Article By: Steve Koro, Mining Practice Lead, Ausenco Rylson
I think we all know that sustainable operation and continuous improvement of industrial assets are essential for long term profitability. There should be an agreed Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP) that has been prepared following a set process which includes evaluation of business goals and objectives, senior management review and budgeted implementation plans. So, assuming the SAMP has been developed; gaining agreement, acceptance and involvement in an Asset Management Improvement initiative within that plan should be a “given”. Shouldn’t it?
Why is it that great initiatives that fit within an SAMP don’t proceed or aren’t successful? Or that sometimes they get pushed through by a couple of people while others sit back and ignore or undermine the process or the barriers to change stop the initiative cold? (Neither of these options are recommended.)
From my experience, just having a strong business case for the initiative is not enough. As long as there are humans making decisions and being required to implement any change, then understanding and engaging your key internal stakeholders will be the defining factor.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of books and articles on stakeholder engagement and change management. The key learnings from those books and my experience are that you need to understand who your internal stakeholders are, understand ‘What’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM) and tailor your engagement with them depending on their role in the organisation and decision making process.
Miller Heiman’s1 work outlines a number of organisational stakeholders including the “Decision Maker/Economic Buyer”, the “Technical Buyer”, “Technical User” and “Champion”. It’s essential to understand who these people are, what influences their decisions and how they can help provide approval for and successful implementation of your improvement initiative. The “Technical Buyer”, often the individual or team who is seeking to gain approval for the initiative and will have the task of implementing the improvement, needs to engage and win over both the “Economic Buyer” and the “Technical User” with the support of the “Champion”. If you aren’t able to articulate the benefits in terms of throughput, revenue and cost for the “Economic Buyer” then your initiative could be dead in the water. If the “Technical Users” don’t see how the initiative will make their jobs easier, improve the business and help them gain personal satisfaction, then they won’t be inclined to embrace the change.
Given that the “Technical Users” are often those most impacted by the initiative, they can make or break its success, so engaging them on the journey and selling the ideas to them are essential. Resistance to change often comes at the site level. I’m sure we’ve all heard these types of comments before – “Our asset tactics are fine, we’ve been operating for 10 years and made lots of money for the company. Why would we change?” and “Why are we changing what the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) recommends? They’re the experts.” Often the un-stated threat is that the changes might highlight that what they have been doing could have been done better – there is often a real fear that they are made to look less than competent.
That’s why change management and engaging your internal stakeholders is so important.
At a simplistic level, you need to:
- Understand clearly who all your internal stakeholders are (and any external advisers who may influence your internal stakeholders)
- Present the reasons why the initiative is important, the process for implementation and the benefits – all in terms of the things that matter most to each of them
- Engage each of the individuals or groups in a tailored way during the implementation – for example, focus on the involvement of the technical users and the expected positive impacts on their jobs
- Partner with the relevant individuals or groups during the change – celebrate wins, work through challenges and communicate back to your stakeholders on the issues that most interest them.
It’s also important to remember that activity of improving assets is not a one-off event. It’s continually evolving and improving as more information is collected on asset performance under changing operating conditions. So checking back in with your stakeholders regularly and then identifying and presenting new initiatives to optimise your asset is an ongoing process, but one that will ultimately help its long term profitability.
1 Miller Heiman Group – https://www.millerheimangroup.com/