Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E1 Care at the Core of our Companies with Rob Kalwarowsky

Ryan Chan

Rob Kalwarowsky is an Asset Management Specialist at Enbridge and the Creator of Rob’s Reliability Project!


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Rob Kalwarowsky back on the show! Ryan and Rob discuss the importance of companies taking care of people, whether it be our employees or customers, as well as just doing our part to support anyone who is in need of help during these challenging times. Listen today!

Rob Kalwarowsky is an Asset Management Specialist at Enbridge and the Creator of Rob’s Reliability Project!

Episode Show Notes

  • How can employers put people first?
  • How to separate work from personal life.
  • Why are value systems crucial for company culture?


00:00 Speaker 1: Hi everyone, before we get started, we wanna let you know that this episode covers some sensitive subjects such as mental health and depression in the workplace. If you’re going through a difficult time right now or if you know someone struggling with depression, we hope this episode will help you navigate these tough conversations at work, and in your personal life. If you’re ever experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your support system or call 1-800-273-8255 where you will be connected with the specialists from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.



00:33 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed and sometimes it made their business more successful, but other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today I’m super excited. We’ve got Rob Kalwarowsky, one of my favorite guests back here on the show. Rob brings years of unique experience with background in mechanical engineering from MIT as well as experience in economics, and maintenance after working as an economist, Rob transitioned to working in reliability engineering. Today, Rob is an asset management specialist who is breaking new ground for grassroots in the maintenance management movement. Rob is also the creator of Rob’s Reliability Podcast and Project, a maintenance content website that produces video, audio, and visual, information to spread the word of reliability. Welcome back to the podcast Rob, it’s great to have you.

01:31 Rob Kalwarowsky: Well, it’s always great to talk to you Ryan. I always so enjoy it.

01:35 RC: Maybe we could just quickly start off with a quick background behind yourself, how you got into the field and what you’re excited by, how about that? [chuckle]

01:42 RK: Yeah, you mentioned a lot of it. So MIT mechanical engineer, minored in management, started off, spent about a year working as an economist, then got a job in mining and jumped right into… They called me a reliability engineer right away. And I think that’s gonna resound with a lot of people ’cause I knew nothing about reliability and then, yeah, when I jumped into that actually my first week on the job, I took a course by ARMS introducing some of the reliability concepts. And then yeah, I’ve been in reliability for, I guess now it’s about eight years and for the last, I guess, about nine months or so I work basically as an asset manager for Enbridge, one of the, well, it’s North America’s largest pipeline company.

02:30 RC: You know the topic that you and I wanted to discuss today was really about the importance of companies taking care of people. This has been really, really core to me as a business owner, for us at UpKeep and I know that it’s also been really core to you as well, Rob, and it’s been a central point of focus for both of our content pieces and a lot of content that we publish. I’m curious. Just to get the ball rolling here, Rob, what are some important things to consider when companies are trying to put their people first?

03:03 RK: You say it’s been central for me, it’s been really only central for me, for about five months now. So I’ve been doing a lot of self-work on myself and what I’ve really found and what I’ve really discovered is, I think, one of the things that hold us back as an industry, we always talk about this word culture. And we always talk about it, is as this way to achieve reliability whether that’s the metrics, whether that’s the productivity or the profitability or availability… Whatever, word you wanna use. And what we don’t remember is what makes culture is each and every individual. And I know you know that Ryan. But I think a lot of our industry, we sort of lack that connection with the people. What I’ve really tried to put out there is this message where it’s like we actually have to care about our staff, we actually have to care about each and every person that operates and maintains the plant. And we actually have to go out and we have to ask them the tough questions and we have to actually care what they say. And when I say the tough questions, it’s not about the equipment, it’s about themselves. And I think that’s what we lack is this vulnerability not only in ourselves, but also when we put ourselves out there on the plant floor.

04:21 RC: To me, a company is a collection of people that enable and empower businesses to sell goods and sell products to generate revenue. If we don’t put people first, I think what we realize is the whole building crumbles. The people of our business are extraordinarily paramount to our business succeeding. Rob, with all that being said, I’m curious have you seen that? And I’m also curious, from your perspective, how have you seen that shift over the last, let’s call it, four, three, four months because of the pandemic?

04:58 RK: Yeah, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s shifted yet, I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen a lot, at least internally, from my employer about mental health and connecting with people. But it’s a large organization and so it’s very sort of not personal in a way. And I think for me, what I wanna come on here and really say is, if you’re gonna be a leader, I know we like to, like a lot of the industry when we talk about culture, we’re talking about stuff like, “Hey you gotta increase wrench time and you gotta increase efficiency.” And we talk about, basically we’re treating our employees as breathing heart-beating robots. Right?

