Four Secrets to a Successful Operator Care Process

Reliability strategies work best when we leverage those resources that operate the equipment being maintained.

These efforts go by many names: Autonomous Maintenance, Operator Directed Rounds, Operator Care, and even Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)—a somewhat narrow definition of TPM, but some refer to it in this way just the same. This article shares some insights into what’s possible when we treat operators as our customers and how we can become partners in success.

Why Operators?

Here are a few reasons why it makes sense to engage the participation of operators in the maintenance process:

  1. They spend their entire shift, or a good portion, dealing directly with the equipment/assets in question.
  2. Often, there are many of them, more than the maintenance resources assigned in any case.
  3. They are highly skilled, motivated, and capable.
  4. They are constantly thinking about how to make the equipment work better. In other words, continuous improvement.

Our experience shows that, when asked, operators are more than willing to participate in such an effort—if it is presented to them correctly. After all, when there are breakdowns, it makes the day more difficult for them, as well. It is in all our shared interests to have reliable and smooth operating assets.

If operators are so willing, then why do these programs often fail to gain traction? Why are our offices and breakrooms filled with faded posters of good ideas gone bad? The trick is in the way that we present these concepts, and how we follow through in the weeks, months, and years ahead that makes all the difference.

The Four Secrets

Consider these four ideas, or secrets, that will increase your chances of success tremendously.

Secret #1: KPIs, or Why We’re Doing This

Simply put, if you want to be an administrator, tell people what to do. But, if you want to be a true leader, tell people where we are going. Give them a reason and purpose for what we are asking them to do. This is the value of a simple key performance indicator (KPI), or metric.

People are motivated by success and accomplishment; however, very few are motivated by compliance. Present your Operator Care teams with a clear metric, e.g., OEE, availability, tons per hour, etc., and make this the focal point—the reason for doing what we are asking them to do.

Once you give them this crystal-clear reason (and almost real-time knowledge of current performance), only then can we present them with some simple tools that, when applied, will make the chart move in the right direction.

Keep these easy formulas in mind:

1 Simple KPI = Success

No KPI, or Too Many Complex Ones, = No Success

Secret #2: It’s All About the Details

What is the least amount of effort that we can put in to make a measurable change? There are certain types of activities that operators can perform to support our reliability efforts, forming the acronym CLAIR: Clean Lubricate Adjust Inspect Repair

After presenting your Operator Care team with a KPI, then work with them to select the few important maintenance activities that will enhance asset reliability and performance. Focus on the following:

  • Build a cause-and-effect relationship in their minds, such that, "If I keep X clean in this way and this often, then OEE will improve slightly."
  • Coach them to be detailed, i.e. very specific with regards to expectations. "Checking infeed pressure to the machine” means different things to different people. It would be better to stipulate, “Ensure infeed pressure gauge to the machine is between 55 psi and 65 psi."
  • Emphasize producing results one step at a time, rather than being overwhelmed by long lists of activities.
  • Discuss how to grow the program as time goes on. Start small at first, and then build upon early success. You will have time later to refine your choices.

Question: Your current labor contract will not allow operators to lubricate?
Answer: Okay, skip that one for now.

Question: Do your operators not know how to repair X?
Okay, then plan and pick three simple tasks to train them on over the next year. Pick only one per quarter, then do it again next year.

Question: How do I know what to focus on?
Always work towards picking the right things that will have a positive effect on the KPI selected.

Secret #3: Built by the People for the People

This one speaks directly back to Secret #1 and the nature of a true leader. The team of people who participate in the Operator Care process (operators and maintenance technicians) must take part in choosing the activities that they will perform to achieve results.

Operators intuitively understand their equipment and when a problem is coming much more than we give them credit for. They may not be able to clearly articulate it, so that is where we come in as proactive leaders. It’s not enough to just create a spreadsheet full of things for them to do.

Present the team with the challenge (a KPI), a set of tools to use (CLAIR), and then coach them to success. While our role is to guide them, the people who will perform the activities must own them.

  • If you design the activities, the best you can hope for is compliance.
  • If you present a KPI and some tools, then you have mapped a pathway to success and the possibilities are limitless.

Secret #4: Make Good on Your Promises

When we start such a process, we often make some big promises on how we are going to support the operators and how—if they will only participate, things will be better. But the key is to remember those promises 3 months, 1 year, and 5 years down the road.

Rules of Thumb

  • When an abnormality is reported because of this process, we either need to fix it right away or communicate back to the team why not, and when we will get to it. Better yet, involve them in the decision regarding the timing of the repair.
  • If the team achieves some success because of their efforts, be sure to give credit where credit is due.
  • If you have promised to come back and hear their concerns on this new process (what is working and what is not), do exactly that. And follow through on fixing any shortcomings they may share with you.
Don’t expect your people to care anymore about success than you do.

So, let the Operator Care team know you’re in it for the long haul. Set a schedule for interaction with them and stick to it.

To get the results you desire:

  • Commit to some time (as little as 1 hour per month) for direct communications and discussion. You only get the truth you seek out.
  • See what they see. Hear what they are dealing with.
  • Congratulate their success and help them see an even brighter future.

Do this as a habit, and you will see results. Fail to do this, and you will inevitably see those faded posters in the breakroom of some great program from the past.


Establishing and leading an Operator Care program is not easy; if it was, you would not have stopped to read this article. Like anything, success requires hard work, and there is often more to it than meets the eye. But it is valuable and rewarding work that will pay off in the long run for all parties invested in equipment reliability—not only today, but in the years to come.

Compliance is for participants. Results are for winners!


Allied Reliability provides asset management consulting and predictive maintenance solutions across the lifecycle of your production assets to deliver required throughput at lowest operating cost while managing asset risk. We do this by partnering with our clients, applying our proven asset management methodology, and leveraging decades of practitioner experience across more verticals than any other provider. Our asset management solutions include Consulting & Training, Condition-based Maintenance, Industrial Staffing, Electrical Services, and Machine Reliability.

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