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Fred Schenkelberg


How One Person Can Change the Reliability Culture

Resisting entropy is everyone’s responsibility

Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 12:02

In 2019, Nicholas W. Eyrich, Robert E. Quinn, and David P. Fessell published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “How One Person Can Change the Conscience of an Organization.” In it, they discuss how corporate transformations, although assumed to occur from the top-down, are actually brought about by middle managers and first-line supervisors. These are the people who can make significant change happen.

The authors look at what it takes for one person to make a significant change within an organization. As reliability or quality professionals, we often have the opportunity to spot needed changes. It is then up to us to tackle those challenges to make the change happen.

Change starts with one person

You, a single person, can initiate and make change happen. You can improve the reliability of your product or system. It starts with having a clear intent and goal concerning the improvement. It also starts with the willingness to speak up about the need to make that change to achieve the improvement.

Why do we run a test when no one uses the results? Including the ramification on system reliability when shifting to a new vendor may help us avoid reliability issues later. Why are we just reacting to failures rather than preventing them? Needless to say, these are just a few ideas that any one of us may identify with just a quick review of our programs.

Be clear, speak up, ask questions. Find others who support your idea to make an improvement. Find and start implementing solutions as you work to make the change that improves reliability performance.

Build your skill one challenge at a time

It is rare that your first step into solving a challenge that makes a difference will significantly shift the culture of your organization. Yet taking on such challenges, even small ones, will help hone your ability to identify and overcome the challenges that occur when proposing a change in the way we do things.

By routinely working to make improvements, you get better at crafting your message, rallying support, and overcoming the obstacles that occur. It’s the practice that allows you to tackle larger challenges and make larger shifts in the culture of your organization, independent of your position within it.

Stay with it

Shifting the culture from reacting to failures to preventing them is a change, and change takes time to happen. Shifting from a focus on time to market or cost of goods sold, to one that includes the cost of unreliability, again takes time to make happen.

It is easy to let someone take on this challenge, especially if you consider that speaking up about the need to change may be damaging to your career. It’s easy to “go with the flow” and maybe support someone else willing to suggest making an improvement.

The issue is, someone has to take a stand and then stay with it to make it happen. If we back down at the first sign of resistance, then the idea will fade and not happen.

Help others as you can

Your role may include supporting others that have ideas to make positive changes to the organization’s culture concerning reliability. Support them. Help them. Become a mentor and suggest ways to get their idea for an improvement to happen, help them find the necessary champions, and overcome obstacles.

The idea here is to help build a culture that encourages and supports improving how we create and maintain reliable products and systems.

Entropy, the gradual decline into disorder, is one form of change that is easy to just let occur. It takes energy, insight, and willingness to move the culture in the opposite direction from where entropy would take us. Face it, it takes a leader to make things happen. You can be that leader, identify and take on challenges regularly, stay with them, and continue to improve both your ability to lead and the reliability culture within your organization.

Originally published at Accendo Reliability.


About The Author

Fred Schenkelberg’s picture

Fred Schenkelberg

Fred Schenkelberg is an experienced reliability engineering and management consultant with his firm FMS Reliability. His passion is working with teams to create cost-effective reliability programs that solve problems, create durable and reliable products, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce warranty costs. Schenkelberg is developing the site Accendo Reliability, which provides you access to materials that focus on improving your ability to be an effective and influential reliability professional.