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We want it now and we want it cheap

These days most of us are used to instant gratification – we want it now and we want it cheap! When it comes to information, entertainment, finding your way around, and communications we more or less have it all at our fingertips. It’s also available to us just about anywhere. We can even order and pay for coffee to pick up on our way from the commuter train to the office – no line ups for delays. We can book houses, rooms, hotels, airlines, vacations, and rental cars at the touch of our fingers with apps that show us the cheapest options.

We live in a world where instant gratification is a reality in many aspects of our private lives – at least where it involves us spending money. Consumer electronics have transformed a great deal of business – basically, anything where there is a service or goods that a consumer might buy on their own, we can get it easily and immediately. We’ve grown used to instant gratification in much of our personal lives, and many of us expect it all the time. We sometimes forget that behind all that there is often someone, or an army of people, making things happen in the physical world.

After you order that drink, a barista in your favorite coffee shop still has to make your double low fat, triple Grande latte that you just ordered, not to mention the other drinks that other people have ordered. For their sake, thank goodness there is at least some travel time from that commuter train to your Latte rendezvous or you might be disappointed by the time-saving app.

We’ve all grown so used to things happening quickly and easily that we’ve begun to forget what happens behind the scenes to provide that convenience and immediacy. That can grow into a sense of impatience when we must wait – ever seen anyone fuming angrily in line waiting for that coffee?

At work, such immediacy, except for getting your coffee, is lost. The instant gratification often stops when it comes to business processes and decisions. Arguably there’s one reason for it – you’re not paying for it! Our recent book, “Paying Your Way“, addresses the potential value in taking time to invest in reliability as well as maintenance efficiency. The payoff can be both quick and long term, but your motivation really needs to be long term or you will miss the short term benefits.

It gets a good deal trickier and far less immediate when we no longer pay for the service. When we no longer have the sole authority to make the decision, then things slow down. It is even trickier still if, after we’ve got the decision, we then need to get someone else to do something differently, in order to achieve the results we want.

Click submit for approval and wait – sometimes long and sometimes you won’t even get an answer. Frustrated? Once you get an answer, hitting re-submit won’t change it from “not approved” to, “approved.” Frustrated yet? If it’s approved, we can’t then just “swipe right” to find the ideal employee or tap our finger on a display of MTBF to suddenly improve our plant reliability. But we are impatient. By this point, when it’s time for action, we are probably a little bit (maybe even a lot) frustrated that it has taken us so long to get to that point. Recently we answered an RFP for services that were wanted urgently. We had 3 weeks to prepare our proposal, and we had to show that the improvements could pay for themselves after 6 months. We did all that, and then some, then waited one month for a meeting and four months for a decision! Perhaps that is an extreme example, but we all know the frustration of waiting for others to approve, just so that we can do what we know to be the right thing.

Sadly, even after all that, we can rarely just jump into action and start producing results. As a consultant, I know that I have no real authority over client staff – just influence. If they don’t want to change, they won’t. Long ago I learned a valuable lesson from a highly experienced consultant (now long retired). I was facilitating a group session with a client and it was going nowhere. No matter what I did, even using all the facilitation methods that made sense, nothing was happening. He took me aside at a break and reminded me that I was working much harder than the client. If they don’t want it, then it’s not my problem. Of course, the client management team wanted results fast and at low cost but had done nothing to encourage their people. They didn’t want to invest in any of our “change management” services (part of wanting it cheap), that would also save a bit of time (more immediate), so they jumped straight into the meat of the matter at hand – and it failed.

Some of our reliability and maintenance business problems are not going to be solved quickly. We fool ourselves if we think that complex problems can be resolved as quickly as we order lunch. The problems you are being paid to solve wouldn’t be there if lesser people knew how to solve them before you. Low plant reliability, high maintenance costs, high variation in production output volume or quality, poor compliance to a PM schedule, etc., took years to evolve. Like a big knot, they won’t unravel with one tug on a loose end.

Forget about doing it cheaply. In all likelihood, that same big mess is a result (perhaps one of many results) of past cost-cutting, ongoing refusal to invest, ignoring good advice from the workforce, and other sins. Even with the noblest and sincerest of intentions, those past sins have generated resentment and inertia towards change. Management may no longer be trusted by those who need to do the work of changing. Furthermore, the change may benefit the business but what’s in it for the workers? They need to own the change too.

Getting advice is pretty easy. The internet is full of it. Sometimes it will come cheaply, easily, and even free. Perhaps you want more than what you find online. That person who retired last year can come back and help you for a price. For certain you’ll get him / her cheaper than a professional consultant too. Have you thought that perhaps that retiree, as good a person as he or she is, may have been part of the problem? At the very least, he or she didn’t solve it while there. What makes you believe they’ll do it now? What is it about retirement that has empowered? Perhaps your organization has matured in its outlook and now is far more receptive to ideas. Or, perhaps not.

And what about that free advice on the internet? Some of it is truly useful and valuable. It was put there by those who truly want to do some good. Some of it is also pure none-sense. None of it comes with a warning label (which many would ignore anyway). Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. It may seem to be free, but is it? You do need to consider the source and whether or not he or she is credible.

It is unreasonable to expect that your problems that took a long time to form, can be solved with a word of advice provided by a stranger who contributes a post to a discussion group with typically minimal background information. Some of those discussions have merit. Indeed, I contribute to several. But they are not substitutes for mentoring, coaching, or a solid evaluation by professionals.

Discussion forums contain a wide array of ideas and information, much of them useful and well-intended when taken in the right context. Read a long discussion. You’ll see that the discussion rarely flows logically from one individuals’ input to the next. It jumps around and comments get out of sequence. It’s easy to become confused and read things out of context. Sometimes, the discussions even wander off onto whatever favorite topic the contributor chooses to present. Sometimes, only one person’s opinion can send the whole thing spiraling in new directions. Try it – write something controversial and watch what happens.

One person’s quick solution that has “worked every time” is trampled by others who have other advice for you because their experience was different. They may be perfectly valid, but are they valid in your situation? If you turn to discussion groups for free and easy solutions, be very careful. Most of my customers tell me that their situation is unique and that I’ll need to consider that very carefully. Why then do they toss that caution aside online?

Good advice that is applicable to your circumstances will rarely come in text message sized chunks, curt remarks or even long explanations of someone’s experience. It must be relevant, considerate of your circumstances and situation. It’s not “off the rack”, it’s tailored. Those bespoke solutions are unlikely to come for free.

Finally, once you get answers you are comfortable with (whether or not you paid for them), then you will need to implement the advice. That’s always the hard part. Bear in mind that it probably took a long time to get to the mess you are in today – don’t expect it will change suddenly or without resistance. You are probably good at manufacturing, production, or delivering services. But have you ever had to transition the way an organization works? There’s more art to it than science and most of us haven’t done it. Unless you’ve been a consultant yourself (and I mean a true consultant, not just a spare hand looking for the next job), then get professional help!

There are no quick fixes, no cheap fixes, and looking for them almost always leads to bigger problems later. Be careful.