Am I dreaming? – I think so. So the questions become
- Who are the people that become Maintenance Managers?
- How does it happen?
- What is it exactly that they do?
In this paper we will look at typical answers to these questions and then take an alternative view to answering question 3 and see how it impacts the other questions.
Question 1: Who are the people that become Maintenance Managers?
The people who become Maintenance Managers tend to have a background in 1 of 3 scenarios.
a. The largest group already work in the maintenance environment as tradespeople, planners etc.
b. They are Engineers who decide that they wish to take their expertise into the maintenance field
c. They are Project Managers/ Engineers who stay behind after installations
Question 2: How does it happen?
For each answer to question 1 there is a different route
a. They were good at what they did. They were the ‘go-to’ guys when you needed something fixed. They knew more about the equipment than anyone else. They, and management, believed that these attributes meant they deserved to be Maintenance Managers.
b. They found that there were limited opportunities for true engineering and figured their design and theoretical knowledge of equipment and systems would hold them in good stead in maintenance. Management really liked the idea of having an engineer in maintenance because of that knowledge.
c. Having spent incredible energy and time on the project they decide to stick around and see the fruits of their work. Management are delighted that ‘the guy that installed it’ is going to be around if something goes wrong.
Question 3: What is it exactly that they do?
This is the big money question and the answer really depends on who you ask but typical responses are:
a. They keep the plant running.
b. They fix machines.
c. They provide a service to production.
d. They look after the tradespeople.
e. They ensure reliability.
You may have more/ different answers but what we have is typical.
Now I’d like to suggest an alternative answer to Question 3
They manage people and systems.
The end results of this may well be the answers given for Question 3 but I suggest that what they actually do is Manage people and systems. I would also suggest that the skills and attributes required to be successful are not the ones usually asked for in job postings for Maintenance Managers. If a job posting were to really reflect the requirements for a Maintenance Manager maybe it would look something like this.
Must Have Skills
- Amateur Psychology
- Conflict Resolution
- Mind Reader
- Motivation and Inspiration
- Communication Specialist
- Prima Donna management
So let’s take a look at why these skills are important to a Maintenance Manager
‘There is not enough time in the day to get done everything I need to.’ So many times I’ve heard that comment from maintenance managers and it’s true- if they try and do it themselves. Successful managers only do those things that they alone can do – everything else, they manage through their people and that’s where psychology comes in. Let’s look at two definitions of psychology
- The emotional and behavioural characteristics of an individual or group
- Subtle tactical action or argument used to manipulate or influence another
Understanding number 1 and understanding that it changes from day to day will allow you to modify your response. Late nights, domestic upsets etc. result in different attitudes and require different approaches to get the same outcomes. Knowing this will, in turn, allow you to exert definition number 2 and that enables you to get done what you need to. You cannot do it alone you need your people on board and you need to know what makes them tick. Situational Management courses can help as you use psychology to move your under-achievers to self regulating performers.
‘Night shift didn’t do anything.’ ‘That’s not my job – it’s electrical.’ And ‘If they knew how to operate – this wouldn’t have happened’ Who hasn’t heard comments like that – the conflict between groups that ends up taking too much time out of your day and prevents you from getting done what you want. Most of us are so busy that we just deal with the surface issue, the sticking point, the symptom. We never take (or think we have) the time to look at the underlying causes and as such we’ll be facing a similar problem next week.
There are usually a number of root causes but there is one that occurs in every mix and that’s communication. So if we take the time to resolve the communication problem then we will help resolve the issue before it becomes a conflict. Communication, initially the biggest part of that is listening, will not only allow you to get to the actual cause but it will also show those involved, that you care about their problems – good old psychology again. If there seems to be systemic conflict then approaches like multi-discipline teams or holding combined meetings, Mechanical and E&I, Maintenance and Operations will bring the groups closer together. Once people are aware of each other’s challenges then there is room for compromise and that, in itself, will reduce conflict.
