How to ensure a long-term strategic focus: Moving from a repair-focused to a reliability-focused culture

This is the first in a series of 6 articles on moving from a repair-focused to a reliability-focused culture. The full series includes:


Most maintenance organisations are looking to move their culture from a repair-focused culture to a reliability-focused organisation – but what are the characteristics of each of these types of culture? Some of these characteristics are listed in the following table.

Repair-focused Reliability-focused
Fix it Improve it
Firefight Predict, Plan, Schedule
Tradesman Business Team Member
Manage defects Eliminate Defects
Reduce Maintenance Cost Increase Uptime
Program of the month Continuous Improvement
Believe failures are inevitable Believe failures are exceptional
Give priority to breakdowns Give priority to eliminating failures
Many failures Few failures
Low level of planned work High level of planned work
High level of rework Low levels of rework
Poor reliability High reliability
High maintenance costs Low maintenance cost
Short term plans Long term plans
Become non-profitable Attract new investments


This series of articles outlines six prerequisites for moving from the left-hand column to the right-hand column of this table.

How to ensure a long-term strategic focus

The first point to make about Organisational Culture is that changing it is not a short-term activity. Significant, sustainable change in organisational culture takes at least 5 years and potentially up to 10 years in some organisations. Given the propensity of some organisations today to rotate managers through operational positions with a two-to-three-year spell in any one position, it is unlikely that any one manager will succeed in significantly and sustainably changing the culture within their area of responsibility – but many try.

What is required is a constancy of purpose that transcends short-term fluctuations in organisational circumstances, and changes in personnel. This, therefore, requires the achievement of a reliability-focused culture to be a core element of the organisation’s strategic vision and plan. And this, in turn, requires the senior leadership team (potentially including the board of directors) to be convinced of the merits of this initiative – not just one individual. We will discuss how to go about achieving this later in this paper.

Further, if success is to be achieved, it is essential that the strategic vision is communicated throughout the organisation, and that the sense of purpose is “internalised” within all personnel within the organisation – everyone is committed to, and driven by, the achievement of this purpose, or goal. For this to occur, the purpose or goal must be inspirational – it must appeal to our higher order psychological needs and wishes. It goes without saying, that for this purpose to appeal to us, achievement of the goal must provide “something in it for us” for all within the organisation. And a critical role required of a leader within the organisation is to formulate this goal with reference to the needs of those working within the organisation, build commitment to the goal, and use the goal to shape the future organisation. While a sound business case for the improvement initiative is necessary, it is not sufficient. If we want true commitment from all employees, it needs to be supported by emotionally appealing reasons for change. For a more in-depth discussion of selling the value of reliability to senior executives (and others), see our article on selling the value of reliability improvement to senior management.

What we need to do is to establish what Collins and Porras, in the Harvard Business Review of September/October 1996, described as the “Core Ideology” of an organisation. They argued that this “Core Ideology” could be considered to consist of two parts – Core Values (which consisted of 3-5 timeless guiding principles which require no external justification, they have intrinsic value), and a Core Purpose, which is a simple statement which captures the organisation’s reason for being, and reflects people’s idealistic reasons for doing the company’s work.

In this article, they gave examples of organisations’ core values and core purposes as follows:

Core values


  • Elevation of the Japanese culture and national status
  • Being a pioneer - not following others, doing the impossible
  • Encouraging individual ability and creativity

Walt Disney

  • No cynicism
  • Nurturing and promulgation of “wholesome American values”
  • Creativity, dreams and imagination
  • Fanatical attention to consistency and details
  • Preservation and control of the Disney magic

Core purpose

  • Sony: To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public
  • Walt Disney: To make people happy
  • 3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively
  • Nike: To experience the emotion of competition, winning and crushing competitors

It is the role of a leader to identify and nurture these core values and purpose, and through the identification of, according to Collins and Porras, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG’s) that are consistent with these value and purpose, make them more tangible, and use them to drive the organisation forward with unity of purpose.

These BHAG’s can have several forms, including:

  • Qualitative: Democratise the automobile (Ford, early 1900’s)
  • Quantitative: Become a $125 billion company by the year 2000 (Wal-Mart, 1990)
  • Common enemy thinking: Crush Adidas (Nike, 1960’s)
  • Role model: Become the Harvard of the West (Stanford University, 1940’s)
  • Internal-transformation: Transform this division from a poorly respected internal products supplier to one of the most exciting, respected and sought-after divisions in the company (Components Support Division of a computer products company, 1989)

Consider your own organisation, for a moment. What are the core values and core purpose of your organisation and what is its BHAG? What is your organisation’s long-term plan for achieving your BHAG? If you have trouble clearly defining these, then you leave yourself open to random external influences, forever drifting from one “Program of the Month” to the next, making large scale changes in reaction to relatively minor external events.

Now that you are thinking long-term, you are ready to take the next steps towards achieving a reliability-focused culture. The next articles in this series will help you on this journey:


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