Building Trust Within The Workplace – Norm Doxanakis

Building Trust Within The Workplace

Building Trust Within The Workplace - Norm Doxanakis - SMM

We are joined today by Norm Doxanakis who has more than 30 years of experience in the mining industry, having worked in a variety of maintenance management roles across the globe in many different companies. He started from the shop floor and worked his way all the way up to the highest level in maintenance that you can go.

Norm has always had a clear focus on building trust within the workplace, and that becomes clear from our chat on the podcast today. He emphasises the importance of physically going onsite, talking to the workers, and finding out what the pain points are. You can’t always rely on the numbers and measurements, you need to talk to your teams, and get to the bottom of any less obvious issues that could be causing inefficiencies.

We’re sure that you will take plenty of learnings from this conversation and this will give you the knowledge to employ the insights learned here in your organizations to get more from your assets.

For more resources and information, head to the Bluefield Asset Management website.

To learn more about getting the most out of your assets, grab a copy of Gerard’s book Simplifying Mining Maintenance.

Some Topics That We Cover

  • Scheduled servicing and fighting the battles to keep these consistent
  • Not waiting until a machine is broken, to bring it in for maintenance
  • Changing the breakdown culture/mentality to focus on scheduled downtime
  • Assessing your fleet, and proper staffing to accommodate
  • How quickly a site can turn around after shifting the focus to quality downtime and servicing
  • The importance of gaining data and information on your vehicles to ascertain where the issues are
  • Talking to your staff and visiting the site to get in there and truly understand how a fleet is performing
  • Treating the workers with respect and listening to their ideas or concerns

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Read The Full Podcast Transcript Below


Gerard: I’m joined today by Norm Doxanakis who has more than 30 years of experience in the mining industry, having worked in many maintenance management roles across the globe in many different companies and starting from the shop floor all the way up to the highest level in maintenance you can go. Norm, thanks very much for taking the time to share your experience with us, mate. Can you give us a bit more detail on your background, tell us about the roles that you’ve been in?

Norm: I started life as an apprentice fitter in Turner, in an alumina refinery and it, basically, went from there. I had a lot of different gigs over the years, different styles of maintenance organization, different types of operation. Although once I got out of my apprenticeship and I spent a few years working for myself, which isn’t really related to this, I pretty well got stuck into the mining industry. Most of the time, I would spend on the tools and, the mining industry’s actually been on mobile fleets and associated equipment but once I got into the staff roles, I was generally in charge of the site maintenance requirement. Interestingly, back in the day, it was only really the coal mines that had maintenance managers, everybody else had maintenance superintendents. As far as maintenance accountability on sites went, the buck stopped at the maintenance superintendent, they controlled the budget and they generally just reported to the GM of the site.

Gerard: They reported directly to GM or report to the mining manager?

Norm: Yes, well we used to just– Normally the highest operational manager on site. Sometimes those guys were called managers, sometimes they were called general managers. Interestingly too, it wasn’t always in direct correlation with the complexity of the sites either for the role titles. 

I did that for a number of years, I got my first crank as a maintenance superintendent, again, that role had accountability for all of the site maintenance, when I was about 30.

Gerard: That’s pretty young to be in the role where the buck stops with you.

Norm: Yes, it wasn’t a particularly big site, the equipment was fairly ratty as well, I’ll give it that. We all worked way harder than we would have, if I knew then what I know now.

Gerard: Tell me about that. That leads into the first question then on, can you tell us about the time when you became, first time you became a maintenance manager? What were your thoughts and aspirations at that time?

Norm: All I ever really wanted to do was a good job. I just wanted my equipment to be running all the time, as it was needed.

Gerard: Love that.

Norm: I was fairly tunnel visioned on that, but not just running too, running properly, the whole quality conundrum. I often lost the battle but I’d always go in to fight to keep equipment in the workshop until I had it right or keep plant down until we got it to a point where we felt that we could legitimately return it to operations and have it run for the prerequisite amount of time. Didn’t win all those battles, but I always went into battle for it-

Gerard: Yes, good.

Norm: -and battle’s probably the right word too.

Gerard: Back in those days, yes. I can relate to that.

Norm: It was quite–

Gerard: You had to battle for you your scheduled down-time.

Norm: Yes, you did, it was different times. There was, a lot of if it, “If it ain’t broke, why do you want to take it off me?” Particularly, operationally, there wasn’t a lot of vision on what you really did need to do to keep plant running. I don’t know whether or not it was treated like a bit of a dark art to some of my operations compatriots but it was quite different. I think operations professionals now tend to have a much greater idea of what it really does take to keep their assets reliable for them. There’s not necessarily the tunnel vision focus on availability that there has been, leading up until fairly recently I do believe, people do tend to be a little more excited about reliability. They turn it on and they know it runs. That in itself is quite a quantum leap in professionalism in my opinion from that side of the fence, the operational side.