‘Sorry but we’re running that equipment today’ ‘I know it’s not working properly – it’s been like it for months’. If only we could read minds then we wouldn’t bring in an army of contractors to be told the first and we wouldn’t need call-ins to deal with the second. People tend to be concerned with what is important to them and not always consider the impact on others. A way to reduce the need for this skill is to show them the impact of their actions on you, them and the company and remind them every time they forget. Having people understand it’s not what you know about that causes you problems, it’s what you don’t know – will help them communicate better.
‘I need it done now!’ ‘I want that report tomorrow!’ ‘ Daddy, when will you be home?’ being a maintenance manager means that your priorities are only a part of the process. You have to take into account the demands of the tradespeople, production, and your boss when you develop your priorities. These are sometimes unreasonable and can be great stress inducers and so staying calm becomes a necessary asset. For those people who always have a million priorities just a calm reminder that yesterday they gave you another 10 ‘top priorities’ and that you really do want to satisfy them but you need them to tell you which is their top ‘top priority’ may diffuse the situation. Even your boss will have to accept this approach as long as you remain calm. While you’re having the discussion why not prioritize the next five ‘top priorities’ and then send them a copy of the list they agreed to. Invite them to prioritization meetings and if they’re ‘too busy’ to show up, then document that they’re ‘too busy’ Prioritization is far more difficult if you haven’t mastered the skill of ‘Amateur Psychology’. Last but most important is prioritizing Work Life balance – you may get another job, you may earn more money but you can’t get back time. More on this in the next skill.
Motivation and Inspiration
‘But we’ve always done it that way’ ‘I don’t understand this new fangled technology’ ‘Boring!’ People become complacent or at least comfortable in their work life. There’s nothing more challenging to the comfort than change. Change happens, change is constant, it’s how we transition after change that makes it good or bad. YOU need to be the champion of change for the maintenance group. Whether it’s different equipment, different strategy, a new CMMS or just a change in a procedure or policy, you need to demonstrate how you will embrace it. Only then will you be able to motivate others to accept change. On a day to day basis you need to show that you are prepared to go the extra mile and that you are right there with them in their efforts. There’s no better motivator than recognition –money is short term- so make an effort to recognize every day. A simple thank you, tickets to a ball game whatever is proportional to the effort but also make sure that it is appropriate for the person being recognized. Not everyone likes public recognition so maybe a quite word will do- for those who do like the publicity - the middle of a full lunch room is the place. Giving Mets tickets to a Yankees fan will defeat the objective. Amateur Psychology again!
Being enthusiastic, energized, always willing to help, will help you become an inspiration for those working with you, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing - stop doing it – life’s too short and you certainly won’t inspire anyone else. For those who would like to understand true inspiration visit And read the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – a truly remarkable man.
‘ What’s the point- they never listen’ No-one told me about that’ As mentioned in Conflict Resolution, poor or lack of communication can cause a myriad of problems so this skill is essential to a maintenance manager. Being a good speaker certainly helps but being a good listener is even better as it’s not all about you. This is still only half the story, when you’ve listened- respond - do something, do nothing - but respond. Always get back to them even if you know they won’t like what they hear. Set the ground rules for that by establishing that there will be issues that the group controls, issues that they will influence and issues that they will just be made aware of. Communicate reasons for decisions, business, department or personal. Attempt to meet with the group every week, together or in smaller groups where you need to present the three I’s of communication:
Involve them – ask opinions, discuss any options
Interest them – make it interesting, give them background, reasons, constraints
In it for them – tell them how they will benefit if possible, affect them if not.
Try to start your meetings with some high notes – get into the meaty part and then leave on a light note – sending them out in good humour will increase productivity.
