Wednesday, 31 July 2013


One would think that being one of the few females in the overwhelmingly male dominated world of maintenance would be one of the biggest challenges I've faced at work. Not so.

It took a few months to prove myself to the team (as one needs to do) but I can honestly say that the team I work with haven't ever treated me differently just because I'm a lady. I work closely with the guys from the ICE (instrumentation, control and electrical) team and I have to say that these guys have always treated me impeccably, I regard them as brother/uncle figures and have the utmost respect for all of them.

So, if being a female in my department is not my biggest challenge, then what is it? It's a thing that's not quite tangible. It belongs to no one in particular, yet it affects my whole team. It's the group mindset.

My department is currently in the process of trying to step change our performance using a variety of tools and theories. One of these tools is the implementation and effective use of check-lists in order to perform maintenance more efficiently. We started getting check-lists going about 6 months ago and we've had an uphill battle trying to convince our guys of the value of this. Finally, we've got to a stage where we have got check-lists for almost all of our lines and we have got our artisans filling them in on a daily basis.

During this time I have come to understand that breaking through the group mindset is something that needs to be done when you are trying to implement something new. There have been huge learnings that I have come away with, here are some of the most important ones:

  • Upper management support is essential in order to implement new processes and procedures - we've recently had a new manager take over our department and since he has joined us we've been receiving support and guidance from him that we were lacking earlier on.
  • You need to follow up on a daily basis and actually do it - we now check the check-lists every morning after our 7 am meeting as this is the time that the whole team is together.
  • You need to keep repeating yourself. Again and again. And AGAIN. Repeat the same message until you start to feel like a stuck record. And then repeat that same message until you're blue in the face. Eventually, people will get the idea that this thing is here to stay.
  • Explain the reason for this new idea or thing you want to implement. People are logical and if you can show them how this will give an improvement they're much more likely to buy into the idea. Keep on repeating this logic to them.
  • Show the results. After a few weeks, you should start seeing results. Communicate this to the team so that they can see the benefit of the new procedure/activity that is being implemented.
  • Sometimes, you need to shout at people. You need to (and excuse my french, I'm quoting team members here) "kak them out". Show your frustration. But afterwards, if you see an improvement, give recognition where recognition is due. 
In the last month I, along with other leaders of my department, have done all of the above. And we're seeing results. The best thing about it is that other departments are also starting to see the results of our efforts and, for the first time since I've started working here, people are commenting on the good work that the team are doing (instead of complaining about having too many breakdowns on the line).

We've still got quite a road to travel, but I think we've turned a corner and even though different challenges will be popping up, this is one challenge that has taught me a huge amount and in the future hopefully I can use this to be more effective at changing mindsets when faced with another new idea that needs to be implemented.

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