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Written by Joel Levitt

You have got a pretty good staff. You figure the difficulty you are having is always going to be part of managing a group of human beings. But still, there is something nagging at you. Did you ever feel the staff of the fleet was working at cross purposes to your goals? Does it seem that right when you need the people they are working on some project or report for another group? Finally, is getting them behind a new initiative like herding cats?

Frequently, a major invisible issue among the staff people of the maintenance department is the difference between what the staff person thinks his job is and what the manager thinks. This is called dissonance. Dissonance has several meanings, all related to conflict or incongruity. In this case, it is the conflict between what the manager thinks and what the staff person thinks. Symptoms of this situation are staff people working at cross purposes to your goals, staff people spending large amounts of time working on areas you don’t think are important, and complaints that you don’t understand the “problems” of their position. This assignment is recommended where some amount of trust is already in existence.

There are certainly situations in which you may prefer not to use this type of exercise, or may prefer to wait until the timing is better. The assignment is very valuable if you are willing to look at the results with an open attitude. The exercise can be done in writing, verbally, or have an outside party conduct the interviews. It should not be tied in any way to salary or performance reviews and that should be made clear. We sometimes call this a job dissonance exercise. Adjust the language and format of the questions to reflect your style and environment. So, here is your assignment. Explain to each staff person that we are conducting a study of the maintenance department. This assignment is given at a launch meeting where the project is physically started. People should take the list back for a week or two to add things they forgot.

Tell the people to list all your activities. After you create the list, please describe each activity in enough detail that an outsider could understand what you are talking about and include: In a typical week what percent of your time is spent doing what activity, what are your most important activities, what activities do you like best, what activities do you like least. Add any comments about your job that you think could help this study. Important: Please add any activities that happen annually or quarterly.

At the same time, the maintenance manager writes about the duties of the above staff person. He or she will define the duties of the above position. How much time should be spent on each activity? What is the most important activity, what is the “mission” of the position? If you have a formal job description for the job, include it as a third opinion.

How do you use the results? Look at the areas of difference of opinion. This is where an open mind is essential for success. It is frequently the case that the person doing the task has a much better idea about what is important to the smooth running of the department than does the manager. Of course, the reverse could be true, too. There could be some old procedures and processes that should be put to bed!

Is the staff person right in his or her view; is there something you can learn? Did the job develop over time so that much of the effort no longer supports your current needs? Can you define the job using the input from the staff person to better serve your department’s needs? When the review is complete, you have an excellent start on or revision to the job description. More importantly, you have an opportunity to intervene into the business system that produces the useful output (in our case maintenance services to the fleet) and streamline it.

Joel Levitt is a leading trainer of maintenance professionals. he has trained more than 15,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in more than 20 countries in more than 500 sessions. Sine 1980 he has been the President of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm. He may be reached at jdl@maintrainer.com.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2011

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