Bad Salesmanship Hinders Reliability

Bad Salesmanship Hinders Reliability

Sean O’Connor 

Learn To Sell

Do not dismiss the above statement thinking it does not apply to your situation because you are not a roving consultant or contractor. In-house maintenance reliability professionals need to exhibit the same, or even better, customer service when it comes to driving change or pulling their organization toward a path of continuous improvement.

Consider the general marketplace. How are any products or services sold? Well, the easiest way to break through contention is to solve a problem. Within each company or organization, there exists an internal marketplace where a multitude of potential customers exist. They are just going about their daily routine and may or may not even know they need what you have. Therefore, maintenance reliability professionals need to harness the ability to identify this market and sell solutions to their problems.

Resources are finite, so the challenge becomes positioning your product or service in a way that it sells itself. Can you find a way to better align efforts or be the catalyst that accelerates what the business is already trying to accomplish? Dig deep and think, what will get your staff excited about challenging the status quo with you? No business is stagnant. You are either losing or gaining market share each and every day.

Just about everyone will agree that reliability, as a concept, is not flawed. So where is the rub? Why is it so hard to ignite the passion?

Don’t Make Reliability a Cussword

Having a great product that everyone wants is not going to automatically move units out the door. Price point is a crucial factor surrounding any product. What you want to avoid here is sticker shock. Introducing an initiative that is incredibly dynamic with stratified layers may make perfect sense in your head. And if you could clone yourself, it might even work. Yet in the real world, you have to be effective or you will soon be out of a job. Don’t make your people, your customers, hate reliability.

The currency you are working with is time and understanding. For this, simplicity and consistency are blue light specials.

Simplicity. Make it too hard to understand and you will quickly intimidate your way into a perpetual reactive environment. Think law of diminishing returns. You might know the absolute best way to accomplish a task. What happens, then, if this task is so complex and dynamic that nobody in the organization even attempts to tackle it the second you turn your back?

Consistency. This is not a simple life hack or something that is one and done. This is a campaign that will evolve into culture. Its simplicity will enable it to be sustainable, but only if you are consistent. Don’t reinvent the wheel with each and every minor endeavor. Copy, paste and continuously improve. People will find the path of least resistance. So, make that path one in which you prefer them to travel. Make it easy to do the right thing. Make it hard to do the wrong thing.

This is where you venture into the dichotomy of leadership. Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin outline it beautifully in their book, Extreme Ownership. It’s a must read for anyone who desires to be a better leader.

Being Too Technical Is Technically Wrong

If you are reading this magazine, there is a good chance your technical prowess is sufficient. Does that mean you should stop learning as a maintenance reliability professional? Absolutely not. What it may signal, however, is that you have potentially reached critical mass on how effective you can be within your current organization. Engage in a little self-reflection and understand who you have trouble making inroads with. Consider this question and its options:

Which maintenance reliability professional will have a higher probability of success?

The mediocre reliability engineer within a company that has made a commitment to improve;
The world’s best reliability engineer within a company that is set in its outdated ways.


Most people would put their money on the first person. So, now the question is: How do you get yourself within that company that has made a commitment to improve? Just like the famous line in the classic movie, Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” The simple statement, however, does imply the task will be an easy one.

You must make a commitment within yourself to lead up and down the organizational chart. You listen to problems to gain an understanding of the issues at hand. Questions, good leading questions, are asked that get people talking. The learning process begins. Fill in the blanks as you progress. What makes this person, this department, this company resonate?

Never actually turned a wrench or operated the line before? Go down to the floor and assume the role of the student, not the teacher. You will be amazed at the wealth of knowledge just waiting to be heard.

Feel lost on why your budget seems nonexistent and to you SOX compliance means they both just have to match? Again, you will be amazed at what a cup of coffee and a genuine desire to understand can do to your perspective.

People love to talk about themselves and their job. Along with that comes their stresses and complaints. This is your chance to listen and solve. People feel good knowing that what they do is important. It is, so leverage that to the hilt!

Leaders Eat Last

Perhaps you are on a timeline to show results on how well the maintenance department is running. Maybe you have a finite amount of time to come up with a proposal to increase throughput on your most profitable line. That means you have an agenda, right?

“NO YOU DO NOT! Think again.”

As a maintenance reliability professional looking to sell your skill set, you must align to the agenda of others.

Instead of making your electricians sit through infrared (IR) thermography training just because they have been selected to do the annual inspection, try this: Give them the same training, but show them how this new tool can help make them more effective in their day-to-day tasks. Show them how the infrared imager just gave them superhuman sight. Holy cow, now your electricians can see hot spots! How can this new skill be used as a troubleshooting tool to accelerate their existing workload? Plus, IR is a really cool technology that you can use to improve your predictive maintenance (PdM) program. Did you just find a very willing, and now able, IR technician?

You can look to garner buy-in for a technology or concept before instituting a full-blown program with requirements, added responsibilities and what might be perceived as a downright burden. This is new and you are still within the proof of concept phase.

Once your employees’ agenda has been fulfilled incorporating your solutions, your agenda, in turn, will be served. This all relates back to customer service and identifying the needs within the marketplace.

Let Them Fail

Yes, let them tumble, trip and fall. Barring safety or environmental implications, let your staff make some bad decisions. Build in controls so those mistakes are quickly realized by the person directly making them and give them the latitude to work out a proper solution. This instant feedback allows an organic learning environment to be cultivated. This is where buy-in is solidified and ah-ha moments are born. Congratulations, you have just sold reliability. Cha-Ching!

Manipulative or overly prescriptive directives may cause short-term increases in your stock price, but these are not realized gains. Chasing artificial appreciation is not the way to build a portfolio that can weather the storm during an economic downturn. Be the dividend investor who is in it for the long haul.

Your customers, both up and down the chain, are people and people want to be treated like…PEOPLE! Get to know their hobbies, their likes and dislikes. Relate to them and find out what they are good at. Invest in them when an opportunity for development presents itself. These dynamic problem solvers are the most important assets you will ever manage as a maintenance reliability professional.

Sure, it is great to hit a home run every once in a while, but, ideally, you move from base to base with singles and doubles. That can be a tough pill to swallow, especially for impatient fans wanting (and for some teams, expecting) the home runs!

Sean O’Connor

Sean O’Connor’s current role is a PdM SME to a Fortune 500 global BioPharma company. Prior to this, he was providing predictive maintenance and reliability engineering services in the oil & gas and food & beverage industries as a CAT II Vibration Analyst and Level III Certified Thermographer.

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