Match Attitude, Structure To Change Culture
EP Editorial Staff | September 11, 2015
By focusing on attitude more than skills in the hiring process, you can move from reactive to proactive maintenance operations.
By Joe Park, CMRP Novelis Inc.
Over time, it has become evident to me that the ratio between proactive and reactive work is a direct reflection of an organization’s structure, particularly with regard to craft personnel. This can be almost a self-fulfilling prophecy in a facility.
For example, in maintenance organizations where 80% of personnel are in roles primarily dedicated to reactive work, and 20% dedicated to proactive work, the ratio of reactive to proactive work will be about 80/20. This confirms the old adage that “your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you are achieving.” Even the best processes and systems can’t overcome the impact of improper structuring.
It’s equally true that a lack of proper processes cripples an organization’s ability to maximize its efforts. The question is, “What’s the best order of implementation between processes and organizational alignment?” The answer is two-fold.
First, design and define your work processes, including work management, materials management, and root-cause analysis. The reason for starting with process design is to avoid frustration within the workforce. Creating jobs without good definitions and the tools to properly perform the tasks generates confusion and aggravation. The processes and expected outcomes act as a roadmap for how those roles should be aligned.
Once your work processes are properly defined, the second step is to quickly align them organizationally. Figure 1 shows the impact following implementation of this two-step protocol in one Novelis facility. Note the gradual improvement in performance after defining how the work-management process should operate, followed by the rapid improvement after aligning the organization with the newly defined processes.
To overcome poor reactive-to-proactive-work ratios, organizational alignment through proper resource allocation is a must. The goal is to break the cycle by carving out a percentage of the organization that is principally dedicated to proactive activities such as inspections, preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, and improvement projects.
The long-term goal is to have 80% of your workforce primarily performing failure-prevention work and 20% responding to unexpected issues. While reality dictates that some resources must always be available for unexpected events, if a maintenance organization is largely structured for that type of response, few, if any, individuals will be available to prevent failures.
Proceed with caution
The initially allocated percentage of proactive work is dependent upon an organization’s maturity and level of reactive work. It’s often necessary to have a transition plan when embarking on this course, given the fact that reactive work won’t decrease immediately.
A good strategy is to dedicate a small percentage of your workforce to the site’s critical machines or worst-performing assets, with the mandate to drive improvements in the equipment’s performance. Improvement in these areas will reduce the level of reactive work, freeing additional resources for proactive functions. The absence of a well-thought-out transition plan will lead to failure—and the effort will implode under the weight of reactive work.
The power of aligning an organization for proactive work is exemplified by the Novelis facility that moved from 6.8% to 1.8% unscheduled maintenance downtime in 18 months. It did so simply by better defining roles and refocusing 50% of its maintenance workforce on proactive activities.
Right people in right roles
When placing people within an organization, it’s extremely important to first define the critical-to-success characteristics for each role. Everyone has value, but not everyone is a good fit for every role. A Novelis organization that recently went through this type of skills-matching process started by listing roles and identifying the characteristics personnel would need to be successful in each. Through subsequent discussions about each person on the team, individuals were aligned with the roles for which they were best suited.
A classic mistake some companies make is putting a site’s most talented craft person in the planner role. This strategy is successful only if that individual is truly suited for “behind the desk,” detail-oriented work, and if the organization has the technical depth to absorb the loss of his/her skill set.
More often than not, individuals who have built reputations as talented technicians have done so because they enjoy working with their hands and solving technical challenges. These people will likely find it difficult to transition to a more administrative type of role. In addition, if other maintenance-team members have traditionally looked to such a person to solve difficult problems, this person will be constantly interrupted to help with emergency repairs. The result would be the loss of a key problem-solving resource and a poorly performing planner.
Culture change should not be thought of as discrete entity or single-variable equation. An organization’s culture is the product of organizational and individual factors.
The makeup of individuals within an organization has a great deal to do with the culture and overall stability of a group. Consider these four critical characteristics: aptitude, skill set, leadership, and attitude.
Aptitude is an individual’s innate or acquired capacity for a particular knowledge or skill. Technical aptitude is an essential part of being successful in a skilled craft. Not everyone is cut out for a technical job. Consider individuals who have embarked on technical-career paths without an inherent ability to grasp the complexities of today’s technologies. Trying to fit such a person into a technical position can lead to weakness within an organization that, in turn, must be covered by peers. It also frustrates the person stuck in an ill-suited role. To help avoid these situations, all hiring practices should include screening for technical aptitude.
