John Crossan | Manufacturing Ownership Blog
No Country for Old Men PDF Print E-mail

I recently caught the, pretty disturbing, award winning movie "No Country for Old Men". No doubt everyone else in the world has already seen it by now, so talking about it a little bit shouldn't hurt and it prompted some thoughts on relationships in plants

The main bad guy is Anton Chiguhr. For me, one of the all time, authentically scary movie villains. (Another one, many years back, was a very much younger Alan Arkin terrorizing Audrey Hepburn in "Wait Until Dark").

Anyway Anton has some real struggles with customer relationships (and his hairstyle). Hired to recover stolen drug money, (use of deadly force is, sort of, implied in that industry). He eliminates, not just the thieves, and then rivals, numerous bystanders, etc, etc, but he also kills his employer, just because the employer had retained some other mercenaries to do the same job (and also perhaps eliminate Anton).

Now it's one thing to go after your competition, but something else to go after your customers when they upset you. I mean even psychopath assassins need customers to earn a living.

Hopefully, this is not a new trend in customer service. I know I have, absolutely unintentionally, upset some of the folks working in stores I've been in. (I still remember that big glass jar of yellow mustard in aisle 6 dropping and exploding, (do you know how far that stuff can travel?) and if looks could kill, that kid who had to clean it up would have, without a doubt, done me in).

So that started some thinking again about the whole customer service relationship discussion that frequently comes up about maintenance.

I personally always struggle with the, commonly used, statement that maintenance is a service department.

To me, this always has the feel of some second degree level of ownership. Operations folks are the real owners, and if they are the customers, then maintenance must be one level removed from ownership of the equipment. Pretty much just hired help. Almost mercenaries, (I have even heard the term assassin used).

But this really isn't true at all. I remember one time trying to console a mechanic, (actually in tears) because of damage to his equipment (by those people, who just don't care).

Really, it had nothing to do with caring, the operators were as upset as he was. It actually came back, as the majority of issues do, to care in a different sense, an equipment care issue.

Something came loose in upstream system, traveled down to this machine, and caused bad things to happen.

But this is a pretty common reaction. Just about every maintenance department meeting I've ever sat in, has had some venting. (About those people, who just don't care).

While this shows passion and caring, which is great, there's something that's just not right here.

We're all in this together, and blaming each other just doesn't help. How much better could things be, with more cooperation and respect? (Of course, putting things in perspective, what people say and what they do are different things. And it's important to discount the sometimes, almost violent, statements made in meetings, from what is usually pretty cooperative, friendly, behavior on the floor). But still, it seems like there's some opportunity here, and how can things be better?

I remember early in my career trying to build cohesion in a maintenance team by talking about how different they were from operators. That was a pretty big mistake, and it didn't help the plant at all. Unfortunately it's a mistake others continue to make, even today.

The biggest factors in the success of any plant are, the ownership of everything to do with that plant by the people who work there, and the amount and quality of the communication between them.

Unfortunately, these factors just don't happen very well, naturally. They really have to be orchestrated. Some structured processes must be put in place to make sure they happen routinely and happen well.

Shift overlap meetings including operations and maintenance folks, are one of the really key mechanisms essential to making plants work. They're one of the ways that people can give the input that's necessary for ownership. They also provide a method of forcing communication and preventing the paranoia between individuals and groups that develops without it.

But it takes structure, good ongoing facilitation, and resulting action, to make these meetings work. Otherwise, pretty quickly, they lose importance, and meaning.

I've always found it strange that managers can spend hours in manager's meetings, discussing people on the floor and the issues with them, and how they (the people) can be fixed. And yet somehow, don't feel it's nearly as important to go sit in a shift exchange meeting and actually dialogue with the people. There, they might find out what peoples issues and problems really are, help them work through them, and perhaps help get something going to help them fix them.