Gerard: That role, you say it was a small site. What type of site was it?

Norm: It was an underground mine, it was a small development. We had maybe two or three diamond drills about three jumbo drills an associated haulage fleet, pumping systems, ventilation systems and not much else in the way of fixed plant and, obviously, a ton of troublemaking light vehicles and ancillary equipment.

Gerard: Can you tell us about the time where you had the best outcomes from your assets or your equipment? How you measure the success and what do you believe are the key elements to achieving the outcome?

Norm: I won’t name the site, to protect the innocent, that wouldn’t be fair. I was sent to a mine that was, they were in a little bit of trouble, they weren’t going very well at all. I was supposed to go in and fire the preceding maintenance manager. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been very comfortable with that sort of arbitrary installed behavior. I went in and basically worked out what I thought the site needed. There was quite a lot of equipment, this one I had winders and such as well.

Gerard: And other underground levels?

Norm: Yes. This was another underground leveller for this mine The reliability and availability was absolutely atrocious, as was the site’s safety. The costs were through the roof and there were people everywhere, way too many people and everybody on site, when I got there, seemed to think they didn’t have enough people. You’d walk out my office honestly and just fall over somebody. Maybe that was a function of everybody being on the surface waiting for their equipment to be repaired, I’m not sure but I know I saw a lot of folks but I actually took stock.

One of the first things I did was, actually, have a look at what the true operational requirement was at the fleet. By my reckoning, they had around 30% more equipment working than they needed. I actually got into cahoots with the site manager and I laid it all out for him. His tonnage requirement, his haulage requirements, his drill and blast requirements, the whole bit, the whole gamut because, obviously, there was a lot of pressure on me to get the fleet performing. I went in and told him, “We’re either going to need a nominal 50% on top of the bucket of money that you’re throwing at your assets at the moment, or we park some of the crap up and we focus on the equipment, on a smaller number of machines. We just make damn sure that we’re doing quality work on those when we interact with them”. It was quite surreal, the workforce thought we’d finally lost our marbles. I’m sure they hated me for a little while.

Gerard: Because you were shutting the equipment down.

Norm: Yes. I pulled it out. I shut it down, I put the keys in my top drawer, locked it and threatened to– I probably wouldn’t, but I did threaten to dismiss any trades that scavenged parts off those machines because we were looking-

Gerard: Awesome. I love that.

Norm: -at ramping up the following year.

Norm: Yes, absolutely, we did that. We focused on the actual number of assets that we needed and the quality of the work in there. The three parts of the triangle were, the actual work management so that when something came into the shop for its designated service, we actually knew what we were going to do to it, we did what we knew we had to do to it, then we worried about the other stuff. There was the work management side of it, there was the quality of work. I had to go, “It’s got to go back to work now, it doesn’t matter what else is wrong”. I had to get that mentality out of the trades and it wasn’t– I will state it upfront, it wasn’t their fault. Culturally, it was very, very, very much a breakdown mentality and, admittedly, they were champions at breakdowns say, they dove underwater to get to things, they’d lay in mud for hours on end, but that’s not how you want your people working. We basically chipped away at the fleet that we had running. While that was going on, my medium to longer-term plan was to take stock of the fleet that was parked up and, first things first, do-up a list of what needed to be done to it, get some money organized so we can crack into that at the commencement of the next calendar year.

Gerard: Just on the fleet that you turned around, how long did it take for you to see noticeable improvements and in what metric were you looking at?

Norm: It was a matter of weeks, it wouldn’t have been any more than three weeks and we started to see improvement. Availability did get better, but the big crunch was reliability. As I said, if something came into the workshop, I was absolutely anal. The service got completed properly to the point of, I’d stand in front of the damn thing to stop it from tramming out until we’d done it. It was similar with the fixed plant, the fixed plant parts of it. Winders weren’t too bad because it’s a lot of statutory maintenance. Certainly the mobile fleets and a lot of the conveying and the pumping systems were a shambles.

Gerard: That’s an awesome story, Norm and, just the fact that you were able to see results in such a short period of time– [crosstalk].

Norm: Yes, it doesn’t take long when you get your work management started.

Gerard: That’s a great experience. Now, can you tell us about your worst experience as a maintenance manager? What was the scenario, what was the situation and how did you respond to it?

Norm: I was working for a mining contractor at this time. I got charged with mobilizing a fleet of 20 haul trucks and a couple of large hydraulic shovels, 600 tunnel hydraulic shovels. We even had a second-hand rope-shovel thrown into the mix for good measure and a whole bunch of ancillary gear. The haul trucks were arriving on site, we had two fleets.

Gerard: This is an open-cut mine?

Norm: This was an open-cap coal mine, actually.

Gerard: Coal mine, okay.