05:47 RC: Mm-hmm.

05:48 RK: And it’s like we gotta put the people into maintenance and into reliability, into the operations and we actually have to care and I think it’s hard to care. It’s like you have to take a personal leap of faith to care about somebody else, and that’s where I don’t think a lot of us do. Here are some words that I’ve been batting around lately that I wanna bring to this discussion. The first one is love. The second one is connection, the third one is vulnerability and the fourth one is courage. I get it’s hard and I get you have to take these leaps for people and you have to open yourself up to these conversations, but it’s something that I really believe would help us as an industry.

06:00 RC: How do we begin to have those conversations Rob? Because I also understand the other perspective, which is like I wanna bifurcate my work from my personal life.

06:41 RK: We can all see now that work and home are blended together because most of us are at home working right now.

06:50 RC: And that’s a great point.

06:52 RK: Right? And then the second thing I wanna say with respect to that question is you have to actually just take a leap of faith. I’ve struggled with depression since 2012. And what was really the root of some of these feelings towards myself was I was not allowing people in, and I wasn’t allowing the emotions to be in, and I wasn’t trying to focus on what am I feeling, and then how do I manage that feeling. And I think that that’s the first step is understanding how you’re feeling and letting yourself actually feel instead of just bearing it with exercise, or alcohol, or whatever, and really just having these conversations that are more meaningful.

07:39 RC: After being able to speak about it openly, that’s enabled you to be more productive, be more successful at what you do on a daily basis.

07:47 RK: I released a podcast in December that just details it all, and it’s called Depression and My Origin Story. And then I’ve put three podcasts out this week, really talking about this conversation and some of the struggles that I’ve had even recently, even as most recent as Friday. And so, yeah, check those out in the archives of my podcast.

08:12 RC: Work is a very, very important critical part of our personal lives. And we wanna improve the well-being of every aspect of our life. We can’t necessarily separate the two completely, and it’s important to have these discussions. It’s important to have discussions around how can we make our team happier, how can we make our team feel better at work. And I’m 100% a huge believer that if we can do this when we do this, we will ultimately create a better team, a longer-lasting team. One, a team that’ll overcome challenges in the work setting. Do you believe that as well?

08:56 RK: What I have seen before is, even I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a company, and they were talking about planning and scheduling. They said, “Hey, we don’t know how much detail to put into a work order. And that’s affecting the quality of our work.” And to me, my initial thought was, “It doesn’t matter if you put 500 pages into your job plan with literally every step. If you haven’t trained your people, if you don’t care about your people, if they don’t care about the work that they’re doing.”

09:32 RC: When I think about that 500-page manual, I’ve seen this. And I know exactly where this come from. It comes from, hey, I read a textbook. I went to a conference. I went to a webinar, and I learned the best practice. It says, “Document everything,” and that’s important. But when it comes back to the question around what motivates people to do their best work and feel excited about what they do every single day, a lot of it comes from empowerment. To me, a portion of it is, “Here’s the job that I want you to complete. I trust you that you’re gonna figure out the best way to do it.” How do you balance those two?

10:13 RK: That was one of the complaints, actually, the company had when they talked to me was, “We’ve read Doc Palmer’s book. We’ve read all these other books about planning and scheduling, and it doesn’t tell us exactly what should be included in the job plan. And it doesn’t tell us how much detail.” And it’s like, “Well, are you treating your people like a computer software where you need every line of code, every little thing has to be documented? If then, this. If not, this. Do this. We want some level of responsibility, some level of autonomy, some level that maybe your manager says, “Hey, go out and do this task.” And then you can figure out a little bit. You can think, which is kind of fun.

10:57 RC: I think the best way to instill culture comes from value. So creating a very, very strong value system. Have you instituted a value system? What is yours currently, and would you recommend any ways for teams to create a value system in order to affect culture in a very positive way?

11:19 RK: One thing I’m really trying to push, at least internally and externally, is authenticity. What I’ve really been working on is showing up and speaking my truth no matter how uncomfortable that is. And I think that’s been really reflected in some of the content that I put out recently. I often joke every company that says their values are transparency, or truth, or something like that, it’s always the opposite. I loved your answer when you came on my show about it, where a lot of these values, they should just be who you are, how you behave anyways. And I really loved the ones that you put forward, like progression versus perfection, grit before prestige.

