f m sre liabilit y.co m
http://www.fmsreliability.co m/educatio n/influence/
Influence and Reliability
Reliability prof essionals today have a challenge. Engineering and
operations staf f members are taught to think f or themselves, to make
decisions, to get things done. T he entire staf f is highly educated,
motivated and willing to lead a team or organization to results. In order to
be ef f ective as a reliability prof ession, we have to engage those
independent and f ast moving individuals. We have to compel others to
listen to and understand reliability predictions, risk assessments and
models. If they listen and act on the inf ormation we provide, they then
may f ully consider the impact of decisions on reliability perf ormance.
Do you have authority or inf luence? Probably inf luence. If you are a highly
sought af ter expert in reliability engineering, collaborating on major
projects and working with groups across the company, do you have any
authority? Or is all of your advice and coaching solely based on
inf luence? If products and systems become more reliable with your input,
does it matter if you are operating with inf luence or authority?
Consider how change happens. Changing the position of a light switch
f rom of f to on involved the physical f orce to f lip the switch to the on
position. Prior to that action you thought about turning on the lights.
T here was an intention, f ollowed by an action. Prior to the intention, there
is of ten a moment of need or desire. It was getting dark (a problem) and, wanting to read (objective), you
decided to turn on the nearby light (solution).
Or someone just told you to turn on the light, interrupting your nap.
T he simple light example initially involved only you. You determine the problem inhibiting a goal and f ind a
solution, and then take action in order to achieve your goal. T he nap interruption involved someone with the
authority to compel you to take action on their behalf . Turning the light on may have actually created a problem
f or the goal of a 20-minute nap.
Let’s say two people walk into a dark room. You would like to show the other passage f rom a book. You could
turn on the light and proceed. Or, if the other person is closer to the switch, you could exert some inf luence. A
comment like, “I would like to show you something, please turn on the light.” In this simple example, the problem
of not enough light may be obvious and the lights would come on. You have the goal, realized the problem,
have the intention leading to a solution, and used inf luence to create action by another toward a solution.
Unf ortunately, or maybe f ortunately, the simple thought that ‘we need more light’ doesn’t automatically create
the change in state of the power to lighting near us. Given our current system of power distribution and
controls f or lighting, someone would have to f lip the switch. Change of ten requires other people to take action
toward a goal they may not both understand or desire at the moment.
Inf luence and authority have the ability to cause solutions to occur. Authority does not require the need to
transf er a goal and the proposed solution. Inf luence works well when we share and transf er the desire towards
achieving a goal to another person.
In reliability engineering we of ten do not have authority. We cannot simply command the use of more reliable
components. Via inf luence, we can achieve the goal of a reliable system by creating a common goal (reliable
system) by clearly stating what the objectives of the goal are and why they are important. T he inf luence
continues with the use of reliability tools and engineering practices to propose solutions (a more expensive
part withstands the expected stresses better than the current part). If we want this goal, consider this solution.
Of course, sometimes we rely on other engineers to f ind the possible solutions. By showing them the barriers
to achieving the common goal, we also exert inf luence. Although note that when possible paths to solutions
are seen as only highlighting problems, it may lead to loss of inf luence.
One way to think of reliability engineering is to determine what will f ail and when will it f ail. Inherent in that line
of thinking is only the identif ication of problems. It is the ability to inf luence the entire team to take action, to
achieve the reliability objectives that build on problems. Reliability engineers can identif y problems using the
range of tools available, and when they are barriers to achieving the reliability goals, then it is time to propose
solutions, or at least paths toward solutions.
Reliability engineering is a world of inf luence. Some say the best leaders do so through inf luence, not authority.
I f ully agree that reliability engineers are leaders that use inf luence on a regular basis. Considering that practice
make perf ect, we may well become the best leaders the organization.