Norm: Yes, rope-shovel. [laughs] The fleet was compromised before I got my hands on it. The haul trucks were around 200 and 190 tonne haul trucks. I guess I can tell you what they were without giving the game away, they were Euclids I had a mixture of Statex 1 and Statex 2 electric drive liquids. Two separate fleets that came from mines in the Hannah Valley, both of those mines had parked those fleets up quite a number of years before, and left them on a mullock dump at the back of the mine.

One of them had actually gone to try and start their particular fleet up again, there was a white fleet and a green fleet. The white fleet, their previous owners had tried to start them up again and failed miserably so they parked them up again. The very next thing that happened to them, probably another five years later after that, was that they started rolling on to a site in the Bowen Basin on trucks for me to mobilize them. As we were mobilizing these things, we were patching and un-bridging things that had been bridged 10 years ago and the availability, initially, it was horrible. It was an embarrassment. People would turn up on the site looking for the maintenance manager and, it just felt bad to say it was me, I’ll be honest there, it really was embarrassing.

Similar story, drew a line in the sand after the fleet had managed to convince me that there was no way that we could just stand it on its feet and start working it, I couldn’t get too ambitious. I didn’t have a lot of budget so we pulled in one truck at a time and that truck was out of bounds. Same deal, no spare parts from it, nothing.

I just had a couple of guys in the corner in a workshop, an electrician and a diesel fitter, chipping away at the things, getting help as they needed and we did a lot of little things. Actually, this was the first time I’d heard of this. This was back in the day before thermal imaging was big, I actually hired a thermal imaging camera and it was quite disgraceful what I paid for it, but we pulled all those trucks up on the run, electricians opened the doors, photographed the cabinets because we had an incredible amount of hot joints and electrical problems. Honestly, we picked up five and a bit percent in straight availability in a 14-day period on that fleet. Just that one thing, just dealing with that one failure mode.

Again, and I didn’t mention it in the preceding story, one of the things that allowed me to do that was a focus on information and data on what was actually going on with the fleets. If we hadn’t have been so good at understanding why our machines were breaking down, there’s no way I would have paid the extortionate price for a thermographic camera back in the day. We eventually got those things up to, I think they were averaging around 87% by the end of that contract after a couple of years.

Gerard: We’ve all had times when the general manager wants more for less and when the general manager is not satisfied with maintenance. Sometimes I think that they’re not satisfied with maintenance until it’s 100% available. [laughs] Anyway, can you describe your most difficult time with a general manager, how you went about making sure you delivered the business bottom-line outcomes, or just the situation, how it rolled?

Norm: I’ve generally had pretty good working relationships with my GMs.

Gerard: You’ve never had any fights with general managers?

Norm: I did. I was a maintenance manager for a drilling company for a while. To put it into perspective, we had half a dozen underground development jobs within Australia at the time and a couple overseas, we had a tunnel in Hong Kong and a gig in Rustenburg, in South Africa, on the flats. That was my remit, was all of those contracts. I had superintendents on all of those sites and they would report back into me. Operationally it was the same, we had an operations manager who had operations superintendents who were effectively the project managers on the various projects. That is aside from the straight drilling contracts that the company had, I didn’t oversee those and neither did this guy.

The gentleman concerned came straight out of the drilling industry, and whilst he was very clever chap,, I don’t want to take away from him what he was, the good parts or the professional parts of him, he could not see why I’d want to do things, like, run a failure modes and effects analysis across the fleet. He didn’t think it was a good use of our people’s time on the site, taking planners time to assist and set things up on the site so that we could do that. We had a lot of disagreements over that. He had issues around my constantly, well, demanding, that’s a bit harsh, but insisting perhaps, that we did perform good solid root-cause analysis, as and when we spotted things trending in the wrong direction, not just, “We’ve had a bad month”.

Gerard: How did you worked through those situations where he didn’t understand the value of FMEA and doing a record analysis, and, what did you do? How did you talk through the situation?

Norm: You build credibility-

Gerard: Yes, build credibility.

Norm: and, really, at the end of the day, I made a model site. We were setting a job-up and I said, “Right. I’ll show you what we can do.” And we did it.

Gerard: What’s the first thing that builds that credibility?

Norm: Obviously, you got to do what you say you’re going to do, but what you say is going to happen, needs to happen. You need to read those tea-leaves carefully and accurately. 

Gerard: Did you ever build a little bit of fat in what you said was going to happen and, maybe, under promise and over deliver?

