Management Matters: Personnel

A company’s most valuable asset

Over the years I’ve been asked many times what single quality sets one maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility apart from another. The answer is always the same — the people.

The people come in all shapes and sizes, ethnic backgrounds, technical, and professional skills with titles ranging from facilities custodian to president and CEO. However, the one common denominator is each individual is a critical part of the fabric that makes up an organization and is equally responsible for its success or failure.

I have been challenged on a few occasions with the admonishment that surely the janitor is not as important as the president. I then welcome the opportunity to opine that the janitor is more important than the president in many ways. How often do you interact with the president or CEO of an MRO during a maintenance visit. I will wager not very often. However, the average customer places a very high degree of importance on the cleanliness and overall appearance of the facility.

How many times have we heard customers say: “I do not want any dirt or oil tracked into my airplane” or one of my favorites: “If you cannot keep the hangar or lavatories clean how can I expect you to keep my multimillion dollar aircraft clean?” So you can see the answer upon closer analysis is the janitor who in many ways has a greater impact on the customer.

Now, I can hear the skeptics say this is a rather simplistic viewpoint, but let’s review a few more examples of just how important individuals’ efforts are to the overall success of any organization. Aviation has deep roots in military history and if one looks back to World War I through the conflicts of today you see aircraft maintenance activities conducted under less than ideal conditions. Gleaming, environmentally controlled hangars, an endless array of GSE, and reasonable schedules are not the norm. Yet, the work is accomplished in a safe and timely manner due to the dedication and “can do spirit” that does not allow failure to enter the equation.

This same spirit is found in a good MRO where all the team members understand the mission and will not tolerate failure on their watch. How often have we seen a work package increase unexpectedly due to corrosion, parts arriving at the last minute, or an unexpected component failure, yet the aircraft delivers on time? Divine intervention did not occur. Instead, the dedication and the commitment of the team carried the day.

I hope I have established my bias toward the value of individual and team effort as key ingredients that has one facility stand above the others. It is appropriate to say I formulated this viewpoint over many years of managing MRO facilities and have seen both the good and bad side of the equation.

Cooperation and trust
The issue at hand is how do we (labor and management) create the environment where mutual respect, trust, common goals, and an overall spirit of cooperation are the order of the day. A positive work environment coupled with the unwavering belief by every member of the organization that the customers we serve are our future and the future of those that depend upon us must be a core value.

Customers do not come for the beautiful hangars, they come for the skilled work force and an atmosphere in which the customer and service provider are in perfect harmony. If we look around the country there are a number of excellent MROs that field an exceptional work force and although not located at large airports or urban centers have thrived because customers will travel (go out of their way) to obtain exceptional service. I would also submit that customers, even in today’s economic climate, are willing to pay a modest premium to enjoy this type of environment.

How do we create this positive personnel oriented work environment? Frankly, it is not easy and like the cultivation of a good garden it takes constant effort.

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