New Car Smell: Preserving the Pride

Do you ever sit down and talk with your industrial employees? Do you really get to know them? Do you learn about their troubles and triumphs?

For many factory employees, one of the most proud events in their life is when they buy their first new car. Buying a new car, or even a nice used car, is a major accomplishment and financial commitment. A new car also represents a significant emotional event, announcing to the world that through hard work and dedication, the employee has achieved a very visible symbol of personal success.

I have watched my employees beam with pride as they park their new car in the parking lot. They choose a safe spot where their precious vehicle is unlikely to be bumped by a carelessly opened door. They wash and wax the car to protect the paint from damage. They drive carefully, and don’t follow too closely to other cars or especially trucks to ensure that their car doesn’t get chipped by debris. They don’t let anyone smoke, eat, or drink in their new car; they want to enjoy the new car smell as long as possible.

They also take their car in for routine maintenance, strictly following the recommendations of the owner’s handbook. Oil changes, tire rotations, filters; nothing but the best of care for the beloved new car.

Alas, the new car smell fades over time, and with it fades the pride of ownership. Parking at the back of the lot is too inconvenient; better to take the closest spot available and risk having a door bumped. Washing and vacuuming the car takes time and effort, and the car is surely going to get dirty again the next time it rains.

Fortunately, the car doesn’t seem to mind if an oil change is delayed or skipped entirely. The car owner saves a bit of money, and there is no immediate evidence that the car has suffered due to a skipped maintenance task. The car still (usually) starts every morning, and despite the fact that it is no longer shiny, smells like an old gym locker, and makes strange knocking and squeaking noises, it still manages to carry its owner from one place to another.

Any modern car, even an economy model, can deliver several decades and hundreds of thousands of kilometers of safe transportation if responsibly cared for. The reliability and durability of a modern car is truly amazing.

However, it also seems most true that those individuals who can least afford to replace an aging car are most likely to neglect the care and preventative maintenance of the car. Once the new car smell is gone, neglect replaces pride, complacency takes the place of care, and the reliability of the car rapidly degrades along with its appearance and value.

Okay, I understand that this short story is not surprising. You tell me that this is simply human nature. Love fades. Familiarity breeds contempt. What does this have to do with Industrial Leadership anyway?

Our facility is filled with equipment and systems that are vital to the success of our business. In many cases, the condition of our equipment is not just a matter of performance and efficiency, but human safety and environmental protection can also be compromised by poorly maintained equipment.

Joint Ownership

As a manager, you can observe how an employee takes care of his or her car, but you don’t have any input or control over whether the employee is a responsible car owner or not.

However, you are responsible and accountable for the equipment and systems in your facility.

If you expect your facility to operate safely and reliably as it was designed, and to deliver the maximum operational performance and efficiency with the minimum environmental impact, you need to ensure that your equipment and systems stay “like new”.

Many managers say that they want their employees to “take ownership” of their various tasks. Nothing wrong with this concept. However, the manager must remember that ultimate accountability remains with the manager. Therefore, this is fundamentally a policy of joint-ownership.

Preserving the New Car Smell

Yes, complacency is part of human nature. That does not make it inevitable or desirable. A responsible manager must work to conquer complacency.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve toured industrial facilities, and seen important equipment that was dirty, scratched, dented, obviously abused, and clearly unloved. A six month old machine that looked like it had already suffered six years of extreme abuse. When the machine then fails prematurely, the manager and team insist that the machine was defective or inadequate. It is the supplier’s fault for supplying an inadequate machine.

Complacency can be conquered. The antidote of complacency is pride. Pride of ownership. Pride of performance. Pride of accomplishment.

An enlightened, responsible manager always insists that each employee or team maintain their equipment and systems in “as new” condition. Not merely clean, but shiny and bright. It is not adequate to merely operate the equipment as it was designed to be operated, it must also be cared for lovingly.

Equally importantly, the manager must recognize and reward employees and teams for their success in maintaining the new car smell. This must be an engrained, continuous activity, a habit, a deeply imbedded aspect of company culture.

