Focal points for the new manager
By Bill de Decker
ongratulations . . . you're the new manager of the department! If you're like me, it's a day you have been waiting for with anticipation, but also a certain amount of dread. Anticipation because it's a big step forward, dread because most likely, nothing in your formal education prepared you for this step. It's crazy, but there are endless courses on any subject you may be interested in, except how to be a manager! In my own case, my total preparation for being a manager was a one week course entitled "Principles of Supervision" given by Boeing, my then employer!
When I was promoted to my first real management job, I was lucky — I did not have the professional credentials to perform our organization's primary task (training pilots). Why was this lucky for me? It prevented me from doing what most technical persons do when they get promoted, which is to go right on doing what they were doing before the promotion! Instead, it forced me to focus on what a manager's real job is — getting customers, keeping customers and doing so profitably.
In other words, being a manager is basically different than being a technician or inspector. And, even though your office may not be more than 50 feet from where you worked before, your focus has changed completely. As a technician, the focus is on accomplishing the assigned task properly and on schedule. As a manager, the focus is on making sure there are tasks that need to be accomplished not only today, but also next week and next year. How do you make this shift? Here are some thoughts, based on experience that will help you focus on what's important.
Focus On The Customer
Any maintenance organization is in the service business. In the service business, survey after survey has shown that reliability and quality are the most important factors your customers will use in judging the success of your operation. What this means is that the job must be done right the first time and must be completed on time and on budget. The higher your organization's ratings in this area, the higher the level of customer satisfaction will be. This applies whether it's a commercial, corporate, or government operation.
An integral part of this is to focus on how your customers use their aircraft (or would like to use their aircraft) and suggest ways that can decrease maintenance downtime, increase availability, or reduce cost. This approach makes maintenance planning an integral part of the customers' operation, allows your organization to provide better service, and strengthens the ties between your maintenance operation and your customers.
Focus On Cost
The first step is to know exactly what your costs are. Know what are the maintenance costs incurred by each customer, contract and aircraft. Know what are the fixed costs for your department. Know what other costs are assigned to your department by the finance department. And, know the costs in detail. This will probably require some serious digging because in many companies, department managers are not given the whole cost picture. For example, you may get a detailed printout of actual costs vs. budget for the maintenance department. But, that often doesn't contain depreciation, cost of capital, corporate and administrative expenses, and a host of other expenses you were told not to worry about. The problem is that these costs are built into your cost structure and are part of the total costs that your management and customers use when judging your operation.
Once you have all the costs, you have numbers that you can compare costs on other ways of getting the work done as well as to compare against the competition. And if you are not satisfied with the costs, what can you do? One thing you can do is benchmark your operation against your knowledge of other operations, industry surveys and databases, or just good business practices. Items to examine include:
• Staffing — Do you have too many people? How does the headcount compare with other maintenance operations? How do salaries compare with various surveys? Do you use part-time personnel to help with peaks and vacations (very effective) or do you have full time staff to cover all possibilities (very inefficient)?
• Expenses — How closely are they controlled? Does your staff take advantage of all discounts available to your company?
• Spares inventory — How big is your spares inventory? Does it increase in size each year? If it does, your operation is buying more spares than it needs.
• Contract services — How do they compare with your own costs? Can you save money by contracting out certain maintenance tasks? And the list goes on. It may seem at first glance that there are no savings to be had with this approach, but experience proves otherwise. Every organization that has really focused on this has generated substantial savings.
Focus On Training
Training falls in two categories. The first is the obvious one and concerns regular training on aircraft systems, engines, avionics, troubleshooting, composite repair, etc. It costs a little money, but the payoff is in higher quality work and faster turnaround time. The second one is not so obvious and concerns training people to move up in the organization. This includes mechanics' helpers becoming full-fledged maintenance technicians and training technicians to become shift supervisors. Very importantly, it includes training your own replacement, so that when you go on vacation or get tapped for the next step up the promotion ladder, you don't have to worry about what will happen to the maintenance department.
An important part of the long-term success formula includes training yourself on management and business issues. Take management courses presented by the various trade associations, Embry-Riddle and others. Read management books. Read business magazines. Read magazines about your company's or your customers' industries. In short, develop a perspective about the art and science of running a service business with a big budget and a large capital investment.
Focus On Giving Credit To Others
When you are a manager, it's really important to realize that almost all successes in your operation are the result of others doing a great job. Be generous and recognize their contribution. Your reward will come when your customers tell others what a great job your operation is doing — and your boss tells you how pleased the company is that you are the new manager!