Real world CBM implementation: The leadership requirements for success

53North had a great time at this year’s CBM conference in Manchester. At the event our own Keith Smith (53 North’s head of Asset Management Services) spoke about real world maintenance change implementation and what the leadership requirements are needed for its success. In this post we ask Keith to share with you what he presented, to see why this is important and to see how you can improve the success rate of maintenance change programmes.

Let’s start with the, “Why?”

Why is maintenance change important? Why is Asset Management important? Why should I care? Why should the business care?

Currently as I write this post assets are failing; this year thousands of breakdowns have occurred and what does it lead to?

The ‘Manufacturer’ reported in 2017 that downtime in the UK cost manufacturers an eye watering £180bn per year. In 2018/19, 26 deaths were reported under RIDDOR in manufacturing, 14 due to contact with moving machinery. So, our assets impact the UK economy, companies’ reputations and people’s safety.

But as we know these failures are preventable, I’m not just talking about using technology to predict equipment failure, I’m talking about human and latent causes. Poor communication with each other, poor handover of information, how we file information, making the wrong decisions, prioritising the wrong things, how we support each other. Unfortunately for us these things are either not measurable or at least very difficult to measure.

The confusing thing is that in the UK we have some of the best resources, the best technology and best education in the world. So, I’d like to put this to you; the biggest reason for these mistakes is culture, the culture created by organisations and the culture that we help to shape.

We ask engineers and technicians to care for our assets, but do we really care for them?

When the engineering management team gather up their teams of engineers to kick of a new strategy of implementing predictive maintenance, several things can enter the minds of the engineers (we know because we asked them).

  • Last time we did this, it failed, what a waste of money!
  • Management will never invest in this long term, another fad!
  • Why do we need a company to tell me how to look after my equipment, I’ve been doing it for 25 years!
  • Management doesn’t care what I think!
  • What’s wrong with what we are doing now!
  • This means they are replacing people with contractors or technology – am I out of a job?
  • More work, more stress!

When people are working in a negative environment it leads to less talking, lone working, more stress and the effects can be far reaching. Studies have shown that if a parent is working extra hours and arrives home late, it has little impact on their child’s upbringing, however, if the parent comes home stressed, it has a significant impact on them. So now the next generation are suffering because of our cultures, something they are not even a part of.

So, I’ll tell you why we should care;

  • Huge economic impacts
  • Killing brands and business reputations
  • Killing people and affecting safety
  • Affecting metal health
  • Impacting next generation mental health.

To try and understand the problem more specifically to maintenance change programmes we carried out a study of 8 FMCG manufacturing sites from two large companies. They were chosen for the following three reasons;

  • The two companies have multiple sites; this allowed the research to be conducted over different sites. This was ideal to assess the impact of the ‘parents’ culture on a local site, and to compare local site cultures.
  • Both companies have been through a change in the last four years that was steered by 53North and utilised the same good practice technical strategy. This meant that there was a close baseline for the technical approach allowing for greater comparison of the change control.
  • All sites worked within the food industry meaning that the sites had similar environmental constraints.

We set out with a questionnaire (80 questions) to conduct our deductive research and we used an extensive inductive approach to build a picture of the social situation on site.

Measuring change is not easy and to keep it simple we asked the sites if they had met the targets, they set out to achieve. There was a 50/50 split of sites that had achieved the results and those that did not.

Does Money buy you success?

Figure 1, Percentage of Maintenance budget spent on implementing change

Does Money buy you success? Well, figure 1 shows the size of financial support, and whether the change met its targets. It suggests that financial support is not a guarantee of success, units that spent 8% of their maintenance budget failed to hit targets, whilst a site that invested 2.5% managed to hit its targets successfully. I guess the old saying, that throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it, is true.


Why do staff think you are implementing the changes?

