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Reliability Insights

Why do we reward poor behaviour? 

When it comes to building a culture of reliability, what you say is important. What you do is even more important. But what you reward is KEY to your success. And we want nothing more than to reward good behaviour and good employees. 

See, people must feel valued and committed to their work to sustain a positive work environment. That’s why a lot of organisations devote time and resources to employee recognition programs. They recognise the value of positive reinforcement because it drives desired behaviour… while also maintaining morale amongst your crew. 

That’s all well and good.  

Unfortunately, many organisations are unknowingly rewarding the WRONG behaviours, rewarding seemingly ‘good’ practices. This reinforces the wrong actions and the wrong culture. They perpetuate a cycle where short-term solutions and quick fixes are celebrated more than long-term, sustainable strategies.  

This not only hampers genuine progress… but also misleads employees down a path of temporary success.  

That’s why… 

In this article, I explain what I call the “overtime hero syndrome”. And why it has become a cancer that is killing your productivity and reliability. 

What is “Overtime Hero Syndrome”? 

‘Overtime Hero Syndrome’ is when we reward employees who work long hours or put in excessive overtime.  

And for maintenance organisations, ‘Overtime Heroes’ are people who rapidly, with great skill, restore equipment and production after major breakdown events. 

Here’s how it typically goes— 

It’s Friday evening at 7pm. 

A major pump fails and the whole production line goes down.  

So, the on-duty maintenance crew is called out. They work through the night, only to discover it’s the same bearing failure as 7 months ago. 
 
Luckily this time they have a spare bearing in stock – they learned from last time after all. And having done the job several times before, they’ve gotten pretty good at it! 

So around 4.30am in the morning, the production line is back on line.  

Exhausted, the crew goes home for a well-deserved rest. 
 
Monday morning, the plant manager arrives to thank the guys for ‘a great job done’. 
 
Lots of pats on the back and the boys feel proud. The plant manager thinks he’s done a good job in rewarding a great performance. 

Why do we reward poor behaviour? 

Did the plant manager reward a good performance? 

No. 

The plant manager just reinforced that the desired culture is a reactive maintenance culture. That the way he wants to run his plant is to ‘fix it when it breaks’.  

His focus was on rewarding ‘fixing fast’, instead of ‘fixing forever’. There is no real effort to conduct root cause analysis or defect elimination. It’s obvious he’s not really interested in reliable production. 

By praising the maintenance crew for their “heroic” efforts, the plant manager sends a clear message that the company values firefighting over proactive maintenance.  

This creates a culture where the norm is to reactively address problems as they occur. Rather than implementing planning and scheduling to avoid such breakdowns in the first place. 

What to do to achieve a culture of reliability 

What the plant manager should have done is this:  

Walk into the maintenance department and thank the boys for their hard work. But immediately follow-up as follows: 
 
“Why did this pump fail again? 

Didn’t we have the same pump fail 7 months ago?  

I want you to get to the bottom of this, so it doesn’t happen again.  

Get together with Production and Engineering and do a Root Cause Analysis and present the findings to me.  

Let me know what you need to get this done ASAP.” 

This is a much better way of dealing with the situation. Now the production, maintenance and engineering teams will do an RCA. And if done well. they’ll get to the bottom of this.  

The bearing problem will be addressed and whatever defect was causing it is removed from the plant. Once that’s done it’s time for the Plant Manager to openly reward that joint performance. 

Slowly this Plant Manager will build a reliability culture. 

A culture of reliability within an organization is a significant undertaking, but it’s crucial for improving efficiency, reducing downtime, and fostering a more productive and sustainable work environment. 
 
So next time you have a major failure in your plant, try this approach and let me know how it went. 

Summary  

One of the elements to building a culture of reliability is rewarding good behaviour. But many organizations unknowingly reward the wrong things, reinforcing wrong actions and culture.  

One common example of this is the overtime hero syndrome, where employees are rewarded for working long hours or putting in excessive overtime.  

This reinforces a reactive maintenance culture, where the company values fixing problems as they occur rather than implementing planning and scheduling to avoid them. 

To achieve a culture of reliability, you need to promote a culture of ‘fixing forever’ rather than ‘fixing fast’. Instead of rewarding working overtime to fix an issue, reward actions that are in line with reliability best practices.

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