[June 21, 2017] Today is the first day of Summer and the media is full of stories about people being caught on malfunctioning trains, injured from falling building debris, and experiencing damage caused by road disrepair. This is repeatedly the result of a delay in maintenance. But, let’s call it what it really is … a leader failure.
Everyone is looking to cut costs and are under constant pressure to look for ways to economize. One of the easiest targets is maintenance. Simply, one cannot see the immediate results of maintenance and so the attractiveness to delay it is strong. Leaders who do this are increasing risks and pushing maintenance into the future; onto someone else.
I’ve seen this done across the world everywhere. The problem is made better or worse by the particular society involved. Resources (especially money), which is at the root of the issue, is a factor but not as much as how a people view maintenance. Money and culture drive the solution to the problem and how it’s tackled depends upon these factors more than anything else.
For example, in North America as well as most Western and Oriental societies, maintenance is viewed as important and resources are scheduled for it. While failures occur, self-imposed standards usually prevent truly bad outcomes from occurring. In parts of Africa and South America the story is different. Buildings collapse, water and electrical systems fail, and a host of major problems occur because basic things were not done to keep up systems that support a modern life.
The media is beginning to call this summer the “impending summer of hell.” Perhaps it’s their buy-in to the climate change theory or, more likely, it expresses the more realistic view that when things break, we get uncomfortable (I do like my air conditioner). In New York City, like other urbanized areas, we see a “nightmare” when the trains breakdown or signal problems occur.1
It is the duty of leaders to ensure that maintenance, if delayed out of an emergency, that it is quickly undertaken at the soonest time possible. A maintenance delay is not acceptable if one considers protecting our citizens. It would be like never changing the oil in the car or never servicing the air conditioner.
Leaders should be aware of the attractiveness of any delay but also aware of the great risks they take when it occurs. Maintenance is leadership.
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