12:08 RC: It can’t be one of those things where it’s like, “Obviously, duh. Transparency, duh.” Because what am I gonna, choose? Dishonesty? No. That doesn’t help me. I think that values should be rooted in helping and enabling people to make very difficult decisions. When you ask them to choose from two very, very good options, that’s when values come out. That’s when culture truly comes out. And the way that I perceive, the way that you talk about transparency, honesty is, honesty with who you are to other people that care about you as well.

12:52 RK: It’s as simple as if someone asked you, “How are you today?” 99% of people will say, “I’m good,” or, “I’m okay,” or, “I’m fine.” It’s that honesty and transparency and vulnerability and courage, to say, “I’m really struggling today, I’m anxious about COVID-19. I’m really struggling today, I’m feeling suicidal, I’m really struggling today, my kids are… We’re having a hard time with home schooling or whatever.” And I think that that right there, opens up these conversations that we need to have. And it takes that strength and that courage to actually say those things. I wanna lead by example because that’s how I do it and it’s the story I shared on my podcast on Sunday, and it’s what happened to me on Friday.

13:51 RK: I was basically out of control. I was walking down the street, I was shaking, I was, I didn’t know what to do, I was so close, I just wanted it to be over, I wanted to die, I wanted all of that. And I had to… I remembered what I’ve said on my show and what I’ve talked about, it takes courage to ask for help. I actually, I called my coach and I didn’t wanna disturb her, it was Friday evening whatever, and I reached out and it changed my whole night around. It takes courage to say these things, it takes courage to ask for help, it takes courage to look weak, but you’re not actually looking weak, you’re actually showing strength. And I think it’s hard for people to do this, the first time you do it, it’s gonna completely destroy you from the inside, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And that’s why I can sit on here today and talk about that in a such an open way, is because it happened on Friday, it’s just what it was, and it doesn’t bother me. And what I’m trying to show to people is if I can do it, and I’m you, you can do it too.

15:15 RC: Yeah. Thank you so much Rob for sharing and thank you so much for opening up like that. When we talk about strength when it comes to this topic, I don’t know anyone who’s exhibited more strength than you Rob. It’s not discussed enough, but I guarantee you there are people who, maybe it’s not just yourself, but you know someone who’s going through something very, very similar. So thank you, Rob, for sharing that story. What are some other practical ways to do more for people that we love, people that we care about?

15:54 RK: Yeah, one of the first things is being available. I’ve had a lot of people over the years that I’ve reached out to for help, and they try to solve the problem, and I think that sometimes there’s no solution, and all you need is just love and compassion and just to be there. And I think that that’s one thing that it’s easy to provide, right? You don’t have to do much, you just have to be there, maybe you hug them, whatever, but it’s easy. And I think that those are really the two things that I would underline if it’s real, real, real bad, like you’re gonna have to be able to refer them to professional help. Because this is not… It is a life-threatening disease, right? And so we have to treat it as such.

16:48 RC: Thank you again Rob and I’d like to end the discussion with some food for thought. I wanna point back to our listeners. Have you ever asked co-workers, friends, family, what they’re going through? I promise you the simple question of asking anyone, how’s life can be beneficial to know what’s going on with them, as humans as we know them. The power is in empathy and striving to understand each other so that we can all lead the human good. Rob, thank you so much for coming on to today’s shows and I’ll throw it back to you if you have any closing thoughts.

17:23 RK: Yeah. The last thing. So you mentioned it about, “How’s life.” You have to open up and you have to be vulnerable, before you can expect somebody else to be vulnerable with you. And that’s just where I’ve started and I think that that’s why I’m sharing that my story with you, and with all your listeners today is because I wanna open up that conversation and I’m okay being the guy who steps out and does it.

17:53 RC: Thank you so much Rob. And if they do, if our listeners would want to reach out to you, is there a good way that they can connect with you?

18:03 RK: If you’re not connected with me it’s easy. You can find me, Rob Kalwarowsky on LinkedIn, yeah follow the show Rob’s Reliability Project, it’s available everywhere, this one’s available. Go to my website, robsreliability.com sign up for the newsletter as well. I put out a bunch of stuff every day actually. So follow me, follow Rob’s Reliability Project on LinkedIn for the best memes.

18:29 RC: I can attest to that. The best memes that you’ll find in the industry.

18:33 RK: That’s right.


18:35 RC: Awesome. Well thank you again Rob, and thank you for joining us, coming on to today’s show. And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with LinkedIn, you could shoot an email directly at [email protected] Till next time. Thanks Rob.

18:44 RK: Thanks Ryan.


18:44 S1: Thank you for listening. If you’re ever experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your support system or call 1-800-273-8255 where you’ll be connected with a specialist from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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