In today’s environment of lean, TPM, Reliability Excellence, RCM, integrated maintenance/operations teams, new technologies and constant pressure to make maintenance more effective and elevate itself to a prominent value-added position, the maintenance manager must become a business unit manager with equal footing with other plant functions.

 

Maintenance managers run a business within a business. They have 24/7 responsibility, a product to deliver, customers, resource allocations, planning, people development responsibilities, political acumen, accountability and drive. They also have the highest-trained workforce with plenty of untapped talent and creativity. Are you managing to win or playing not to lose?

 

For the last 10 years, I was associated with a maintenance leader mentoring program within the U.S. Postal Service. It is a program designed to improve the footing of our managers. We strived to first develop leaders, then business managers and, finally, maintenance management professionals. 

 

A full year of meetings and activities was devoted to self-understanding. We used instruments (Myers Briggs, FIRO B, DISC, PF16, 360) to help the manager learn about himself and to understand diversity in others. In group discussions and by using psychologists, the protégés learned how they may become effective in leading/persuading/managing others as well as themselves. 

 

At the end of the first year, they were immersed in classes on marketing, accounting, economics, strategy and quantitative management. It is imperative to be able to converse with other functions in non-maintenance terms and in business lingo. They also subscribed to business magazines and attended professional society meetings and conferences. This was followed up with two weeks of Reliability Excellence training.

 

Self-awareness and exposure to the business of business were prescribed as foundation activities to build upon. Using that foundation and the expectations developed from the best maintenance processes, each person developed his or her unique Individual Development Plan to be completed in the two-year program.

 

Very few managers have the privilege to participate in such a program, yet the basic tenets hold – self, business acumen, process orientation, continuous personal growth and development of others. American industry needs to have the best-trained and most motivated workforce possible. Managers should work continuously to grow that environment in their companies. It is within their purview to institute a learning environment. 

 

The following paragraphs may help to start the ball rolling for you. Managers at the top must set the example and truly believe in their own growth and that of their employees. They must walk the talk.

 

On my first day in my first job out of college, I discovered technical and business magazines in the bathroom stalls. My supervisor also informed me that I was expected to continue my education while at my desk by boning up on the latest engineering articles and tracking new products. I found that all of the plant engineering department employees did this. 

 

The company was sending a powerful message that learning was continuous and the company had a responsibility to the employees to help them grow. I found that employees were taking college courses in a variety of disciplines including business, art, history, religion and marketing. The company believed that any expansion of the employee’s horizons made for a better person and, hence, a better employee.

 

Since that job 40 years ago, I have carried that philosophy throughout my career. Life is the career and work is only a portion of it. If we are to have balance in our life careers, all parts must grow if one part grows.

 

Right, Rex! But how does that carry over to the workplace?

 

Most companies encourage continuing education with courses that are job-related. Would a course in Eastern Religion be job-related? Think about the diverse workforce. How about a course in pottery making? I had an employee who was a workaholic and did not know how to relax, nor did he have a hobby. He asked if the company would allow him time off each week to attend the class, and would I pay for it? Yes, and he found that he had a talent for “throwing bowls.” He came to work a bit different, more relaxed and less stressed, and he had a hobby.

 

Human resource folks talk about KSA – knowledge, skills and ability. We perform a job-task analysis and decide on the required KSAs. So, we hire a workforce of KSAs to perform identified tasks. For a manager, we want KSAs in planning, communication, analytical, problem-solving, etc. But that is what got them where they are. How do we develop creativity, innovation and leadership? We provide a variety of experiences including seminars, education, assignments, mentors, technical readings and more to make them better at what they are doing today. Do we know what they will be doing in 10 or 20 years?

 

It is time to let managers experiment with life, examine theirs and the corporate paradigms. What can they learn about themselves and about their managerial work? Several years ago, Harvard Business Review published its first special edition. The subject was leadership. On the front cover was the statement: “The best strategy for today’s leader is to know about self.” I submit that manager education must include, early on, the use of instruments (Myers Briggs, 360, FIRO B, etc.) for the manager to begin to understand his/her own type, character and diversity. This is the foundation to understanding self as well as to appreciate the talents and diversity of those we associate with at work and elsewhere.

 

I had a secretary who wanted to get an MBA in marketing. Some of her work included setting up conferences. I concurred with her request. Today, six years later she holds a highly visible position in the marketing department. Who are we to know where our employees will end up work career-wise. They should be developed to afford themselves “luck” as Darrell Royal defined it – “Preparation meeting opportunity.” I certainly had no idea 40 years ago that one day I would be the No. 2 maintenance executive in an organization with 42,000 maintenance employees.

 

Yes, companies have employees develop Individual Development Plans (IDP). It is force-fitted to the company forms and focuses on short-term experiences. I favor the manager spending time in free form, putting down whatever comes to his or her mind. This could include life aspirations, what he or she wants from work, desired community and social involvement, strengths, the results of various instruments, values, family expectations and definitions of personal growth. This becomes a personal plan that transcends the company IDP and places the responsibility on the manager to follow through. Off-site workshops with other functional managers to encourage this introspection and sharing are helpful in developing personal confidence and team understanding.

 

Remember, your employees, peers and boss have similar issues as you. Learning how to help them will help you to achieve a more productive satisfying “life career.”

 

I am the type of person who enjoys the adventure of the journey, always looking for the next challenge. For the 12 years before I retired, I reinvented my job several times and started new journeys, not only for myself, but for my organization. You may not change positions or jobs for several years. Can you reinvent jour job where you are? It requires knowing self, understanding your workforce, managing processes and jointly developing a vision that you must champion to the whole plant. Are you prepared to tackle the challenge?