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You’ve no doubt heard the old saying, “What gets measured gets done.” The statement is partially true. In reality, what gets rewarded gets done. As it happens, in the real world, what gets measured is usually what gets rewarded. So, we must be very careful about what we measure and what we reward.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve often encountered problems with key performance indicators (KPIs) and associated reward systems. In this column, I want to address the problem of expecting reliability, but rewarding failure in the maintenance department.

I recall a time, many years ago, when I was fresh out of MBA school and teaching contamination-control best practices to a group of automotive millwrights. The plant had a problem: New, high-precision injection-molding machines ran at greater pressures than previous machines, and their servo valves were more sophisticated. High contamination levels were robbing the variable-displacement, axial piston pumps of life and causing fouling-induced static friction (stiction) failures. The result was reduced production throughput, high defect rate, and increased maintenance costs.

The fix was simple: Improve hydraulic contamination-control practices.

Accordingly, we developed a contamination-control plan, and I was charged with providing instruction to the millwrights about its implementation. I’ve delivered many seminars, workshops, conference sessions, and keynote addresses in the past three decades, but never has my message been so manifestly rejected as it was on that day. The millwrights were flat-out angry with me, and I didn’t understand why.

During a break, a master millwright pulled me aside and apologized for the behavior of the team. He said they didn’t dislike me personally, and that they had fully understood the message. To their way of thinking, however, the contamination-control practices I proposed would cause them to lose their hunting and fishing cabins, prevent them from treating their families to vacations, and cost them any number of other luxuries. I was confused.

Then the master millwright informed me that about 30% of a typical millwright’s pay was tied to overtime. That’s when the lights came on for me. Suddenly, all of those organizational-behavior classes for my MBA were very real and very salient. The bottom line: I was selling reliability, but the company was paying for failure. Guess which of the two prevails in defining the culture of an organization?

The experience caused me to engage in a great deal of reflection. Was the scenario where the company wanted reliability but was, instead, rewarding failure isolated to this one organization? Were we rewarding failure in other ways? Could we change our reward structures to better align with our goals?

In addition to overtime pay that’s tied to equipment unreliability (which is an extrinsic reward), I found that most organizations also intrinsically reward failure with recognition. It’s not direct, but when the plant manager, operations manager, and/or maintenance manager recognize an individual or team for getting a machine and production back up and running, he or she typically smothers them with praise.

Fast-forward 25 years. Regrettably, we have the same reward problems today as we had when I was teaching contamination-control best practice to those millwrights. There is a better way.

Of course, we must provide overtime pay. And we should recognize individuals and teams for restoring production. But what stops us from providing production-uptime and/or proactive-maintenance-effectiveness bonuses that dwindle as a function of overtime (so that teams are extrinsically motivated to deliver reliability)? Also, why can’t we praise our teams for, say, completing a good lube route, performing a precision alignment, and proactively maintaining conditions that extend life?

Truth be told, nothing is stopping us from doing any of those things. So what’s holding you and your organization back? After all, what gets rewarded gets done!TRR


Drew Troyer has 30 years of experience in the RAM arena. Currently a Principal with T.A. Cook Consultants, he was a Co-founder and former CEO of Noria Corporation. A trusted advisor to a global blue chip client base, this industry veteran has authored or co-authored more than 250 books, chapters, course books, articles, and technical papers and is popular keynote and technical speaker at conferences around the world. Drew is a Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE), Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional (CMRP), holds B.S. and M.B.A. degrees, and is Master’s degree candidate in Environmental Sustainability at Harvard University. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or dtroyer@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, workforce issues