But We Have a Janitor

Pride cannot be outsourced. A janitor can sweep floors and empty the garbage cans, but never allow the vital care and cleaning of equipment to be delegated to a janitorial or contractor team.

The manager should always insist that the employee or team responsible for a machine or system also be responsible for the care and cleaning of the system. Allow the employees the opportunity to develop pride in their equipment, just like the pride they show for their first new car.

Care and cleaning is an investment in the long term reliability, efficiency, and effectiveness of the equipment. As manager, you must ensure that you are allocating your employees enough time, along with the tools and other resources, required for them to complete these vital tasks. Don’t expect to preserve the new car smell if you refuse to allocate adequate time and resources, and/or fail to recognize and reward performance.

Be a responsible co-owner of the equipment, and insist that the equipment is preserved every day and every hour of every day to ensure that the new car smell, the shine, and the brand new performance and reliability lasts for the full life of the equipment.

Be Consistent

Don’t expect to be successful if you only implement the new car smell operating philosophy for selected special pieces of equipment and/or only for new equipment. There is no unimportant equipment in your facility, nor are there any unimportant processes or people.

As managers, we don’t always have the luxury to start with a new facility, new equipment, enthusiastic and well trained new employees, and eager new customers. The new car smell philosophy can and should be applied to all equipment and systems, regardless of age or condition.

Don’t expect an employee to have pride of ownership and operation until the employee can also feel pride in his / her equipment. If the equipment is old and dingy, clean it, paint it, restore it. Absolutely fix or remove any broken or unnecessary accessories.

Do not tolerate chips, dents, and scratches that are past evidence of abuse. Tolerance of past abuse is an invitation for ongoing and future abuse.

It may not be practical to restore the machine to “as-new” condition, like an antique car in a museum. However, it is always practical and in fact it is essential that equipment be restored to a condition that affirms that the machine is still vital and valuable.

Rental Equipment

Don’t allow any exceptions for leased or rented equipment, or for equipment provided by contractors or partner organizations.

Care for your leased forklift trucks, your leased office equipment, your leased company car or truck, exactly the same way as you treat the equipment you own.

Remember, your team is totally committed to Safety First as the path to achieving Operational Excellence. Insist that your team always strive to achieve and demonstrate Operational Excellence regardless of the task involved or equipment utilized.

When Outside Help is Required

When significant PM or major maintenance is required, insist that the employee stay with the machine to supervise the care and maintenance. If the employee doesn’t have the necessary training or skill to perform the maintenance, naturally it is very important that the employee leave these tasks to the skilled specialist technicians. However, they should still remain engaged in the maintenance process, watching and learning from the technicians, and ensuring that the technicians treat the equipment with the same care and pride as the employee owner / operator.

Always insist that proper tools are used and proper procedures are followed. If you only provide your team with crappy adjustable wrenches and home made hammers, don’t be surprised to find your valuable equipment stripped and beaten.

Good tools are expensive.

However, bad tools are twice as expensive!

And even worse, poor tools, and/or the wrong tools, are frequently unsafe. Don’t tolerate unsafe or unprofessional performance from your production employees, your maintenance staff, or your third party service technicians.

“New Car Smell” is Addictive

Habits take time to form, and once established, can be just as hard to break. However, addictive substances can quickly capture a person and be very difficult to overcome.

Both legal and illegal addictive substances are a terrible scourge on our society. By making reference to “new car smell” being an addictive substance, I do not mean to demean, diminish, or disparage the genuine problem of substance abuse and addiction.

The direct personal pride that arises when a team and company seeks to maintain the new car smell is very powerful and persistent. And in many ways it is shares many attributes with a true addiction.

You will find that your team is eager to come to work every morning to get a new “fix” of new car smell. They will actively seek opportunities to increase the dose of new car smell they can get every day. Their behavior will be modified by this addiction.

Employee retention and loyalty will be enhanced, because employees won’t want to suffer the withdraw symptoms if they can’t get their daily dose of new car smell.

Recruiting new employees is also enhanced, as existing employees will be eager to share their addiction with their trusted friends, allowing them to also experience the high that comes from pride in a job well done.

Be a champion for new car smell in your workplace. Get your team addicted. Put the “high” in High Performance.

Frank T.

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