Educating the Executives--And Yourself

Terry Wireman, C.P.M.M., Editorial Director
There was considerable information presented at the Maintenance & Reliability Technology Summit (MARTS) last month about all aspects of maintenance and reliability. The presentations were content laden with many case studies and workshops. However, one question was frequently asked: “How do I get my senior managers to an event like this?”

This is a question that is asked all too often. Maintenance and reliability managers are always seeking better methods of communicating the value of their organizations to their peer groups and senior management. Can this actually be accomplished, and how do maintenance and reliability managers get started?

The first step for the maintenance and reliability manager is self-education. This will involve selected reading of the many books that are currently available. It also includes reading the latest maintenance and reliability-focused magazines, joining appropriate technical societies (AFE, SMRP), and additional Internet research (, If the budget exists, it also should involve attending selected maintenance and reliability- focused conferences and workshops.

The question could be asked, “Why go to all of that work? After all, I still have a department to run.” The answer is that to be an educator; you first have to be educated. While there are many maintenance and reliability managers who understand and can communicate the technical aspects of their business, how many understand how to sell the business benefits (particularly the financial aspect) of their maintenance and reliability organizations? That is the purpose of all the self-education.

Successfully managed organizations take a business focus with maintenance and reliability. It is common to hear or read about return on investment, financial justification, and business analysis when case studies are presented. Why? The financial focus is the only way to win and maintain executive sponsorship for maintenance and reliability improvement.

With this in mind, how do maintenance and reliability managers get their senior executives to attend conferences or read articles about maintenance and reliability? It might be beneficial to review the presentations at a particular conference before attending. Are your competitors presenting? Almost every senior executive wants to hear what his competitors are doing. Are there presenters from a similar industry? Are any of the presenters discussing how they solved a problem that your company is currently struggling with? A maintenance and reliability manager could ask the same questions for magazine articles or books he is contemplating reading and sharing with senior executives or peers.

Once the senior executives have started reading articles or decided to attend a conference, ensure they stay focused. Don’t force them to read or hear “nice to know” material, but rather the “need to know” material. Make sure they understand the application of the information to your plant situation or problem. If they don’t appear to understand the information, take the time to clarify it and make specific application of the points you want them to remember.

If the senior executives are attending a conference and some of their peers are there, ensure that they meet and have an opportunity to converse. You will occasionally find an executive who will regularly attend maintenance and reliability conferences. It has tremendous impact when your senior executives hear one of their peers endorse concepts that you have been trying to get approval to implement. Even if none of their peers are at the conference, make sure they meet some of the presenters. The presenters will likely have information from their plants that they have shared with their senior executives that was not included in the presentation.

Since there are few MBA, PhD, or other degree programs that require courses in maintenance or reliability, it is up to existing maintenance and reliability managers to fill this gap in their senior executives’ education. If you are currently having a problem obtaining senior management approval for your maintenance and reliability initiatives, try some of these suggestions. You will not get too many chances to obtain their support; make the most of the ones you have.

If you do succeed, keep good documentation. You may be writing an article or giving a conference presentation in the future that will help someone else improve their maintenance and reliability practices. You know they will appreciate it. MT

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