Effective Communication: No One Will Give You Money Unless They Trust You!
This guest article is a lightning round with Paul Crocker. Paul’s previous job was as the Supervisor of Maintenance for the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (BPU). Paul describes the primary duties of the job as "Supervise, prioritize and assign work to maintenance staff plus provide value wherever the opportunity presented itself”.
JD: Did you consider your role to be more complicated (meaning difficult) or more complex (consisting of many inter-related parts)?
Paul: Both. I was the maintenance supervisor, but I was also the asset manager, storekeeper O&M purchasing agent, reliability engineer, planner-scheduler, and several other unofficial roles that brought value to the plant that no one else was tasked to do, as well as being the site primary and superuser of Maximo.
JD: So you were quadruple hatted. Think about those challenging times over 15 years. You broke a lot of ground. How did you keep your boss and your board understanding your needs?
Paul: Staying engaged with the Board. We had one board member who was into water education. She participated in several of our Top-Ops operator events with KsAWWA, which also enabled me to meet and get another board member involved. I then got those two board members interested in asset management and to travel with me to attend a Certified Reliability Leader (CRL) workshop in another state. I got to know them, and they got to know me.
JD: How did you work through your boss to get that done?
Paul: I don't think my bosses gave me any type of approval. It really just evolved. I worked with the board members directly. They liked what they saw and learned.
JD: And this is the same board that oversees all of BPU – power and water. Certainly, they could not engage with everyone at your level. How did you do it, and others did not?
Paul: You are right. It's the same elected board for both drinking water and power, and I was several levels down on the organization chart from them. For me, it was just natural to reach across silos and connect with others. It’s what I think you should do if you are trying to make long-term improvements to your organization and the people it serves. Many people only want to do their daily work and check out at the end of the day; they’re not really interested in improving anything.
JD: Are there other examples?
Paul: Well, a past mayor of KCK went to grade school with me. We hadn’t communicated since grade school, but I reconnected with him on LinkedIn and invited him to visit the water plant. He did, and he loved it. I recall the General Manager of BPU at the time saying that it was the first time a sitting mayor had been invited and then actually visited BPU’s water treatment plant, and he was appreciative for making it happen.
JD: What are your keys to communicating what you do and need to people above you? How were you able to get things done when other people at comparable levels were not?
Paul: Continually pushing the message of what you want to get done. Then when you get limited funds to do pilots on some of those things, produce tangible results with the money provided. Repeat the process over and over; success begets success!
JD: How much do you attribute knowing the ultimate decision-makers to your ability to get money for pilot projects or initiatives?
Paul: We really never had a lot of dedicated money. I usually came from operations and maintenance funds I had sat aside in the budget and got approval to do something with it. I had to describe the value and then show it, and as I said before repeating the process over and over.
JD: Good work, plus doing what it takes to know several board members and the mayor?
Paul: Trust is key. No one wants to give you money if they don’t trust you. Trust, always pushing the message, and then giving reports showing value.
Paul Crocker is a senior reliability engineer at ReliabilityX, a company founded three years ago to fill a need in the business environment by equipping organizations with the tools, training, and guidance necessary to be the most competitive in the marketplace. Paul was the Supervisor of Maintenance for the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities Nearman Water Treatment Plant for the past 14 of his 29 years with the utility, before joining ReliabilityX. Some of his credentials include Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), Certified Asset Management Assessor (CAMA), certified vibration analyst, and KDHE class IV certified drinking water treatment plant operator.