From Peter Munson, CRE, CSSBB, CMRP, Senior Manager
And Global Expertise Lead, Maintenance
T.A. Cook (tacook.com)
Most maintenance organizations made significant changes to their daily routines to effect social distancing during the height of the pandemic. Curtailed field rounds, closed-door policies for supervisors, virtual meetings, supervision by phone or radio, all these things were heavily communicated and enforced in the early days of the protocols. But now, as T.A. Cook’s Peter Munson points out, with things beginning to return to a tentative new normal, few organizations have been deliberate about communicating adjustments to those policies. He describes a conversation with a maintenance superintendent who explained the situation this way: “We never really communicated expectations. Some people just eased out of it a bit more than others. It’s probably time for a reset.” Munson offers the following tips for others who might be in the same boat.
COVID protocols have done a number on front-line supervision at many sites, but much of this is invisible to management. On one hand, many front-line supervisors were told to forgo in-person morning meetings for larger shops and cut back on in- person field visits in pursuit of social distancing. Likewise, shifts and lunch times have been staggered, which makes it more difficult to manage crews and get mid-day updates across different plant areas and crafts.
On the other hand, front-line supervisors have been loaded down with more, longer virtual meetings. When plant meetings went from in-person to virtual, pressures to keep them short and relatively small disappeared. Now, as a result, front-line supervisors’ days are busier than ever, but leave them less opportunity for the critical work of actually supervising craft in the field.
If this sounds familiar to your organization, it is time for a post-lockdown reset of your field supervision. Take the following actions to review and reset your organization’s expectations on front-line supervisors:
1. Define and communicate “new normal” expectations for your front-line supervisors.
These expectations will depend on your local conditions and may need continued adjustment as circumstances change. The most important point here is toset and communicate new expectations just as decisively and clearly as they were communicated when we went into lockdown. Now that we are in a more permissive environment, update the expectations that supervisors are going to spend more time in the field interacting with their crews.
2. Conduct a scrub of your meetings.
Just as a maintenance backlog needs to be scrubbed on a regular basis, so too should your meetings, especially in this new era of ballooning virtual attendance. Review the length of meetings, frequency, and attendees with an eye to paring them down as much as possible. Give time back to your supervisors to get out of the office, off the virtual-meeting platform, and out where they can make things happen.
3. Remind the entire maintenance department of the goal of active supervision.
This reset is a great opportunity to re-baseline everyone’s understanding of the importance of active supervision. Front-line supervisors are not there to rush their crews or “bird-dog” them (despite popular ribbing to the contrary). Good, active supervision in the field drives productivity by identifying and removing roadblocks so the crews can get on their tools and stay on them. Supervisors should be making sure the next jobs and the next day’s jobs are ready for their crews, helping them work through delays such as permitting issues or waiting on another craft, and generally providing whatever support and guidance is needed to keep their crews productive.
Your organization undoubtedly made significant changes to cope with COVID. Even if it took a while to make those changes, when it happened it was done decisively, it was well communicated, and it was monitored and enforced. Do not drift idly into the “new normal.” It is time to make up lost ground, so you need to be just as clear and decisive about resetting your front-line supervision.♦ ♦ ♦