Prima Donna Management
‘Go get Joe, he’s the expert’ Every plant has at least one Joe. The guy who fixes certain problems and often little else. He can put out fires quicker than anyone else but ask him to do a mundane PM…. He enjoys the glory and keeps the knowledge to himself. The secret is to use Amateur Psychology to get him to be recognized for doing the things you want him to do – if someone else gives some training – heap on the glory If you want him to move to being proactive – prevent fires – then make that the glamorous job.. There are also Prima Donna departments who want to be considered different – break down the barriers, locate the shops next to each other hold multi-discipline meetings. When people are forced to interact with one another the barriers come down by themselves.
“ The ROI is dependent on your OEE and will be influenced by your MTBF and MTTR and as a result of your PM, PdM and RCM programs with any FMCEA carried out” Say what? If they can’t understand what you’re saying, how can they help you achieve your goals? Interpret what the maintenance gurus are saying into practical everyday examples. Interpret the consequences of what the tradespeople do or don’t do into something meaningful to them.
As with communication, the listening side of interpretation is the more important. Many times tradespeople throw up an argument about something that is distant from what’s bothering them. They’ll complain about how the area is dirty when what they really are mad about is schedule changes but if you don’t’ push and try and interpret what the real problem is you’ll never remove the root cause.
Must be fluent in accounting and one other language. Accounting is the language that counts, it’s the language that is understood from the shop floor to the board room – it transcends departmental boundaries. If you want to change something in the department - give it to your boss in dollars and cents and then use the same dollars and cents to explain why it’s happening to the guys on the floor. Plant managers and accountants may not understand the tools or tactics you use but they will understand the financial implications. ‘ If we increase or PdM and lessen our PM our MTBF will lengthen and with some training and early intervention our MTTR will be reduced” means nothing to them. Better is “ if we do what we want, we’ll make more money.”
The best translation that all will understand is “If we invest $5,000 on vibration analysis per year we will increase uptime by 2% and realize an increase in revenue of $25,000 based on today’s production rate.” Discussing the total cost of a work order including labour, cost of lost production parts etc will be much more meaningful to the tradespeople – I’ll guarantee that after a few discussions you will start to get really good cost reduction ideas.
Let’s take a look at the definition of Philosophy
- Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline
- The critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, esp. with a view to improving or reconstituting them.
- A system of values by which one lives.
Let’s expand on those
- This is about you – get out there and learn about what other people are doing in maintenance – attend conferences like this – develop your own thoughts on how you can apply this wisdom.
- The more you know and understand about the basic principles of your chosen field the more you will find ways to improve it and remember if you’re not moving forward – you’re moving backward because everyone else is moving forward.
- You spend more time at your place of work than any other one place – so why would your values be different at work. Trust, integrity, appreciation are words that should form part of your maintenance dictionary.
When you have finished gazing out into space you will need the last skill to turn your philosophies into practices.
None of these skills will mean much unless you develop the last but most important skillbeing visionary. You have to push the envelop, think out of the box, reach for the stars or boldly go where no man has gone before or whatever cliché you like. You need to have a vision of where you want to take the maintenance department. Through a Vision or Mission Statement you must paint the picture of the future of the department- not just what it looks like but also how you will get there, incorporating all of the listed above. If you want people to join you on the journey to excellence they need to know the route and what they can expect to meet along the way.
You will also need to develop norms and standards around the values you propose. It’s no good if one of your values is ‘We will trust our people” and then institute a rigid time keeping system. It’s no good if your value is “We will value everyone’s contribution” and then ignore them every time they suggest something or not even give them a chance to express their opinion. If there is a doubt that you can support a value with a norm or standard – don’t put it in there.
You need to demonstrate the values through your actions not through T shirts or fancy wall posters. No amount of memos or discussions will reverse any bad feelings your actions have caused. As the sign that hangs on my office wall wherever I go as a reminder says,
“You can’t talk yourself out of a situation you behaved yourself into.”
So, the next time someone asks you ‘What exactly is it Maintenance Mangers do?’ I hope you’ll reply, “ We manage people and systems. Let me explain……”