Eight Solutions for Effectively Communicating Asset Management to Frontline Staff
Effectively communicating asset management to frontline staff can be challenging. One of the largest barriers is providing a bridge between soft skills and hard skills. These are eight solutions for effectively communicating asset management to frontline staff.
Why This Is Important
Getting organizational leaders and frontline staff to understand asset management is one of the toughest aspects of an asset manager's job. Asset management texts and guidance documents frequently reference the importance of better communication and education; however, limited practical guidance is provided.
Soft skills are interpersonal or people skills, which involve how individuals interact, communicate, and work with others. In asset management, things like strategic asset management plans, asset management policy, service levels, implementation frameworks, communication plans, and facilitation of business process mapping are mostly soft skills.
Hard skills refer to specific, tangible, measurable abilities typically acquired through formal education, training, or experience. Financial roles related to accounting, budgeting, and financial forecasting require hard skills.
Maintenance and reliability roles require a mix of technical and practical skills to ensure equipment, machinery, and systems operate efficiently and consistently. Some hard skills associated with maintenance and reliability include things like equipment diagnostics, root cause analysis, preventive maintenance, condition monitoring, and predictive maintenance.
When asset managers talk about “bottom up,” they are referencing primarily a hard-skills approach.
Most asset managers do not have the depth and breadth to cover both soft and hard skills. In fact, many people titled "asset managers" notably lack hard skills. If a person has hard skills and functions as an asset manager, they probably go by the title of accountant, reliability engineer, maintenance manager, operations manager, or some type of certified technician.
Effectively communicating asset management to frontline staff is essentially building a bridge between the soft-skill and hard-skill approaches. And remember, as an asset manager trying to communicate the power of asset management, the burden of effective communication is the responsibility of the sender, not the receiver. These are ten tips in reverse order.
8. Constantly share the value of asset management.
Asset management is a long game. Most frontline staff will tire of chatter without outcomes that improve their daily work.
The asset management plan and communication plan must include incremental small wins. One example is implementing defect elimination in the early phases.
7. Focus on the seven questions of asset management.
The Institute of Asset Management taxonomy is an example of a good framework with little short-term tangible benefit. Early frameworks, like the seven Questions of Asset Management, provided a more concise and useable understanding for frontline staff.
Use the seven questions of asset management. The first three related to what you own, its condition, and what it is worth is a fundamental beacon for any program.
6. Simple stories are more effective than calculations or long explanations.
Frontline staff want to know other organizations that have implemented the recommended program elements, and especially the problems and benefits.
Simple, practical stories of how asset management helps staff or customers resonate more than calculations of long explanations. Think stories first, details second.
5. Definitions are not commonly understood, regardless of the level of the communication receiver.
You say hose pump, and I say peristaltic pump. The list goes on and on.
Make sure you use the same names for equipment and processes that the frontline staff uses. That means taking some extra time up front to figure it out. As always, provide key asset management definitions in your advance information before you present to staff.
4. Organizational capacity is just as important as funding
Asset management creates more paperwork for all of the trades. Few organizations have all of the skilled labor that they need. It matters little how much money the program (or consultants) has if the organization does not get additional human resources early in the asset management program implementation.
Ovoid falsely stated that asset management will save time and effort in the short term. Incorporate an operations-led workforce assessment in the early phases of the program. People are your greatest asset.
3. Software and technology are not a cure for all shortfalls.
Senior management often bites on the software fallacy. Fewer operations and maintenance professionals believe it. It takes additional resources to implement, manage, and govern new software and technology.
I like to mention a snapshot of the software and technology that an organization is using early and often in my communications. It turns the “let’s use technology to help us” thinking into “we are using technology, now what?”
2. We need to focus on a few problems that really matter.
Strategic Asset Management Plans (SAMPs) get too big too fast. SAMPs outpace the frontline’s ability to implement them.
Cut back until it hurts. No, really, cut the SAMP beyond where you think you can, and then see what happens a year later. Many things you thought were essential probably are not.
1. We need to know why we are changing (and how it improves what we do).
At the top of the pile, we’re back to the divide between soft and hard skills. Why should someone who does not know what I do plan or manage my work? Stay out of my way!
Let the frontline develop the plan and set the schedule. People with hard skills know what and why things need to change. Trust, and document.
Communicating Asset Management with FINESSE
Well, for now, that is my top eight thoughts for communicating asset management to frontline staff. Seven of ten matched the same ones I would use when communicating to senior management. However, the top two are different. That provides good food for thought. To be effective at communicating asset management requires a structured approach like FINESSE.
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JD Solomon is the author of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get your Boss’s Boss to Understand and Facilitating with FINESSE: A Guide to Successful Business Solutions.