It Begins, Ends with Leadership

Klaus M. Blache | December 1, 2019

Effective and sustained R&M cultures start with informed and engaged enterprise leadership.

Recently I was invited to offer input to a senior manufacturing executive (responsible for numerous facilities) on how they should improve their reliability and maintainability (R&M).

In preparation, I pulled together relevant data to show best-practice key-performance indicators (KPIs) and do a gap analysis of current practices.

Halfway through the presentation, the executive stated that the data was very similar to his business and he liked the opportunities presented. I showed him how the example company had a “pretty good R&M process” 12 years prior, with steady plant-floor improvement. Then came a time of redirection. New leadership wanted to focus on maximizing throughput and profit, at the expense of R&M best practices. That worked for a short time.

Eventually, backlog got out of control and the company reverted to highly reactive maintenance practices. Uptime and throughput deteriorated and costs rose. About four years later, a new set of leaders wondered why production costs were so high.

That executive called in a subject-matter expert and again started on a journey of R&M improvement. Over five years, they accomplished many 2nd Quartile and some 1st (top) Quartile KPIs, guided by a detailed internal R&M assessment process. Although it was a good R&M implementation, focus was mainly on performance versus organization health—people engagement, plant culture, accountability, and production and maintenance cooperation. To operate in the 1st Quartile, enterprises need a constant focus on both aspects to attain and sustain a best-practice process.

After a period of progress and due to financial pressures, there were many early retirements (especially in the R&M staff) and yet another change in executive leadership. With the constant disruption of changing people, and without an established R&M culture to continue the process, they couldn’t sustain the discipline of daily best practices.

What I said next surprised him. “The data looks similar because it’s your company data. This is my third time here and twice in between, executives, that I did not meet, chose to cut costs and/or not support the R&M process. The real question is what are you going to do different to deliver a long-term viable process?” I was not involved with any of the implementations at this company, but had enough interaction to observe the changing dynamics.

Leadership must “walk the talk.” Employees must see them acting in a way that supports the R&M vision and goals. The processes and incentives must be aligned with the desired behaviors. Leaders need to provide opportunities to attain the necessary skills, such as precision maintenance and root-cause analysis, and communicate, with clarity and detail, what each level of the organization needs to do to support the vision/goals. So much is based on developing the needed culture. It begins and ends with leadership. EP

Benchmarking Survey Update

I am currently updating some basic R&M metrics and encourage you to participate. If you submit data from your facility, you will receive a summary of the results. All data will remain anonymous. If you are interested, send an email to

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at




Klaus M. Blache

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