By Brandon Battles
First things first. It's not your imagination. The name associated with Management Matters has changed.
While the baton has changed hands the intentions have not. Through this column I will share my experiences and observations about maintenance and management and how the two relate. Should you view my thoughts and ideas as the final solution? No. I would rather you view my words as food for thought as you confront the challenges that go with being in maintenance management. Too often we get into a rut when approaching common issues and opportunities. Listening to different viewpoints may lead to a more complete solution.
Making a job change
So let's look at a frequently overlooked situation, when a technician is promoted to a management position. This situation, by the way, is not unique to aviation but occurs in most businesses and organizations.
The event that triggers the oversight is the promotion of an individual from one type of work to another. The oversight is that the company does not recognize the different skill set needed to successfully fulfill the requirements of the new position. This situation is exacerbated when the change involves a person that moves from a line type of position to management, two totally different positions when considering the skills required.
The fact that this oversight occurs is hard to understand when looking at things from the company's perspective. First, the company has weakened itself on the technical side. More than likely the person was a top performer, which in many situations, right or wrong, automatically qualifies the person for promotion. Second, the company is weaker in the management position, hopefully only temporarily, that the promoted individual now occupies. How long the company stays in the weak state is up to the company, but the shorter the better.
The company should move rapidly to reduce the time that it takes to re-establish (strengthen) itself in both positions. Before identifying the methods for reducing the weakness, let's first support the claim that different job skills do exist. Because if you're like me in my younger years, a statement like that was a bunch of textbook stuff, a job was a job and anyone could do it.
Examining the different skills
Let's examine some of the skills required when comparing a technician to a maintenance manager. The technician needs:
- To be dexterous. Technicians have extensive requirements to work with their hands and the various tools that make their jobs easier to perform. Additionally they need to have excellent hand-to-eye coordination or, in some cases, hand-to-feel coordination when they can't see what they are working on.
- To be a contortionist. How many times do the technicians encounter maintenance items that can be performed while standing or sitting with a surplus of space? In most situations technicians have limited access and find themselves in awkward positions.
- To have troubleshooting skills (analytical skills). Technicians must identify a problem (sometimes without a great deal of prior communication), determine the cause of the problem, and fix the problem (which takes us back to the first two skills).
- To be able to read and understand technical information. On top of the regulations, which are about as easy to understand as tax regulations, the technician must navigate and comprehend documents such as bulletins, directives, and manuals.
- To communicate. Communication will appear in a variety of ways but primarily it's about technical issues on an aircraft.
And I'm sure you can think of more. In essence the technician primarily needs physical skills accompanied by analytical skills.
The manager, on the other hand, needs a different skill set. The four basic tasks that managers perform are planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. For the manager in maintenance those four tasks relate to a variety of functions. A few are listed below.
Budgeting - Primary or sole responsibility for the maintenance department is assigned to the manager, which represents the financial plan and the department's measuring device. A poorly developed budget can cripple an organization given the significance of the necessary costs associated with maintenance.
Personnel issues - The manager inherits a significant responsibility over what is arguably the most expensive asset within an organization. That person must interact and motivate a wide range of personalities, identify new job candidates, develop employees' career paths, and mediate difficult situations. In essence, the manager becomes the organization's representative when dealing with employees.
Maintenance scheduling - It's up to the manager to plan for the most efficient use of physical space and personnel; organize the workplace, work flow, and personnel; direct the timing of work performed and by who; and develop a system of control or measurement that reflects job progression and cost accumulation.
Communication - Communication with a broader spectrum of people than the technician is part of the manager's role. Those people might include customers, regulatory authorities, executives from within the organization, and financial personnel. Again, in many cases, the manager is the only person that represents the organization.
Inventory - Controls and systems to protect, organize, and evaluate inventory systems must be established by the manager. This includes the physical facilities to house inventory. This ensures that the inventory provides a high level of service at a reasonable cost.
Again, these items just scratch the surface of the maintenance manager's role in an organization. However from these few examples, the manager's preferred skills are more analytical and interpersonal with a decreased emphasis on the physical skills that the technical position required.
Methods for improving the transition
If we accept that the skills required for a manager's position differ from those of a technician, then what can you or your organization do to make the transition quicker and more effective?
Manuals - A manual could contain personnel policies (hiring, disciplining, and firing), job descriptions and review procedures, the budgetary cycle, computer system information, and guidance for interacting with the media. The manual cannot address everything but it can serve as a reference. This is normally not a costly option but takes time to develop.
Mentor - Perhaps your organization has the luxury of experience. If used properly, the most effective teacher is a person that has been through it before. However, you want to make sure that the mentor has the right attitude about helping someone and the right attitude about the organization. This too is not a costly option but requires patience and planning on the part of the mentor.
Training - You can accomplish training both internally and externally. Internal training normally focuses on subjects that are specific to the organization. For example, an organization may have a course on personnel matters and how it handles specific situations. External training may be more general in nature or can take on a specific subject that your organization wants to understand better. General training might encompass the subject of management and its four basic principles. A more specific course might focus on communication skills such as writing or oral presentations. One of the benefits of external training is the introduction of fresh ideas. On one hand this type of training can be expensive, on the other the value is usually worth the expense.
Experience - Sometimes the manager just needs to experience certain situations. Learning under fire is an effective method but can be costly and can take a long period of time.
Maintenance management involves a variety of responsibilities and a variety of skills. Recognize that technical and management positions require different skill sets. Taking the necessary steps to make your new manager more effective, more quickly will ultimately strengthen the overall organization.
Brandon Battles is a partner with Conklin & de Decker. He has spent more than 15 years in aviation working with maintenance organizations in areas of cost collection and analysis, systems review, inventory analysis, and management training.