Written by 9:24 pm Feature, Service Operations

Eight tips for improving field service productivity: Part Four

Whilst technology can play a big part in improving the efficiency of a field service operation, nothing is as important as ensuring your field service managers are fully armed to do their job. With this in mind we have teamed up with specialist field service training organisation SGSA to bring this series that looks at some of the key concepts that make a good field service manager great. 

The topics included in this series, written by SGSA’s Senior Consultant Steve Brand, are based around the content of SGSA’s 4 and half day, university standard training course for field service managers and Field Service News readers are eligible for a discounted attendance. Further details, a discount code and links to registration are all included at the bottom of the page…

Management is the intervention of getting work done through others, so the success of the field service manager is directly linked to the performance of his team. When the team is meeting its goals, the manager receives the credit. The analogy with the manager of a football team is very apt. When the team lifts the trophy at the end of the match, the manager receives the greatest accolade even though he never set foot on the pitch.

Conversely, when the team is plummeting through the league, the chairman sacks the manager not the team. The previous concepts in this series support this analogy. Concept #1 is to Close the Knowing Doing Gap; in football, the strategy is defined in the changing room but if the tactics are not put into action on the pitch then the match will be lost. Concept #2 is to Put the Whole Team’s Brain to Work; the different talents of everyone on the team are needed for success: forwards, mid-field, defenders and goalkeeper, all working together. Concept #3 is Fair Process; the players actually play the game so their input on how they can win is crucial. Concept #4 is Build a Values System; the manager defines how the team is expected to work together. Concept #5 is People Development; training of the players is the responsibility of the manager. Concept #6 is Empowerment; the manager provides feedback during the match but doesn’t run alongside the players telling them who to pass the ball to next.

You can catch up on the early parts of this series here. Read part one here, part two here and part three here

For the last of our series of four articles, we are providing two more powerful management tips to help Field Service Managers improve working relationships with their engineers and increase productivity.

Concept #7: Manage Behaviours not Metrics

Managers need to compare and increase engineer productivity so they frequently set goals on activity metrics. Activities, for example, the number of service calls made per engineer per day, are easier to count than the results of that activity, for example, an increase in customer loyalty. Technology also allows activities to be easily and accurately reported, whereas it is still ineffective at measuring value creation.

A problem with setting goals on activities (‘input’) rather than value (‘output’) is that it is often simple for field service engineers to manipulate their activity numbers. For example, an engineer being measured on service calls could ignore rather than replace a worn part on a unit being serviced so that he is called out again. Hence, focusing on activity metrics can actually lead to unwanted behaviours being introduced into the operation. The result could be that engineers are commended for meeting their goals when the reality is that they are very busy doing the wrong things to make their numbers look good.

The alternative is for managers to focus on the behaviours that result in added value for the customer, for example, picking up service calls quickly, arriving on time for appointments, setting realistic expectations, explaining the solution, cleaning up properly after the job, etc. The challenge for managers is finding the time to make sure that all of these things actually happen rather than reply on a report alleging that they are happening.

An ongoing field service training program is the most effective method of ensuring that engineers know, develop and perform the best practice behaviours for field service. The program consists of two stages: first, teaching all engineers and subsequent new hires the tips and techniques that ensure customer satisfaction and high productivity; and second, providing regular feedback on how many and how well they do each best practice in the field. Ideally, but depending on the size of the team, each engineer should be assessed on his handling of service calls for half a day per month. This means being observed on the job by a manager, team leader, mentor or experienced colleague, and given a score and constructive feedback on how to improve. This isn’t a cheap program but the return on investment is substantial.

In summary, ensuring that engineers adhere to field service best practices is a key responsibility of the manager and one that generates more satisfied and loyal customers, which is obviously good for business. Setting goals on engineer activities will ensure that they are keeping busy but, by itself, can never be effective in ensuring that they are on their best behaviour. And, to continue our earlier analogy, a football manager doesn’t sit in his office waiting to be told the final score, he stands on the side line watching and assessing each player in action.

Concept #8: Eliminate Self-Interest Behaviour

It is human nature to try and make the most out of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Given the choice, most employees would prefer not having to work, but they have to if they want to put a roof over their heads. So, given that employees have the constraint of having to go to work, they will strive to make going to work as enjoyable as possible for them personally. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, making work enjoyable should be encouraged the manager, but not if the actions or behaviours taken to make themselves happy has a negative impact on the customer, the company or their colleagues.

Self-interest behaviour, or maximizing personal happiness at the expense of others, can manifest itself in many ways; tardiness, laziness, cutting corners, poor documentation and manipulating metrics are amongst the most common. Another problem with self-interest behaviour that is not eliminated by the manager is that it can creep, both in terms of the degree of the behaviour and to other members of the team. If the manager has not said anything about me being ten minutes late every few days then perhaps I can get away with fifteen minutes? And if I see someone else isn’t completing their site reports then it must be ok for me not to do mine.

The key to eliminating self-interest behaviour is to let the engineer know that you have seen it as soon as you see it. State the facts casually the next time you see the engineer alone and give him a chance to respond, for example, “I notice that you’ve been late a couple of times this week. Is everything ok?”

In most cases, just letting the engineer know that you’ve seen the behaviour will be enough to stop it. If the self-interest behaviour continues then the second step is to repeat the statement and remind the engineer of the goal. Words such as “I notice that you’re still coming in late. You know that we need everyone here on time to ensure that we meet service levels. Is there anything that I should know?” There is a third and fourth step to resolving poor work behaviours before taking the official route of a Performance Improvement Plan, but 80% or more issues are resolved after the engineer has been subtly told twice that his behaviour is unacceptable.

Speed is of the essence in eliminating self-interest behaviour. Delaying the conversation until the next performance review or one-to-one meeting allows time for the behaviour to get worse and can also make the behaviour seem more serious, especially if it is included in the meeting documentation. The football manager speaks to the team about what they are doing wrong at half-time, not the end of the season.

Could you or your colleagues benefit from attending the next SGSA 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.

If you want to see more information or register for the course you can do so by clicking here

PLUS! Field Service News subscribers receive a 10% discount on the course fee when quoting reference FSN0407.

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