After years of traveling the globe designing and implementing best-practice lubrication programs for some of the largest manufacturing and processing facilities, I started making a list of the important qualities from projects that were considered major successes. One attribute that always seemed to appear at the top of the list was communication.

As an outside contractor, I can only influence so many things at these facilities. The way in which a viscosity calculation is performed or the decision on how to store lubricants is relatively the same at most every plant, and I can easily make recommendations according to best practices. However, I found myself asking why some companies are able to take these recommendations and make huge strides often within just a few weeks of implementation, while others seem to drag on for months or maybe even years.

One commonality I discovered was that every plant that achieved a fast implementation and a quick return on investment had great communication and a culture that thrived on that communication. Most of these organizations had a standard operating procedure for this type of communication. The interaction was almost always face to face and rarely done through videos, publications, large meetings or an electronic billboard in the breakroom. Although these are all great communication methods, they lack the punch needed to convey the importance of these projects and only involve one-way communication, leaving a lot to be desired in terms of giving both parties a voice in the conversation.

When implementing change, such as when designing or redesigning a lubrication or reliability program, people need to know why the change is being made and how it will affect them.

The Question of Why

Understanding the need for change is the first step in creating new behaviors within a facility. If you assume that business processes will change as a result of your lubrication or reliability initiative, then you must assume that behaviors, which are driven by habits and rituals, will also need to change.

To drive behavioral change, you must communicate the need for change as it relates first to the overall business and second to those involved. If you expect your team to demonstrate the new values of your business through their own behaviors, then they must understand why. This is not the “how.” Conveying how is simple. The why is a much harder conversation to have and is usually driven by underlying business needs that are not always easy to convey. This conversation should focus on how the change will affect the individual and why the change is necessary in the first place.

Countless studies indicate that when communicating the business need for change, the most effective communicator in an organization is the CEO. However, the same studies also reveal that when it comes to front-line team members, they prefer to have the why conversation with their direct supervisors because they feel more connected and comfortable with them.

The first part of this communication process should prepare the facility for transformation or change. These conversations should include why the change is necessary, the plan or process for change and the role each individual will play, as well as any objections, which is where the two-way communication occurs.

It’s important for the messages and conversations to be consistent. Everyone on the leadership team must have an excellent understanding of the project. Some people may try to discredit the improvement process or challenge leadership’s commitment if they receive mixed messages. Make sure you and your peers are aligned, and don’t be afraid to use a script. It’s not so much the presentation quality but rather the content of the communication that is key. People will recognize the position of the individual within the organization, e.g., the senior manager or their direct supervisor, and will tune into the message being delivered, not the delivery method.

Start by identifying the topics of your communication and then the target audience for each topic. This can be done by examining the groups of people impacted by the changes. Next, select the preferred media for each topic, keeping in mind that the best communication method is face to face from a direct supervisor.

Training is a major contributor to answering the question of why. I have been asked many times to be the catalyst for change through education. It’s quite remarkable how easy this is. Instead of just telling the audience that changes are coming and how the changes will affect them, I like to first teach them about the subject matter. I let them come up with their own solutions and help drive them to the same conclusions about change that have already been made by upper management. This process is so predictable that in almost every instance the response has been, “That makes perfect sense. Why haven’t we always been doing it that way?”

Communication is one aspect of the improvement process that it would be extremely difficult to have in excess. However, ineffective communication has the ability to derail any improvement project. Be diligent in your communication planning and message. With the correct culture and process in place, you should never hear the words “failure to communicate” as a root cause for program or project failure.

56% of lubrication professionals say there are poor lines of communication between the front-line workers at their plant and management, based on a recent poll at