“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.”
Field Service Managers often work their way up through the ranks and learn a management style through trial and error or from their managers and their managers’ manager. Although ‘on-the-job’ training is useful when learning technical skills, it is a risky approach when training managers. Managers need to be able to hit the ground running, i.e., they need to be competent managers as soon as they first have responsibility of leading other members of staff. If not, new managers can unwittingly drive down employee productivity during the process of developing their management style.
Frederik Herzberg’s influential survey on employee motivation in 2003 found that the second greatest cause of employee dissatisfaction is how they are supervised. Untrained managers are often oblivious to how their behaviours are driving down the motivation and commitment of good employees and can mistakenly believe that decreases in performance is an employee problem rather than a management problem.
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 #3: Use Fair Process
Employees want to be given the chance to speak their minds. They need to know that their opinions are being considered and they have a degree of influence in what happens at work.
“Without fair process, even a decision that benefits the engineers can be difficult to implement”
If managers want the team to be committed to the task then they have to use the three steps of fair process: the engagement of employees, the explanation of why the decision is what it is and clearly explaining what is expected from them as a result of that decision. If employees are shown that the company’s decision making process has been considerate of their views then they are much more likely to give their full cooperation to a decision, even when they disagree with that decision.
The opposite is also true. Without fair process, even a decision that benefits the engineers can be difficult to implement. Fair process should be conducted at every level of the organisation; however, the reality is that managers are often asked to implement decisions that have been handed down to them without their input.
In such situations, and even when the rationale for such decisions is not understood, the management approach is to just pass the decision down to the engineers with the implicit command of Just Do It. Managing staff in this way lowers trust and, as trust goes down, productivity decreases and costs increase (The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, Stephen Covey, 2006).
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The best practice is to get input into decisions from the engineers as early on in the process as possible. Managers must find time to explain the business problem or other reason behind why a change is needed and then engage the team in finding the solution. Even if the solution has already been decided, input should be sought from the engineers on how to implement the change with the least amount of impact on them personally. Just as important, is providing feedback on how the decision was altered as a result of employee input.
If managers do not do this then employees are unlikely to volunteer their ideas the next time that they are asked. Fair process does not need to be an onerous task; it can be achieved in one hour or one month depending on the size of the change being proposed.
Concept #4: Build a Values System
Given the huge number of correct and incorrect ways there are to behave at work, it would be an impossible and pointless task trying to teach them all to a team of field service engineers.
There is also the grey area of an acceptable behaviour in one company being considered unacceptable in another. For example, going home when the last scheduled service call for the day has been completed may be acceptable in Company A. However, in Company B, the field service engineer is expected to return to base until the end of the day.
“In most cases employees know how to behave properly so repeatedly telling them what they should be doing makes the manager appear controlling and untrusting of employees’ intentions”
The problem then arises when a new hire goes home after his last call because that’s what he’s always done. He isn’t aware that his behaviour is unacceptable unless another field service engineer takes the time to helpfully explain ‘how it works here’. In most cases employees know how to behave properly so repeatedly telling them what they should be doing makes the manager appear controlling and untrusting of employees’ intentions.
The values system provides a framework for the kinds of behaviour that are acceptable and unacceptable and also how people are expected to behave towards each other.
When implemented correctly it forms the base on which mutual trust can be established between managers and employees and also between the employees and each other. The first key to building an effective values system is to keep it short and simple.
This allows it to be easily remembered and referred to. An example of a simple but powerful value systems would be these guiding principles: Work Hard; Do What’s Right; Treat Others How They Want to Be Treated. Everything that a field engineer does at work is likely to be a good, poor or indifferent example of one or more of these principles.
If someone is cherry-picking jobs then that isn’t working hard; if someone is consistently late then that that isn’t doing what’s right. The manager’s responsibility is to lead by example and every time he sees a correct or incorrect behaviour, to inform the engineer which of the principles has been supported or violated. By acting in this way, field service engineers quickly learn what to do more and less of in a supportive manner and go on to use their common sense before making a decision about what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
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.