Change Your Lubrication Culture, Not Your Oil

Drew Troyer
Tags: industrial lubricants

We change a lot of oil in our plants, mills, mines and factories. What are we doing to change our lubrication culture? In their book Learning to Fly, Collison and Parcell, employees of British Petroleum (BP), suggest a predictable pattern in achieving sustained culture change, which is a function of effort and time (Figure 1).

Lower-quartile performers operate in a state of “unconscious incompetence” - ignorance is bliss. It takes no effort and no time to exist in the state of unconscious incompetence. They perform poorly, and because they are unaware of it, there is no perceived need to change. When a manager or other influential member learns through some minimal effort that there is a better way to operate, the performers become aware of their shortcomings, which creates a perceived gap. Collison and Parcell call this gap “conscious incompetence.” It is this new awareness that throws a wrench (spanner) in the works, forcing the organization to correct its deficiency or make a conscious decision to live with it.

“All things make room for others and nothing remains still.
There is nothing permanent except change.”

- Maxim Heracleitus (500 B.C.)

In the event that the organization elects to act on its deficiency, there is a period called “conscious competence.” With great effort, the organization learns how to perform effectively, but doing so is not natural. Think about the first time you learned to drive an automobile. Simultaneously, and in a coordinated fashion, you had to work the steering wheel, accelerator, brake, clutch, shifter, turn signals, switches, etc. It takes a great deal of effort to drive a car during this initial learning period. However over time, the coordination of all the individual aspects of driving become second nature - and if you drive properly, you reach a state Collison and Parcell refer to as “unconscious competence.” This is the state in which the task is performed properly and with little effort because it is engrained in the individual or organization. Upper-quartile performers function in the state of unconscious competence - they do things right naturally. Incidentally, continuous improvement is the strict domain of upper-quartile performers. Any continuous improvement effort is wasted on lower-level performers.

Figure 1

Commonly, organizations initiate new programs with the intent to create real beneficial change. However, they often manage to carry the process all the way through to the point where competent performance is second nature. Usually, the organization will send out a memo or an e-mail suggesting change. However, without building the infrastructure to support a new business-as-usual that is intended to replace the old, ineffective business-as-usual, real change is not accomplished. In many cases, some improvement is achieved, but not if the process is not carried all the way through to conclusion. In many cases, organizations achieve improvement on a limited scale, but if the culture change process is not completed, the organization usually drifts back to its incompetent ways. In some cases, it will drift all the way back to unconscious incompetence. Change initiatives that are not completed are usually labeled “program of the day.” Poor execution is usually to blame.

So how do we complete an effective transformation of lubrication culture? First, we must recognize the signs of ineffective lubrication, or the current business-as-usual. There are telltale signs of poor lubrication that we can look for in an organization, such as low pay for oilers, time-based oil drains, poor control over lubrication quality, imprecise application of grease, and reaction to lubricant and machine problems (Figure 2).

Click here to see Figure 2

With a concerted effort to optimize lubrication PMs, integrate appropriate technology, document best practice lubrication work plans and procedures, and educate and train the staff (classroom and on-the-job), the culture can be transformed. It takes time, effort and patience. It is unlikely that a plant can achieve the transformation in less than a year. Two to three years may be required to complete the transformation to a new, more profitable business-as-usual, which is characterized by premium pay for lube techs and analysts who add value to the maintenance process, condition-based oil drains (where appropriate), precision control over lubrication quality including contamination control, technology-driven regrease intervals and volume management, and managed lubricant health and machine reliability.

Creating a culture of lubrication excellence is not easy. It takes vision, commitment, effort, patience and tenacity. But the rewards are significant. Isn’t it time you stop changing the oil and start changing your lubrication culture?

That is my Viewpoint. As always, I am interested in yours.

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