With the imminent release of Star Wars 3D on February 10th, my youth resurfaced and of course, a blog post was conceived. Today’s post is a partial tribute to my favorite film series along with a healthy dose of maintenance management for turnaround situations.

There are a lot of different management styles ranging from highly authoritarian (Darth Vader and the Emperor) to facilitators (The Jedi Council) to coaching (Obi-won Kenobi). In my experience there is a place and a time for each style depending on the cast of players and the objective to be achieved.

Maintenance Management and Turnaround Opportunities

Each management style has its limitations and effectiveness on the maintenance operations it is trying to manage. Let us take a look at the pros and cons of the three styles in the context of a turnaround situation.

A maintenance turnaround situation is when maintenance operations is not performing well and is costing the organization more money than anticipated. Tell-tale signs include:

  • Out of control labor costs due to overtime.
  • Excessive repairs from assets that have not been maintained properly with preventive maintenance, inspections or any maintenance methodology.
  • Completely reactive maintenance with huge maintenance backlogs.
  • Unplanned capital expenditures from assets failing unexpectedly.
  • Skyrocketing energy costs as a result of assets not being maintained.

Successful turnarounds start with a strong individual capable of quickly accessing maintenance staff skill levels, tools and attitudes. Changes will come from a combination of CMMS technology, directives, coaching, training, and finding the maintenance stars who embrace change.

Darth Vader Management

Darth Vader is now a part of American pop culture and represents the bad or evil way of doing things. In essence, Darth Vader is a strong individual capable of taking charge and executing immediate change using fear as his weapon.

Typical characteristics of this management style include some familiar clichés such as:

  • “There is a new Sheriff in town and if you don’t do it, I will shoot you (firing the employee)
  • “My way or the highway”
  • “You need to work harder and longer and for less pay”

In general, this style of management makes either direct or implied threats to employees in order to execute change. The pros of this style are limited but include:

  • Ensures everyone is aware that change is needed and coming.
  • Will quickly identify the dragons in an organization who will inhibit change.
  • Establishes immediate authority and accountability for the change.

The cons will always outweigh the pros of a Darth Vader management style because this management style has a tendency to bring out the 7 Deadly Sins of Asset Management as well as:

  • Maintenance employees will quickly lose their fear or find ways to circumvent the changes.
  • Maintenance employees have no buy-in to the change. Without buy-in, change will not obtain the desired objectives.
  • Employee turnover increases as good people rarely like to be threatened. This lowers the asset knowledge base unless a CMMS system has been recording work history, creating SOPs etc..
  • New employee recruitment suffers. Skilled maintenance workers are retiring faster than can be replaced. New maintenance staff will not find the authoritative Darth Vader style management desirable.

The Jedi Council

The Jedi Council (senior management, asset and maintenance managers) uses its power to facilitate change through collaboration. In best case scenarios, senior management appoints (hires) a new asset and maintenance leader as well as a maintenance planner and the appropriate CMMS programs to turnaround their operations.

The idea is bring about change through technology, employee empowerment and training. Employee buy-in is at the top of the goals list and the new manager is a skilled motivator. The pros of this approach are significant because:

  • The reason for change is explained in a non-threatening yet matter-of-fact need for company survival.
  • Engaging employees in the change to a CMMS system shows them how they can do their job more effectively and efficiently.
  • Buy-in is achieved as a result of staff recognizing and making suggestions on how to make improvements. Subsequent empowerment to execute changes locks in the CMMS buy-in.
  • Employee turnover is limited to maintenance staff unable to adapt to technology or change.
  • The Jedi Council ensures that the resources need for the changes are available (technology, training, time).

The cons of this approach to implementing a CMMS solution are limited to:

  • The facilitators resolve in making sure the resources needed are available. Fighting for resources is always a battle. This is a long term war, facilitators must be prepared.
  • Sometimes decisions get bogged down in committee or lengthy discussions. This is where the Darth Vader in the new manager needs to surface for a moment.
  • The collective group does not always listen to maverick ideas or individuals.

The Return of Jedi Maintenance

The biggest problem with facilitative management is that it has a tendency to limit the contributions of wild and crazy ideas. Some of the best ideas for change come from people who are not socially active or do not feel comfortable in group meetings, discussions etc.

Jedi maintenance in this case refers to the ability to think outside the box to find a solution. Many times these solutions are hidden away by shy staff.

Getting the most from introverted staff often requires a great coach like Obi-wan who sees the potential in someone and tries to develop them. With proper coaching these people can generate significant cost savings ideas and often become the future of the company.

As with the other two management styles this one has its pro’s and con’s too. The most significant pro was just mentioned. The cons are that:

  • Too much time is given to one individual leaving other staff feeling neglected and the CMMS implementation suffers.
  • Not everyone can be coached, some people need more direction or authoritative supervision than others. Good coaches are not always good managers.

These are only some of the things that can make the difference in turning around a failing maintenance operation. As previously mentioned, there is a time and place for most management styles. But the best managers have a little bit of Darth and Jedi in their management skill set.