Managing the culture of maintenance: a key productivity driver post COVID-19


Maintenance management remains a bedrock on which the continued survival of every organisation hinges. All humans, materials, facilities or machines (equipment) need maintenance to propel their sustenance and growth. The lifespan of such assets can be profoundly extended and their efficiency enhanced by a set of prudent management choices. The lack of an organised maintenance regime has always been a big challenge to individuals and organisations, more so during the wasteful period of the coronavirus pandemic when resources for maintenance have been few and far between. Notwithstanding challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, a profound lack of a maintenance culture lingers; therefore the need for everyone to imbibe in themseles an attitude of maintenance.

Thoughts on the menace of lacking a maintenance culture are awakened by the evidence of vital national resources being neglected: such as our national stadia, government buildings and structures, national infrastructure and archives, which were all painstakingly built with scarce national resources and at the taxpayer’s expense but are presently experiencing maintenance neglect.

I remember the profound words of a former Minister of Food and Agriculture, who said: “The lack of a maintenance culture in the country is costing the nation a great deal of money, which could have been channeled into development projects”. To him, the attitude of Ghanaians is to build, neglect and rehabilitate’ instead of going by the axiom a stitch in time saves nine’. He spoke on the topic ‘The Culture of Maintenance as an integral part of Infrastructural Development’ while addressing some secondary schools. See more at:

The views espoused above, can be juxtaposed with the expression by then Netherlands Ambassador to Ghana, Mr. Gerard Duijfjes, when he said the following on his observation of Ghana in maintenance terms. He succinctly said: “Apart from building things, Ghanaians must train and learn how to run and maintain them; because, quite often, we do not have what it takes to run things that we build, and they tend to deteriorate”. See: -updated 21/2/2013.

Thoroughly unpalatable, these statements paint a grim picture of careless and reckless abandon; reflecting the true character and attitude of people and institutions toward the culture of maintenance.

Let us appropriately inform our minds on how culture plays a part in the discussion of maintenance management. Culture, which represents our patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting – acquired, and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts – is called into question, as the goodness of our so-called culture of maintenance does not seem to have been well-internalised. Thus, we stand to lose this ‘way of life’ of preserving what has been passed down to us if we do not guard, protect and maintain what has been bequeathed. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to demonstrate a desire to hold onto those values, nurture and, if possible, improve on them in line with exigencies of the time and transfer them (values) to future generations.

The Maintenance narrative

Maintenance remains a vital service function of an efficient production system. Generally, it helps in restoring and increasing the operational efficiency of facilities. Maintenance management, however, involves managing (‘taking care of’) maintenance functions. As the costs of equipment and facilities become sophisticated and expensive to produce and replace, maintenance management must face even more challenging situations to keep such equipment in the work environment working effectively.

There are many reasons why maintenance is becoming more and more critical. In Ghanaian settings, where many old machines and equipment are operating, the problem of spare-parts availability arises. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to find spare-parts for equipment; and if it is possible to find them, they are usually costly and must be paid for in foreign currency. Another justifiable reason for prudent maintenance management is the long lead times for the supply of spares. Sometimes there is a long delay in the time requested parts arrive from when the order is placed. An essential part of maintenance management is for developing countries to reduce the need for spare-parts and maintain the minimum level of stock to save foreign currency while keeping productivity high.

Maintenance as a waste-eliminator

Justifiably, the focus on maintenance management as a critical driver of productivity is mainly situated in the practice that there are notably two ways of improving productivity. The first is improvement by addition (adding machines, technology, people, tools, etc., which requires capital expenditure), and the second is improvement by elimination (eliminating non-value-added activities, negligence, which requires ingenuity). The general saying in maintenance circles sums up the above thus: “If you don’t plan for maintenance, maintenance will plan for you”. To wit, it means regular maintenance of tools, equipment, facilities etc. averts the burden of expenditure that may accrue if things are allowed to deteriorate. Thus, productive time will be lost when neglected machines suddenly grind to a halt, and therefore need more expenditure on repairs or replacement.

Changing attitude

A pivotal intervention in improving the lack of maintenance culture is to wage a campaign for attitudinal change. The words of Heraclitus Thomas Jefferson (3rd. US President) are instructive in the quest for a change in attitude. He posited that: “Mothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude”. These words are insightful, in that we cannot wish changes to happen unless people are willing to voluntarily alter their perceptions and actions.

Thus, attitudes are relatively lasting values, beliefs, feelings and behavioral tendencies held by a person about specific objects, events, issues or persons. Repeated habits build attitude, which drives behavior and influences performance. The change in maintenance culture must accompany a change in attitude.

A fundamental change strategy to ensure we build a positive maintenance culture and attitude is to develop a habit of doing things ‘now’. People tend to defer maintenance that needs to be done now to later, when the fault may have become worse. Procrastination is harmful, and is said to fatigue you even more than the effort to do what you must do. We must therefore learn to make the best of now – and utilise the present time to the fullest.

Managing the maintenance process

Having internalised the concept of attitudinal change, we must apply ourselves to a strict maintenance regime, a maintenance strategy or an option. This means a scheme for maintenance that is an elaborate and systematic plan of action.

Like any other operational endeavour, strategies must be backed by an astute management process. Having conceived of an appropriate method to apply in realising maintenance management goals, one needs to be abreast with how maintenance can be appropriately managed.

Management here implies the organisational process that includes strategic planning, setting objectives with resources, and human and financial assets needed to achieve objectives and measure results. The prior practice wherein maintenance staff are the least-resourced and easily ignored in the drive for organisational capacity-building should be a thing of the past. Maintenance should be resource-ready. The resources also cover spare-parts availability and matching tools to execute all assignments.

Concluding remarks

A maintenance culture is established with the right attitude and a good balance of resources, administration, work planning, and control. Once the culture is established, it must be maintained through a continuous improvement process. The gains from efficient application of a maintenance culture can be sustained for the present generation and posterity, even as we deal with the aftermath of a pandemic.

This era of limited resources must serve as an opportunity for maintenance cultures to grow in order to sustain organisations’ economies.

The writer is a Management Consultant with MDPI and an Enterprise Coach. Reach him via [email protected]  or Tel: 0243661973


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