Figure 2 staff perceived justification of the change

We asked the engineers to give the top three reasons why they thought the business wanted to implement the changes in maintenance. The number one answer was to cut costs. At staff level they initially thought the projects were a cost cutting exercise, not a cost reduction through improved efficiency or not through increased effectiveness, but by cutting costs, it was perceived that the site was cutting jobs. Figure 2 shows that cost saving was clearly viewed as the top reason.

We found the reason for this is that Staff viewed other historical change efforts on their site as a purely cost driven exercise and were severely detrimental to their roles and how they carry out tasks. In their mind they recall historical changes and then portray their remembered feelings and emotions onto the upcoming change. These were some of the actual examples we discussed with them;

  • Change of lubricant supplier based on cost of lubricant not quality of product. They felt the pain of cost cutting!
  • Contracting out stores to a 3rd party and losing control of stock numbers and part quality. They felt the pain of cost cutting!
  • Decision making for new assets to site. Based on purchase costs not life cycle costs. They continually feel the pain of cost cutting


Reason given for failure and Success

Figure 3 shows the number one reason given for the success or failure of the change programme

One of our hypotheses before we started was that the biggest contributing factor of failure was human behaviour.

The questionnaire asked for the top reason for success or failure for each participant, the answers were then split into a technical category or human behaviour category by the 53 North team. 85% of the reasons given that contribute to failure were human behaviour related. Additional to this, when asked what contributed to success of the change, 71% of the reasons were related to human behaviour.


Environmental Impacts

Figure 4, Environmental impacts on the change process

The graph in figure 4 displays the data recorded for environmental impacts on the change process, the main three impacts were:

  • The site had a history of fashionable trend changes
  • The site was doing simultaneous change programs in other departments as well as the maintenance change programme
  • Has there been a change within the leadership team?

By far the prime issue is the simultaneous change programmes. These are change programmes that were being carried out by other teams or departments. In all cases the simultaneous change programme had a negative impact on the maintenance implementation. It could be resource, finance, technology, working hours, remuneration or any other change that effects either the engagement of the technical workforce or the systems within the change.

So, what can we do to improve success rates? We highlighted many improvement areas during our investigation, and we completed a full swot analysis on the results from all of the 80 questions in our questionnaire.

Now, we are not a team of psychiatrists, but we have used well known mind models along with experience, to help us build an aide memoir to support a leader during maintenance or asset management change implementation.

It’s true that everyone’s objection to change is different, its unique, we all have individual needs, differing values, different objections and personal pressure points.


Despite all these individual differences, the same three key elements must be aligned in a person’s mind for them to accept the change.

Love for the Strategy

Trust in the Leader

Trust in the Business

If you can get individuals to align with the three key elements, then the change will be accepted. Likewise, if one of these elements are not accepted then the change will not be fully accepted.

If you imagine that each one of these elements can be scored from 1-5, 5 being acceptance and 1 being rejection you can get the idea that an individual, needs to be supported in each area from 1 through to 5.

We have created a model to represent these areas to show how to support individuals and teams to get them to 5.

It’s called the 53North CF Change Circle

Figure 5, The 53North CF Change Circle

The C circle represents the current situation, and the F represents the future state that we want to achieve. The three elements (love for the strategy, trust the leader and trust the business) are what we need to get right in peoples mind and are central to getting them to the future state. We have added the three key points to each of our three elements to give us a very good aide memoir of how we get from current state to future state.

The idea is that we keep people moving down the straight lines from current to future state. However, there will always be challenges and some individuals will go out of their way to try and derail the plans, so we have added the three 180’s to turn these individuals around (the red arrows).

All the implementation strategies that we design at 53North take this model into consideration so that we can fully support the leaders and process of change. The language we use, the relationships we go out of our way to build, the communication plans we develop, the people we involve and the personal support we give to leaders.

If this model is delivered with passion, relentlessness and stable leadership then change will occur and the value from your implementation will be realised.

If you would like to understand more about the model, and the detail behind each of the elements and key driving points then please feel free to email me at

Thank you