What is operational empathy? Part 1.

A decade ago, I was part of a team training Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) to a group of middle and upper management. The audience included executive leaders from all parts of the organization. Leading up to this training, my leadership encouraged me to pitch everyone in the company should have an OEE performance target in their annual performance metrics. “Everyone?” I asked. “Yes, everyone.” The operator in me said, “Let’s do this!” as I pumped my fist.

During this training presentation, I had one slide that walked through examples of manufacturing support organizations and how they impact OEE. I communicated examples of how a supply chain organization could influence the frequency of changeovers within their scheduling practices, which lead to unnecessary transitional downtime. Or how Procurement can apply life-cycle analytics versus the cheapest option when procuring a spare.


Supply Chain




Human Resources




Labor Relations



Table 1 - Example of support organizations that support OEE

I vividly remember someone in Human Resources (HR) raising their hand and saying, “I am responsible for Human Resources, and I disagree. I do not believe anything myself or my team does impacts OEE. Therefore, I will not have an OEE target in any of my team’s performance targets.”

I remember rebuking this position quickly in frustration and emotionally reacting with examples. "HR assists in recruiting to have the strongest candidates to help solve quality issues? HR assists in training operators, to get our employees qualified as fast as possible? Couldn’t HR conduct a root cause failure analysis (RCFA) when a high-potential electrical engineer leaves the company?"

My intended message that everyone impacts OEE had failed. But with every failure breeds new opportunities. Our conversation transitioned into examples from both of our perspectives and our experiences. We talked about how we drive goals within our departments and how we measure success. We talked about the products that we produce in manufacturing and the external customers that we serve. We aligned through this conversation that as an organization our goal is to sell products at a profit that drives value within all of our stakeholders. And without these profits, we will fail to exist.

It was during this conversation that I realized that the power of an individual can be misdirected within manufacturing organizations. We all might have something inside us that prevents the alignment of our focus to the betterment of the operations. As opposed to tuning our actions to remove existing obstacles preventing shop floor success, we might lose focus and direct power from our perspective. What we uncovered was akin to a virus, that if not controlled, could prevent our ability to engage in the journey of the operator. What can suppress this virus is empathy towards the mission of the operator. When empathy is lacking, it can lead to an organization's failure. As a result of our conversation, I coined the term operational empathy.


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