The best laid plans will often go astray, and so will any maintenance team that fails to properly involve the most important group of people for any change initiative: those performing the maintenance work. Even the most well-thought-through improvement plan will falter at the first step if maintenance technicians don't fully get behind the change and feel a part of it.
By: Chris Monson
Tradespeople often feel (justifiably) that they are most at the mercy of management whims, while at the same time they are least likely to be consulted for their ideas. Tradespeople have seen the flavor of the month come and go before, so if they do not believe in the initiative and do not see what is in it for them, they have a powerful incentive to just wait it out. The bottom line: if a change plan cannot afford to fail, then you must put your maintenance technicians at the front and center of that plan. Below are three ideas for engaging technicians that have been learnt the hard way!
1. Listen, listen, listen!
Many of the best ideas for a change will come from your maintenance tradespeople, so listen to them. Firstly, include a cross-functional group of technicians as part of your initial change design team. Their involvement in developing the change plan will ensure that their ideas, and therefore their commitment, are incorporated into the project from day one.
Next, take the time to talk to your tradespeople one-on-one about the change and create a list of the “top 3” things they would do to make the plan succeed. Once you tally up the suggestions, you will usually find a few core themes. Focus on what is tangible and realistic. Share these ideas with the team and work hard to solve these problems early in the process. A couple of quick wins will demonstrate that you are there to take action and not simply to talk.
Lastly, listen and provide feedback all the way through the process and beyond. If technicians report continuous improvement ideas on completed work orders, but never receive feedback or see their ideas implemented, this communicates that site leadership has “moved on” and is giving tacit approval to let things slide back to the old status quo.
2. Give them the right tools
Too often, management expects change but does not provide the right resources, including shop-floor-ready procedures, tools, training or the time to put it all together into a new way of working. For example, if you want to implement a precision maintenance program you should organize hands-on training for new equipment, tools and procedures to build your technician’s skills and habits before they will be needed in the field. You should also listen to your team if they tell you in good faith that a job that had previously taken two hours will now take three because of the extra precision steps required.
Workshop your new procedures extensively with those who will actually be performing the work to identify issues with execution ahead of time. The “how” of executing a new procedure should be considered integral with the “what.” There is little chance of successful change if you present a fitter with a work order to torque down bolts on a gearbox that is 20 feet in the air without giving them training, a torque wrench, and a safe means of getting up there.
3. Lead from the front
An old boss told me that if you have not had to wash your hands at least five times each day, you are not doing your job properly. This is especially true with a change initiative. If a maintenance trades-person presents a reason that a new process step cannot be performed, it could be a genuine problem or a symptom of resistance to change. In my experience, it is usually a combination of the two. Either way the problem will not get solved from behind your desk.
You will earn the trust of your team if you show that you are willing to get into the trenches and share some of the pain that inevitably comes from implementing something new. You will also get to see firsthand their pain points and what obstacles they face in trying to execute a plan dreamed up in an air-conditioned office half a mile away. There is no more effective type of listening (Point 1) than being right there with your team hearing their issues and working together to solve them.
Lastly, as a leader you have to show willingness to put your words into action and fully own the change you are trying to implement. And not just once but every time. It is a universally acknowledged fact of life that people will quickly forget the one hundred times you showed commitment to something if they can recall the one time you did not.
The first step is listening to your team and building their ideas into the DNA of the change. Not only will their prescient knowledge help remove some obstacles early, but listening to someone is the quickest route to building their engagement. Next, by providing your technicians with all the necessary tools and training, you are not only removing the tangible barriers to your change plan, but by investing in your people you are starting to remove the emotional barriers as well. Lastly, leading from the front and showing unwavering commitment to the change is the only way to break through the cynicism that exists as the remains of a hundred other long-forgotten initiatives. You cannot expect your team to believe in something that you do not believe in and do not live every day in your words and more importantly your actions.