- Develop the vision for the technical departments of your organization. Your vision should provide everyone with an ideal picture of what your department looks like. Communicate this vision to everyone in the organization. This provides clarity and accountability throughout the organization.
- Put short- and long-term plans together to achieve the vision. Make sure each person in your department has a part to play and that he or she is crystal-clear about it. Communicate the plan to the entire facility. This furthers the level of accountability for your department as those outside your department will be the first to inform you that you are off-track.
- Evaluate each person for technical skills and knowledge deficiencies and create a personal developmental plan. Make sure that the technical deficiencies are real and are supported by the job description for each position. Cooperatively find training and developmental resources that will address the deficiencies.
- Develop up to five key performance indicators for your department. Keep track of these metrics and communicate the results in a timely manner.
- Meet regularly to discuss where the department is with respect to each KPI so modifications can be made to the weekly work plan. Make sure meetings are used for constructive purposes and do not just become another opportunity to complain. Have an agenda and stick to it. The purpose of the meetings is to reinforce the vision and current plan for getting there. Plans can and will change, but the overall vision of the department will remain the same.
- Teach the business to your people. The more they know about the business, the more they can deduce how much their contribution counts towards your success.
- Develop an annual technical training calendar. Start by budgeting 3% of your department’s payroll for training. Provide training only for subject matter that is directly related to improvement of your facility. Once the calendar is established, do not let apparent emergencies and fire fighting force training cancellation. Canceling sessions sends the message that you are not really committed to training. Use your vendors for free lunch-and-learn training if possible. These sessions are usually nothing more than a glorified sales pitch, but they give your people an opportunity to ask questions and further exemplifies your commitment to training.
- Set up off-line simulations of your electrical and controls equipment. Train and certify your people on this equipment, and they will be prepared to work on the actual production equipment.
Retaining Technical Talent Once You Have It
Loosing good technical talent is time-consuming, frustrating and costly. Technical people change jobs for a variety of reasons. You can’t prevent the retirement or move because of a spouse’s relocation, but you can address issues such as money, lack of appreciation or lack of leadership. Do the following to retain the technical talent you currently have.
- Provide leadership! Most technically proficient personalities are hard-wired for direction and analytical order. Most organizations are starving for real leadership. Leadership sets the course for the department by planning, directing, helping, serving and following up. Good leadership is accountable for results and holds those in their charge accountable for results.
- Be consistent. People observe inconsistencies in both policy and personality. There are obviously more factors involved, but your credibility can only rise to the level of your consistency.
- Provide all the tools and resources necessary to achieve your organization’s goals. Get your people in the habit of using data to make decisions and asking for tools and resources that are needed. Never say no if it is going to help drive the business forward. Cost is a concern for most companies, but my experience is that you can afford the things that are needed.
- Implement a pay-for-skills program. Give the people some incentive to grow professionally. Make sure the program has real achievement goals tied to demonstrative skill and knowledge. Advancement must be given to those that have earned it and not based on popularity or time. Not everyone will excel in this arena, which is okay. The next generation of technical leadership will present itself partly through advancement through this program. Do not rush into this process because it needs to be done right so that it does not backfire. The knowledge and skills required for advancement have to mean that the person is of greater value to the organization once completed.
- Hold people accountable for results. The best employees challenge themselves and those around them to continually improve. Where there is a lack of accountability there is a lack of productivity.
- People are your greatest asset, take care of them and they will take care of you. Spend time getting to know those placed in your charge. You will be able to deal much more effectively with each person once you know what makes him or her tick.
- Provide tuition assistance for continuing education. Make the employee pay for the first round of classes. Reimburse the employee based on the grade they receive. This process needs to be sold as a very positive privilege. If you decide to implement tuition reimbursement program, be sure to develop an agreement for the employee to sign that states they will stay for at least 18 months after you provide the last tuition reimbursement. I have worked for companies that had no such agreement and people left immediately upon graduation. You are doing this to improve your employees and improve the results of your facility.
- Provide honest and frequent feedback to your employees. I like to put a recurring routine in my CMMS that annunciates when a one-on-one meeting with an employee is due. Meet with each person at least quarterly. This meeting allows the employee to tell you what is important to her and allows you to provide honest feedback outside of the review process.
- Conduct electrical and controls training using the equipment manuals and schematics in your possession. I like to call it “cabinet-based training.” Start with the most mysterious equipment and spend as long as it takes to completely cover the mechanical and electrical systems using the drawings and ladder logic in your possession. This activity will also flush out any deficiencies in your inventory of technical documentation. Share the documentation with everyone involved in the training exercise.
- Have a genuine interest in the prosperity and well-being of your employees and their families. Demonstrate this when they come to you and ask for time off to go to an important family activity or event. Cover for them yourself if need be. This will start to show them that you are sincere.
- Find out what your employees are passionate about and help them achieve their goals.
- Celebrate real results and don’t have a cookout or party just because it has been awhile since you got together. People are smart, and they know when they are being patronized. Too many people try to buy the respect and admiration of their staffs.
- Conduct weekly meetings with an agenda and follow-up items. You cannot over- communicate. Most organizations I have worked with suffered from “I-was-never-told-that” fever. Get to the point where your people are telling others what you went them to know. A litmus test for whether or not you are under-communicating in your organization is if you hear the dreaded phrase, “What are they going to about that.” The “they” is usually you, and you often wonder why they said that, since you thought you told everyone.
- Provide frequent and honest feedback to each person in the department.
- Use results-based rewards. Effort is appreciated, but results keep the operation profitable. Many times plant leadership erroneously equates results with effort. You hope they are simultaneous, but never are they synonymous. Results always equate to success.
Alec Meinke is a Senior Project Manager with ARMTECH. A company based in Kansas City, Missouri that specializes in the development of industrial reliability and training systems.