all of the surveys submitted and provide an analysis in Part 4 of this article, which will be published in the July issue of this magazine. Note that the survey will be set up so that any company information provided will be kept confidential.We only will be analyzing and reporting on the total set of results.

The next things you may be asking yourself concern the value of this survey to your organization: What can you do with results? How can the survey contribute to a more successful outcome in your change initiative(s)?

The answer to these two questions is that you need to conduct a “Change – Root Cause Failure Analysis (C-RCFA).” This process is the same analysis that reliability engineers conduct when they wish to uncover the root cause of equipment failure. By identifying and correcting the root cause, the real problem can be addressed and corrected.

The process is relatively simple, but it yields very valuable results. Take the element with the lowest score and ask yourself “why did the #____ element receive the lowest score?” By asking this question, you will identify several possible answers. Write them down. For each of these answers again ask “why.” This will lead you to a second level with multiple answers for each item you identified previously. Continue asking “why” until you reach a level where it appears that you have identified the real underlying reasons.Next, eliminate those answers at the lowest level that do not make sense or are not realistic reasons for the low score. Through this process, you will find an answer (or maybe more than one) to the original question that, if resolved, will enable the element with the lowest score to improve.While this is a simplistic description of a time-consuming and rigorous process, it can and does help you to identify the root cause of the problem. MT

As noted previously, Part 4 of this series will provide feedback and analysis of the Web of Change survey.

Steve Thomas has more than 35 years of experience in the petrochemical industry, working in the areas of maintenance and reliability. He holds a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Drexel University and M.S. degrees in Systems Engineering and Organizational Dynamics from The University of Pennsylvania. His two books, Successfully Managing Change in Organizations: A Users Guide, and Improving Maintenance and Reliability Through Cultural Change, published by Industrial Press, Inc., reflect his vast knowledge of successful, realworld cultural change and change management techniques. E-mail: changemgt@gmail.com




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