Skill set is a function of several factors, including aptitude, professional curiosity, experience, training, and work ethic. While a strong technical skill set is often essential, problems can arise when this one characteristic is valued above all others. Far too often, poor attitude, negative leadership, and absenteeism are tolerated in individuals simply because they have outstanding technical skills. Based on my experience mentoring organizations through cultural transformation, one of the first questions to ask a maintenance supervisor and technical group is, “What do you value most when hiring someone new for the organization?” Frequently, the answer is “skill set”—to the exclusion of everything else. This is a red flag.
Technical personnel naturally look up to those within the organization who display the strongest technical skill set. This places these people into a position of leadership and power within the group, even if they’re not the most suited for leadership. If such people wield their influence in a negative direction, it can be difficult for the organization to overcome.
Attitude is defined by psychologists as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects, or events. While such evaluations are often positive or negative, they can, at times, also be uncertain. There’s no question that an individual’s attitude can be influenced by organizational norms. For the most part, however, attitudes form as a result of experience. This means that, by the time a person enters the workforce, he/she has already developed an attitudinal tendency to be either generally positive or generally negative.
Leadership IQ, Atlanta, once conducted a three-year study of 5,247 hiring managers from 312 organizations who collectively hired more than 20,000 employees. In the research findings, “candidates were deemed as ‘bad hires’ for attitudinal reasons 89% of the time.” People certainly need to have the necessary experience and expertise to perform in specific roles, but attitude is what ultimately determines their ability to become high performers.
Thus, hire first for attitude. A person with a positive attitude and the aptitude to perform the work will quickly close any skill-set gaps and, in the long run, be a more valuable employee than someone with a negative attitude.
Leadership, in the context of this discussion, doesn’t mean positional leadership. It refers to the quality some individuals possess that draws other people to them—and allows them to influence actions, opinions, and behaviors. This type of leadership isn’t learned. It’s an inherent characteristic. All organizations have designated organizational leaders. They also have natural leaders. The trick is to be sure natural leadership isn’t coupled with poor attitude.
It is essential for an organizational leader to identify the natural leaders and make sure they are aligned attitudinally with his/her organizational direction. Strong leaders with poor attitudes poison an organization’s culture.
Figure 2 illustrates the sphere of influence that different combinations of attitude, skill set, and leadership have on an organization. The most powerful impact comes from strong skills and attitude combined with natural leadership. The pivot point for the direction in which that degree of influence leads will always be attitude.
The supervisory trap
Many managers spend most of their time in an exhausting vicious cycle: reprimanding the troublemakers, turning to the positive side of their organizations for a recharge, then circling back to reprimand troublemakers, again and again. All the while, the quiet majority receives little or no attention.
Research indicates that creating sustainable change requires about 40% of an organization to move in a common direction. Thus, in attempting to effect change, a supervisor needs to view the undecided as his/her actual target audience. Without that group, achieving enough momentum to drive change is impossible.
Supervisor success also requires them to stop putting negative energy into negative people, to embed themselves in their neglected majorities, to hire for and reward positive attitudes, and to empower natural leaders who have positive attitudes.
Determining attitude begins with the interview process. Asking the right types of questions of prospective personnel is key. Here are some good examples:
- How would you describe your relationship with your peers in your previous roles?
- How would your previous supervisors describe you?
- Who did you dislike most in your previous roles and why?
- Who did you like most in your previous roles and why?
- Give me an example of when you made a positive contribution in your previous role.
- Can you describe the type of working environment you prefer?
Finally, always ask for—and check—references. This is one of the most effective ways to gain insight into an individual. MT
As global leader for reliability at Novelis Inc. (novelis.com), Atlanta, Joe Park is responsible for training, coaching, auditing, and developing reliability programs within the company’s manufacturing facilities worldwide. He is an ASQ-Certified Reliability Engineer and Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional.He can be reached at joe.park@Novelis.com.
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Quick Reminders for Best Results
- Align your organization structure with your goals. (Achieving a proper ratio between reactive and proactive work requires a similar ratio within the organizational structure.)
- Define roles, responsibilities, and processes before assigning personnel.
- Place people in roles for which they are best suited.
- Understand the demographics of your organization. Engage natural leaders with the right attitude to help drive change.
- Value attitude above skill set when making hiring decisions.
- Disenfranchise negative influences.
- Put positive energy into positive people.
- Avoid putting negative energy into negative people.
- Focus on the “neglected majority” within your organization to create a critical mass for change.