Conventional consulting approaches begin with assessments to determine your current state of affairs, judge what’s good and bad about it, give it a score, provide a long list of recommendations and then build an improvement strategy based on the outcome. A typical assessment can take up to a couple of weeks plus report generation time. Does it really add the value you might expect?
Indeed, an assessment by an experienced consultant will build on what is learned on-site, using experience and insights gained from others. After it’s done, strategy development is normally carried out by a select leadership team, facilitated by the consultant who did the report, and then the change is rolled out to lower levels in the organization.
This approach is widely used and has served well for a long time. It is at the outset of almost any major consulting engagement. I’ve personally done hundreds of them. It can be useful when comparing sites among each other to see what can be learned internally from each other, but often turns into a contest to see who’s best. is there some sort of award? No. Quite the opposite. Used that way it creates winners and losers. Even without multi-site comparisons, the scores you are given will serve to upset people more than motivate.
Outside of maintenance and asset management, where a totally independent and unbiased perspective is required for strategic business decisions this approach – which assesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the company is highly appropriate. For the most part those corporate assessments are necessary to remove the blinders that executives often have as a result of all the management layers beneath them and the short term demands of financial markets.
In the realm of physical asset management, I suggest that a different approach that actually works better if your objective is to initiate improvement activities. It’s an approach that I’ve used for several years producing quick short term gains, long term plans, and a lot of buy-in for making the changes. While many struggle with change management, we seem to have found a way to avoid much of the resistance.
The conventional approach of assessing, recommending, and building an improvement strategy has a major flaw when dealing with people within an organization – it often leads to feelings of animosity towards those who carried it out. The nature of the process requires that judgement be applied to what is observed. That judgement usually takes the form of “this is good” or “that is bad”. At the corporate level when dealing with broad external and systemic internal factors where no-one is to “blame” this works. Generally it is less prone to generating feelings of animosity.
However, deep within an organization, when dealing with specific aspects of it like maintenance, like MRO materials management, like purchasing, etc., we are dealing with technology, processes and people, and there is always a degree of “ownership” in the status quo. That “ownership” of the past is a big part (but by no means all) of what makes change so difficult to implement. An assessment score can be a real demotivator!
Unless you really need a score, then why bother with the 3rd party assessment? Your people already know what they are doing. What they may lack however, is an awareness of what works best for the company and what does not. They need to have a sense of, “what good looks like”.
For example, I’ve met many materials managers who truly believe they are doing a fantastic job by keeping the dollar value of inventory levels down even though service levels (as determined by asking mechanics about their storeroom experiences) are poor. Money is saved in inventory (one of their KPIs) but lost to the lack of productivity on the part of the tradesmen who waste time waiting for parts that aren’t there. That’s not one of stores KPIs and even the maintenance department probably doesn’t measure it. I’ve also met many maintenance supervisors and trades who are proud of their ability to get parts “in spite of” the storeroom’s poor service performance. That leads to a lot of stores, inventory management, and supply chain problems including excessive working capital tied up in materials that few even know are there.
Other supervisors, trades and maintenance managers are often proud of their ability to put out fires – get repairs done rapidly under arduous and emergency conditions. If you are into hero-worship or stroking your own ego then that is good, but the business would benefit more if the failures were avoided instead of repaired. An unbiased third party cuts through all that because they are aware of successful practices – they can see things from a different perspective. But who says that perspective has to come from a third party? What’s needed is a new perspective, but it doesn’t need to come in the form of a judgment.
Consider some training in successful practice. Perspectives change through observation, learning and experience. Training upfront, adds value from the outset, in the form of learning, while providing a safe environment for the generation and gathering improvement ideas. Rather than “observe and judge” we “teach and ask”. Throughout our training we ask employees how they can use that new knowledge to change what they do today for the better.
The training expands their awareness and changes their perspective on what they see as good and bad. The lists of ideas are often staggering – and many of the ideas are easily implemented. Your employees and co-workers really do care and want to see things improve. It helps with job security and the working environment. We’ve found that once we open the “idea tap” it can actually be difficult to turn it off. And why would you want to turn it off? We’ve just unleashed the creative talent within a large group of people who all stand to benefit as your business benefits. From those ideas we have the equivalent of the consultants’ list of recommendations – but it’s better – it’s theirs!
Development of an improvement strategy from that point on, is easy. Use that creative energy, encourage ideas, encourage questioning of the status quo, and then act on what you get.
There is one caution. If you get the ideas but don’t act on them, you’ll turn the tap off and things will not change. That risks validating any thoughts that management doesn’t really want to change and makes it all that much harder the next time you get the urge to make a difference.
This approach avoids the animosity that can be generated as a result of assessment work and thus avoids a common and significant hurdle at the beginning of many corporate transition programs. By having a cross-functional group in the training, it even enhances teamwork foundations. Your operators, maintainers and stores people actually talk to each other and gain an understanding of what each must contend with. You’ll find that they want to help each other. There will be grumblers in the class too. I like to encourage them to grumble, then use it as the seed for a discussion. They really do care or they’d keep quiet.
By taking improvement ideas generated by your employees we ensure that the transition is theirs from the outset. They own it. Any good change manager knows that if the ideas come from the people who must implement them, they are far more likely to make it work than to give up. What’s more, the ideas are based on years of their observations – they are accurate. No consultant, no matter how thorough, can beat that on their own.
Consultants who are there for a short time and invariably miss something, miss the reasons why some practices are the way they are, misinterpret what was heard, gets some of the wrong data, etc. Consultants can be terrific teachers, observers and facilitators but they can’t replace the knowledge your entire workforce holds. That knowledge rarely has an outlet. We like to provide that. We help you tap into it, even if your own management team can’t seem to get co-operation. Independence and lack of bias can work wonders in a training format.