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When Firefighters Become Arsonists...

I was speaking with a client of ours the other day and he answered the phone rather upset. Wasn't having the best of days. Here's how our conversation went:

Me - 'Good morning [client]. How are you doing today?

Client - 'John, not having the best of days. My operations team is having a hard time understanding what we do and why we do it. We've had nothing but issues with them understanding the importance of the PM program and complying with it'

Me - 'Oh, well you sound like you're dealing with a lot of the same issues we see at lots of organizations we work with - what seems to be the issue?'

Client - 'Well, I was onsite at the facility and there is a 'bronzed' valve on the wall, attached to a board - sort of like a plaque. Had the guys name under it saying 'For going above and beyond the call of duty'.

Me - 'Ok - this has got to be good - why the plaque?'

Client - 'Well apparently, this guy 'saved the day' by coming in overnight to fix a problem so significant that the operations team thought that he saved the company thousands of dollars and they feel like he is a hero. Thus the bronzed valve.'

Me - 'Ok - well what really happened?'

Client - 'Well apparently he fixed this issue that could have totally been prevented. I politely explained to the site operations manager - 'you do understand that this problem never would have even happened if he had done the PM that he was assigned and supposed to do? I'm here to go over that with you as I can see that he has missed this PM 6 out of the last 8 months.' You see John, they are rewarding this guy for not doing his job...we've got guys here going from firefighters to arsonists'.

What a statement. Firefighters becoming arsonists. 

As an asset management services company, we work with organizations all the time in understanding the need to shift from a reactive maintenance (firefighters) to a planned maintenance environment. Being a 'hero' or 'saving the day' is nothing more that human nature in that it is an opportunity to be recognized for our efforts - what better way when we 'save the day'. This got me thinking about the basic of all human needs, recognition. How does an organization effectively recognize their employees for doing the routine work that prevents failures?

I'd like you to think about all the firefighters you have in your organization. All those guys and gals out there who put out the fires. These are generally our best employees and they are always there to get the job done. I never blame the firefighter, I tend to focus on the systems and processes in place that enable them to be firefighters - a poorly run maintenance department or one that fails to focus on the value added benefit of a proper preventative maintenance program.

In closing, I challenge your organization to think about where you stack up when it comes to your PM vs CM KPI's and in doing so, focus on developing a system of recognition not for putting out the fire, but for preventing it in the first place.