MRO Magazine

It’s all coming together

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This month, we pick up where we left off in the December 2011 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards introduced the team to his new TREAT program – Talk, Respect, Educate, Authority and Trust.

Joe, the plant manager was happy to announce a second week with an average production of 600 tonnes per day when the team met the following Monday. “This has been a great team effort. I really do appreciate it and I want you to make sure that all of you understand this. As you know, Bob and a couple of his team members visited the mill in Wisconsin to learn about their maintenance methods, and that Corporate have since been holding us to that mill’s high standards. Well, I think we’re very close to being able to invite the Wisconsin people to see our mill. What do you think, Bob?”

“We’re pretty close, Joe, I think we just need to formalize what we’re doing a little more. That reminds me: I have an idea about the soft skills training you asked about.”

“Let’s make sure we talk about that later today as I’m sure I’ll be communicating with Corporate this week, after they see our numbers.”


I talked with our reliability manager, Carol, to see what we could produce in the way of a list of our formal improvements.

“Well, we’re down to 2.5% Unplanned Downtime, which is close to the Wisconsin mark of 2% – and way better than the 9% we started at. Since we’ve revamped the Planned Downtime schedule, we’re at 2% – the same as Wisconsin – and we’ve reduced parts inventory by 30%, with more to come as we get further into the consignment program.

“By the way, I’ve set everything up with authority codes for the guys to start signing their own purchase orders, so you just need to set the rules and get them started.”

“That’s great. Could you put together a presentation showing those numbers and I’ll add something about the authority we’ve given the team, taking a guy off shift, the purchasing move and the ‘15 Minutes of Fame’ program. That reminds me that I need to go over the results of the survey from those meetings. Let’s get a meeting set up this week.”

Later that afternoon, I met with Joe and talked about TREAT – my model for the soft skills that he wanted. Joe seemed quite pleased and asked that I pull some examples together for each of the headings and put it all together in a package with the information Carol was producing.

We were able to get the report ready for Joe by Tuesday afternoon and the following meeting with the guys went very well. They were surprised but pleased when they were told that they had authority to create purchase orders for $200. When I talked about the results of the interviews from the ‘15 Minutes of Fame’ sessions, I felt good when Pete commented that it wasn’t so much that I made unilateral decisions – it was that everyone wanted to be involved more and more.

The week ended with the average production of over 600 tonnes for the third time and you could feel the sense of pride around the mill. I began to think that Joe had been right – we were ready to invite the Wisconsin team for a visit. The only area we hadn’t made much progress on was the community involvement that we had seen them do so well, so I called Patrice, our human resources manager, who had been trying to set up the process.

“I was just about to call you,” he said. “Corporate have agreed to provide tools and supplies for any project we wish to take on.”

“That’s great news – now we have to just find a project.”

“I think I can help with that too. I’ve checked around and there is a project to convert an abandoned building on the north side of town into a club for teenagers in the area, so they are looking for volunteers to clean up around the yard, paint the exterior and just make the place a lot more friendly. What do you think?”

“Sounds good, but weren’t we going to form a team to identify worthy causes?”

“You’re right, but this one just presented itself – we can still form the team and ask if they want to approve this or look for something else.”

“I’m certainly ok with that approach. Just let me know when we will hold our first meeting – provided you want me on the team.”

By the end of the day there were memos asking for volunteers for the committee all around the mill.

Over the following two weeks, nothing much happened, if you didn’t consider two more weeks of an average production of 600 tonnes per day, Pete delivering some troubleshooting training on hydraulics, the first gearbox rebuild starting, Ben carrying out the first breakdown analysis that resulted in a change to an operating procedure, and the first meeting of the Community Outreach Committee. When I thought about it, they really weren’t unusual events – this was how the mill was now operating.

The next week we had more volunteers than we really needed for the Teenage Club Project (the committee had jumped at the chance to start it) but everyone who signed up came along and joined in. The yard and the clubhouse looked really welcoming when we finished and the camaraderie I saw was amazing. It was at the project that I realized that we were now ready to invite the Wisconsin team, as we had achieved what I had seen on our visit to them – a spirit and commitment to improve and be involved had become our operating model.

When I talked with Joe about sending the invitation, he looked a little troubled.

“What’s wrong, Joe? I thought you’d be delighted about what we’ve achieved.”

“I am Bob, and more to the point, so are Corporate. So much so that when I checked with them that it was ok to have the visit, they insisted that they be invited too. You know how much I like ‘dog and pony’ shows.”

“I think there’s a subtle difference, Joe. You won’t have to put on a show. We just need to show them what we’ve achieved and let them do the rest. I know Alan and Chuck from the Wisconsin mill will have lots of questions and I think we can just let the guys answer them wherever possible – just like they did when we visited them.”

“You’re right – that’s exactly what the visit is about. Who should I invite from Wisconsin?”

“Alan and Chuck, of course, and then let them decide who they want to bring – just let them know how many we’ll be comfortable with, taking into consideration we’ll also have at least three or four vice-presidents from our corporate office.”

“Not just VPs but Tom Waters, the CEO, has said he wants to come along! What’s more, he’s asked that we set up a series of town hall meetings with no managers invited. He’s very impressed with what we’ve done, but he wants to hear from a different perspective about the challenges, upsets and changes. Who knows what he’s going to hear?”

As confident as I was that everything would be fine, I could understand Joe’s nervousness, as this would the first time that Tom had visited the mill since we had started on this journey to world-class maintenance.

“The results are there, Joe, for all to see. He can’t really be questioning what we’ve done – I’m sure it’s just his way of showing that he values everyone’s opinion.”

“I hope you’re right, but you know me well enough that I don’t like not being in control, although you’ve done a good job of trying to cure me of that with all of your impulsive, unorthodox decisions.”

“You’re welcome. I knew you’d appreciate it some day.”

“Oh, in all of this panic I almost forgot. It’s official. Last month we averaged 600 tonnes per day. Patrice is working on a special gift for everyone.”

“Is that just one special gift?”

“Yes something like a leather jacket – something nice.”

“You know what a diverse group we’ve got here Joe, and though I’m sure they’d be grateful for any gift, it would be much better if it was appropriate to the individual. I know we can’t get everyone something different, but is there any way that we can offer them a choice – something for the sports enthusiast, something for the home , the jacket and so on – just five or six choices that would please most of the people. As an aside, I had mentioned the need for rewards to be appropriate in my TREAT presentation.”

“You mean the one you’ll be making to Tom Waters?”


Cliff Williams is the corporate maintenance manager at Erco Worldwide in Toronto, ON, and a consultant with TMS – Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, ON. He can be reached by e-mail at


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