Management affects profitability through people

Feb. 7, 2007
Although most companies spend more money on hard assets such as facilities, equipment, and infrastructure, it’s unquestionably true that people are your greatest asset. How well management determines the business needs that drive job requirements, then matches the right people with the right jobs, affects profitability, says David Berger, P. Eng., in his latest Asset Manager column.

Although most companies spend more money on hard assets such as facilities, equipment, and infrastructure, it’s unquestionably true that people are your greatest asset. This has been proven time and again – if you don’t have skilled operators to run the equipment properly, or savvy maintenance personnel to fix them, there will be no return on the purchased capital equipment. Thus, how well management determines the business needs that drive job requirements, then matches the right people with the right jobs, affects profitability.

Needs drive requirements

Hiring, retaining and developing the right maintenance personnel is a long and costly process, but not nearly as costly as having the wrong people on the job. This points to the importance of understanding your business needs and drivers to better understand who to hire, and how best to motivate and develop them.

Determine skill requirements: For optimal technician satisfaction and productivity, jobs should be composed, where possible, of tasks that require the same skill level. For example, a skilled electrician shouldn’t be asked to change the light bulbs in a facility that has unskilled helpers available to do these simple tasks. Evaluate and document tasks as to skill level required. Then, combine tasks with similar skill level requirements into jobs.

Establish competencies: The word competency refers to the knowledge, abilities and characteristics necessary to complete the tasks required of a job. Examples for a technician are troubleshooting ability or knowledge of how to use certain tools. A maintenance supervisor position might require leadership competencies such as the ability to motivate others or bring about change.

Set standards for performance and quality: Another key consideration in determining maintenance job requirements is the expectation for quality and performance. Set standards for each task within a job. For example, a janitor, whose job it is to clean rooms, should be able to answer two questions: “How clean is clean?” and “How long should it take to clean the rooms?”

Fix job levels/categories: Combining tasks with similar skill levels and similar competencies into jobs provides a progression from low to high skill levels for categories based on competencies. For example, suppose business needs lead to job categories for janitorial duties and electromechanical tasks. The first job category, Janitor, might have two positions reflecting low and medium skill levels, Janitor 1 and Janitor 2. Similarly, the second job category, Technician, bundles tasks requiring low, medium and high skill levels into the jobs Technician 1, Technician 2 and Technician 3 respectively.

Determine training requirements: Determine training needs for each job once categories and levels are set. Base training on competencies, skill levels and standards for quality and performance. Devise written and hands-on tests and define minimum pass scores as a means of ensuring maintenance workers have the appropriate skills and competencies to meet each job’s business needs.

Match people to the jobs

Business needs change over time, as do the maintenance employee’s acquired skills and aspirations. It’s critical to keep abreast of these changes to better match the right people to the right jobs. This contributes to greater employee performance and ultimately the productivity of the maintenance and operations departments. Examples of key steps to facilitate this matching process are:

Facilitate career path planning: Setting job levels and categories with similar competencies and skill levels allows maintenance workers to progress from simple entry-level positions to more advanced jobs, with appropriate training and testing at each stage. Although career path planning is ultimately the employee’s responsibility, it’s the responsibility of maintenance management to foster an environment that facilitates and encourages career progression.

Conduct succession planning: Maintenance management should not only be aware of their workers’ career path, but also the need for succession planning. This includes how gaps are to be filled as maintenance workers move to more advanced positions or leave the company.

Exploit multi-skilling opportunities: In some cases, there’s not enough demand for a given skill or bundle of skills to justify establishing and filling a full-time position because of gaps in shift coverage or business requirements spread over a large geographic area. Multi-skilling, or training in two or more job categories at one or more skill levels, may be a viable option. Avoid the temptation to mix dissimilar skills and categories, such as entry-level janitorial skills and advanced-level electronics, as this can demotivate someone with higher level skills and competencies.

Plan and schedule properly: The CMMS is a useful tool for ensuring that the right people are doing the right work at the right time by means of the planning and scheduling module. Some CMMS packages have integrated the personnel module so that the maintenance planner can match the qualifications of people available to complete a given work order with the job’s requirements such as a prerequisite certification.

Evaluate performance: The CMMS also can monitor whether the maintenance department is meeting service level expectations at the lowest possible cost. Most modern CMMS packages have a variety of tools for slicing and dicing the data, including reporting on service-level agreements and actual-versus-planned-versus-budgeted costs. Individual workers performance also can be tracked on the CMMS, as well as through the normal HR performance review process.

Organizational considerations

There are many organizational factors that might affect the match between business needs and technician ability and desire. Examples of key factors are:

Coverage: Despite noble efforts to categorize skills and competencies neatly into logical job buckets, there are organizational realities. One common issue is coverage across shifts, departments or a given geography. Multi-skilling might address this issue and help balance the work required with available maintenance resources. Some companies use contract maintenance to fill gaps. As well, better planning and scheduling might help with workload balancing.

Supervision: A major factor that influences matching people to jobs is the quantity and quality of supervision available. “Quantity” speaks to span of control and how much time supervisors have to devote to the issues and opportunities discussed in this column. Most supervisors are focused on day-to-day fire-fighting, administrative duties and other distractions. “Quality” refers to the competencies of supervisors and their ability to deal effectively with human resources issues. Unfortunately, many good maintenance workers are promoted to supervisory positions without being given the proper supervisory training.

Reporting relationships: Organizations have differing perspectives on how maintenance should be structured, including reporting relationships. For example, some companies have a centralized maintenance shop with maintenance workers reporting through the maintenance manager. Other maintenance departments are decentralized, with resident mechanics reporting through operations management in a given department. Still other companies adopt a distributed approach with maintenance workers reporting on a solid line basis to maintenance and dotted line reporting to the department in which they are resident.

Although the right people can be matched to the right jobs under any of these three scenarios, it’s more easily accomplished in a centralized environment. Once maintenance has its house in order with defined jobs, succession plans and other factors in place, the department can more easily adopt alternative approaches.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., at [email protected]

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