“Whilst it is often the selling point of specialist field service technology, improving productivity can also be achieved through good management. So as part of a new series from Steve Brand, Senior Consultant with field service training specialists SGSA, we look at eight key management concepts that can help you improve the productivity of your mobile workforce.”
In the last article, we highlighted how many field service managers work their way up through the ranks and learn a management style through trial and error or from their managers and their managers’ manager. In summary, management training is often informal. And yet, John Maxwell, author of The 5 Levels of Leadership, identified that one of the five key reasons that employees choose to follow a leader is because the leader has helped them to progress their career.
Quite simply, managers should take a more formal approach to discussing career aspirations with field service engineers and to help them gain skills that will move them towards their personal career goals. In return, employees show appreciation through greater loyalty to the leader and by working harder. Just taking an interest and providing career guidance is a good start because it demonstrates to the engineers that we are interested in their success beyond them meeting our monthly targets. Empowerment is also a form of career development.
Continuing our series of four articles, here are two more powerful management tips to help Field Service Managers improve working relationships with their engineers and increase productivity.
Concept #5: People Development
A key difference between training and development is who is ultimately responsible for making sure that both of these things happen. Training is the responsibility of the field service manager.
The manager must provide training to the field service engineer so that the engineer is capable of doing the job that he is being paid for. If the field service engineer has not been properly trained then he is unlikely to have the skills required to be able to do the job. Without skill, there can be no performance. On a side note, having the skills does not guarantee that the field service engineer will perform to his highest level. For high performance, the field service manager needs to provide training and motivation.
“There is little benefit to be gained from a lengthy career discussion with a field service engineer who is content with his job and doesn’t see that it is in his interest to gain new skills”
Conversely, development is the responsibility of the field service engineer. Only the engineer can know how he would like to see his career progress. Hence, there is little benefit to be gained from a lengthy career discussion with a field service engineer who is content with his job and doesn’t see that it is in his interest to gain new skills. For the rest of the team, the career development discussion gives the manager the opportunity to understand the aspirations of the field service engineer and to demonstrate his commitment to helping the engineer prepare for his next job.
Training and development plans are often updated and agreed by the field service manager and the engineer annually, typically in the final few minutes of the performance review meeting. The recommendation is that the training and development discussions take place separately and within two weeks of the performance review meeting. This gives the field service engineer time to consider the job skills that were highlighted in the review as needing improvement and what actions he thinks he could take to help him meet the required standard.
The training and development meeting should be conducted in two stages with the field service engineer clearly understanding the difference in the stages. The first stage is the training discussion led by the manager. The second stage is the career development discussion led by the field service engineer. In some cases a career development discussion is inappropriate, for example, for a new hire who needs a large amount of training or an engineer who is subject to the performance improvement process. In these cases, the manager will need to say that a discussion on career development should be delayed until the field engineer is competent in his current role or the unsatisfactory performance issues have been resolved.
Concept #6: Empowerment
Micro-management is widespread because many managers do not realise that they are micro-managing their employees. Assigning tasks, giving directions on how things should be done and unnecessary checking of what has been done are common forms of micro-management.
“It is important that managers understand the difference between delegation and empowerment and use language that reinforces a culture of empowerment”
With the exception of new hires and less experienced members of staff, field service managers should take the approach of setting the goals and letting the field service engineers decide for themselves on how best to achieve those goals. Also, given that the engineers have more knowledge about the customer, machine, situation, etc., they are often in the best position to make the decisions. The alternative is for the engineers to try and transfer their knowledge to the manager so that he can make the same decision as they would have done anyway! The latter approach wastes time for the manager, engineer and customer.
It is important that managers understand the difference between delegation and empowerment and use language that reinforces a culture of empowerment. Consider these statements: ‘Please call the customer, tell him the part is out of stock, apologise and re-schedule the appointment’, versus ‘Do what you have to do to make the customer satisfied and let me know if you need me to help’.
The first statement is an example of delegation, i.e., these are the tasks that I want you to do. The second statement is an example of empowerment, i.e., I am giving you authority to take whatever actions you think are necessary. Managers are often surprised as to how field service engineers rise to the occasion when they are trusted to get on with the job by themselves.
Some caution is required before empowering field services engineers and it is not necessary to give all engineers the same level of authority at the same time. Managers need to consider the return on investment of empowerment in terms of time saved, customer satisfaction, employee motivation and so on, versus the cost of a poor decision. A frequently made decision that if made badly once per year would cost the company £100 is worthy of empowerment. A decision with a business cost of £10,000 in a worst case scenario is not.
A ‘top four’ factor of employee motivation is the level of responsibility that they are given and empowering field service engineers is equivalent to saying ‘I trust you’. As mentioned in the previous article, as trust goes up, productivity increases and costs come down. Hence, empowering employees is a win-win situation for the field service manager and the engineers in many ways.
Could you or your colleagues benefit from attending the next Field Service Manager Course? The Field Service Manager program is dynamic and interactive, with students frequently working in small groups, presenting findings and working on the course case study. The program is four and a half days of course content and university-level instruction and learning that is focused on managing a field service operation.