Training Work Processes Workforce

Is Your Culture Disciplined?

Klaus M. Blache | April 1, 2022

This quadrant chart will help you determine where your maintenance culture is on the road from firefighting to best practices.

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC)

These three questions are at the foundation of my facility assessments:

• Do you have standardized work processes?

• Do you have an individual/small-team continuous-improvement process?

• Do you have a methodology to improve and sustain ongoing improvement?

Most responses to all three questions are somewhat positive. Things change when I ask the follow-up question:  How well are you doing on all three items? The replies become less confident and are usually followed by statements such as “It’s more of an informal process,” and “We have a process, but it’s not followed that well,” and “Accountability for adherence to processes is inconsistent or poor.” Basically, people aren’t performing job tasks to the best of their abilities.

Accountability in the workplace is important to overall facility success. The person who sweeps the floor, the tradesman, the engineer, and the plant manager all have duties to fulfill. Facilities full of accountable employees have better organizational health. Combined with good performance standards, they are, on average, more efficient, productive, and 20% to 40% more cost effective.

When I was benchmarking reliability and maintenance around the world, one of the items we evaluated was training. It was clear that the companies we were benchmarking were not better trained, but more accountable in daily practices. I was taught to make rule, teach rule, follow rule, and enforce rule. As John Collins stated in his book, Good to Great (Harper Business, New York, 2001): “All companies have a culture, some companies have discipline, but few companies have a culture of discipline:

When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. 

When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. 

When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.”

Facility maintenance costs, which are measured as a percentage of RAV (replacement asset value), and the reliability and maintainability level of maturity will fall into one of the four quadrants shown in Figure 1 (above):

• Work process issues = high process maturity and high maintenance costs. Typically, this indicates something is broken in the process. It could be a need for a better process, need for a better understanding of the existing process, or a lack of accountability.

• Best practice = high process maturity and low maintenance costs, primarily from adhering to a standardized process.

• Fire fighting = high maintenance costs and low process maturity, i.e., standardized work is not well defined, set up, or followed.

• Cost cutting = low process maturity while showing low maintenance costs. This typically indicates cost cutting to make financial goals.

Workplace accountability and culture is what your employees do when you’re not watching. Leaders (at all levels) also need to be accountable and demonstrate the values they would expect from their employees. If, as a leader, you look and very few are acting accountably, you are still a visionary. If you look and many are accountable, you are leading and positioned for improvement. EP

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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