Norm: I’ve always tried not to. Honestly, I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always got on so well with my operational peers as a general rule, and strangely enough, it was an electrician, of all people, that taught me that. I had an electrical supervisor working for me on my first gig as a maintenance manager. I had two electrical supervisors, one of them told me whatever I wanted to eat, and the other guy would tell me what I needed to hear. I took that bloke halfway across the world with me. If I got a job, I would try and get him. It was great. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but he always got the job done and I always knew exactly what was going on, which was even more important, because, if he needed help, I could get help for him. He didn’t swan around and make fake promises. If he thought something was going to be down two days and there was nothing that Norm Doxanakis could do about it, he would tell me that. He wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear and then go home and hide. [crosstalk]

Gerard: Great, so electricians aren’t all bad. You’ve got some good points after all.

Norm: No. [laughs] We still keep in touch.

Gerard: That’s awesome. Can you tell me your views on work quality? How do you ensure that work quality, or the quality of the work, is great and that reworks minimize? How do you agenda that in a business?

Norm: Your trades and engineering people need to have pride in what they’re doing but you can’t walk in and wave a magic wand. If you go somewhere and that’s not the case,

you’ve got to set it up so that they can do a good job. You’ve got to give them what the skills and the tools that they need to do a good job. You’ve got to encourage them when they do a good job, just like you’ve got to be prepared to discourage them when they don’t do a good job. Key to it all is being all over it, being on top of it, visible felt leadership, you have to know what’s actually going on.

Gerard: How do you do that, know what’s going on, how do you actually know it?

Norm: To start with, you get off your backside and go and have a talk to people. I do understand that can be challenging on the bigger jobs, I have found that challenging on some of the bigger jobs I’ve run. Even then, you can have a five-minute watercooler chat with a greasy bloke at the wash-pad and find out something you never would have found out through your systems.

Gerard: Talking to people effectively.

Norm: Yes, talking to people, treating people like human beings and having people comfortable in the knowledge that they can come up and tell you if they think we’re doing something stupid, we’re just as prone to it.

Gerard: We’re coming towards the end of the questions, so, what if I give you this scenario. If you went into a reactive workplace tomorrow as the maintenance manager. You did a review of the plant performance, you checked all the aspects of maintenance including the equipment strategies, planning and scheduling, work execution, the improvement cycle, the reliability improvement process, the people, et cetera et cetera, and you found that all these needed improvement. Everything had major problems but you can only make one change, what is the one change you would make right up front, that you think would deliver the most impact on the equipment performance?

Norm: I’d go quality of work execution. If someone does something, they do it properly so that at least you know, you’re not going back to that. If you’re scrambling in the weeds and that’s the only thing you’re allowed to do, fix everything once.

Gerard: Exactly, and, of course, the effectiveness requires improved planning and work management and all that sort of thing.

Norm: I’d do work management second, as you said, that encompasses planning your improvement loops. Work management’s definitely the-.

Gerard: Awesome, mate. That’s interesting, actually, because I don’t know, from what I see now, we don’t do enough of that, these days at least.

Excellent, Norm. What advice would you give to aspiring maintenance managers, people who want to get into that maintenance manager’s role, or new maintenance managers that have just landed the role and they want to make a difference? What would be the advice that you would impart on them after being in these types of roles for so long?

Norm: First and foremost, treat your people the way you want to be treated. They’ll follow you, this is just leadership one-on-one, this isn’t just maintenance management. You treat them with any sort of disdain or look down on them or don’t give them a fair go, or any of that, they will not follow you. They’ll follow you by rote, just like learning maths tables.

Gerard: Pretend to follow you. [laughs]

Norm: Yes, or pretend to follow you. I’d do that. Always make sure you know what’s going on around you. Make sure you set yourself up so that you can get quality information back to you as the head of the snake, so that you can then move your chess pieces around and allocate your money and your people. If you’re not happy with the reports that you’re getting or the quality of the data that comes back to you and your peers, do something about it. Take the time to do something about that, that’s fundamental. Make sure you know what the actual requirement of your fleet and equipment is.

Gerard: Right. From an operations perspective.

Norm: From an operations perspective, understand what those guys need because they are your customer. They are your only true customer and you need to– The smart money is to foster a customer relationship. Treat them like a customer because they are.

Gerard: Know exactly how many hours they need to meet their production targets.

Norm: That’s right, because you’ll find, sometimes, they don’t know, as well.

Gerard: That’s great advice, Norm. That’s a gold nugget, that one, awesome. Mate, thanks for sharing your many years of experience, we really appreciate it. Not only that but thanks for the time you spent with us over the last couple of years too, Norm. It’s been fantastic having you on-board. We share these types of discussions quite often and I really do appreciate it, mate and appreciated your input to our team over the last couple years.

Norm: Yes, it’s been great, Gerard, it really has. I’ve never met anyone that’s quite as like-minded with this stuff, what we call maintenance. It’s my passion and, certainly, it’s obviously yours too.

Gerard: Well, absolutely, mate. Yes.

Norm: It’s what we do.

Gerard: Yes.

Norm: I don’t aspire to be anything else.

Gerard: Yes, great.

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