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May 10, 2019

Total People Maintenance

By Josh Fiorini

In past articles, I’ve talked about the concept of lean manufacturing processes and how they can be mapped over businesses that aren’t production-based. “Total preventative maintenance” (TPM) is a component of the lean production model, one that translates to some sort of program for manufacturers to keep their machinery up and running.

Most companies and organizations in our economy today don’t make a physical product. In fact, in 2017, manufacturing, mining, agriculture and construction accounted for only 24.2 percent of the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product). This means that over 75 percent of our economy, including the FFL retailers and range owners reading this column, is dedicated to providing a service of some kind or to getting products to market.

For those roughly 25 percent of companies in physical production industries, keeping their manufacturing equipment maintained and calibrated is of paramount importance; if those spindles aren’t turning, customers aren’t getting product and the company isn’t making money.

That concept and the practice of TPM can be applied to the other 75 percent of the economy when replacing the thing that needs to be maintained — machinery — with the service industry’s primary production asset: its people.

Autonomous Maintenance

Rather than having only a dedicated maintenance crew, which relieves machine operators of responsibility for the care of their machines, “autonomous maintenance” gets the operators involved in the process, thereby making it more routine while also creating a sense of ownership for the operator.

Let’s take that concept and apply it to your people through your human resources setup.

Many large companies will have HR departments staffed with experts at selecting, managing and, yes, maintaining people. These departments stay up to date on workplace trends, best practices and regulations, and they conduct research and monitor employee performance to develop policies and incentives that create an efficient workplace. Of course, a smaller business may only have one HR person, and some may have none, in which case the owners or other leaders fill the gap. Regardless, in all scenarios there are benefits to getting your line managers and mid-level supervisors invested in staff performance and workplace “health.”

Train your managers to watch their people, to look for development opportunities, for someone who might seem overwhelmed and for changes in behavior. Encourage them to urge their team members to take advantage of all the tools the company has to offer, such as PTO, health and wellness programs, EAPs, etc., to keep them fresh and working at peak efficiency Your managers do not have to be therapists or HR professionals, but they can and should be your eyes and ears on the front line to maintain what they can, and then be responsible enough to call in the professionals when necessary.

Planned Maintenance

Everyone and everything need a break from time to time. There are people who seem capable of performing herculean feats of progress through extensive work-hour days for months, even years, at a time. Likewise, many machines are expected to hum along 24/7. While such work is possible, it comes at a cost. That pace of operation will wear out that asset — person or machine — faster and, in the long run, lead to it creating far less value.

Anyone who has managed people knows that someone who is focused, well rested and interested in what they do is capable of more than someone who lacks those attributes. A burned-out stressed employee is just like a machine that hasn’t been maintained. They will not provide the same quality of work you expect and may simply shut down when you need them most.

Encourage your people to use their PTO and family leave time. Leave policies are just like downtime for machinery maintenance. They allow employees to come back fresh and ready to go in top form, rather than limping along. Additionally, that time “out of the box” can provide a benefit to people that machines can never realize: a fresh perspective.

Focused Improvement

In TPM, part of the job of the holistic maintenance team is to seek continuous improvement: What can they do to not just maintain the machine, but possibly improve its efficiency? Are there changes to the TPM process itself that they can make?

Employee development programs work in the same way. They can be massively helpful in adding skills and capabilities to your team, and they also let your team know that their development is important to you. Smaller companies may not be able to offer high-priced benefits like tuition reimbursement in this area, but providing access to certificate courses, in-house team development seminars or even subscriptions to streaming services with audio or video development content can provide benefits.

The People Machine

Comparing people to machinery is often viewed as uncouth. But the reality is that, as business leaders, we need to recognize what our productive assets really are, and we have to take care of them. The most valuable asset any company has is its people, and a focus on improving your team will be realized both in morale and your bottom line in the long term.

Practical Application Exercises

To apply the lessons in this article, here are some questions to ask yourself.

Immediately After Reading:

  1. What are some good habits that I have that my company could benefit from formalizing?
  2. Which aspects of my business am I uniquely adept at managing successfully?
  3. What types of policies can I develop or what kinds of training can I implement that will allow my team to be just as successful in the future as I have been in the past?
  4. What aspects of my business feel most unpredictable or problematic? What are some options at my disposal to encourage and mentor my team to take successful ownership of those aspects?

Three Months After Reading:

  1. In what ways have I created new organizational systems that reflect my values and approach to my business?
  2. What are the next steps to plan for continued growth?

About the Author
Josh Fiorini is the former CEO of PTR Industries, Inc. He spent the first decade of his career in finance, holding positions as an equity analyst and portfolio manager before starting his own hedge fund. This experience, along with a deep background in manufacturing, banking and private equity, has made him a sought-after contributor on numerous boards and discussion groups on political and economic issues for media outlets, corporations and community organizations. Fiorini currently invests his time and resources with non-profit initiatives and acts as a contributor and management consultant to various firms in the firearms industry as the founding and Managing Partner in the firm Narrow Gate Management.

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Tags: Employee benefits employee management leadership skills lean concepts Staff

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