Use Bench Strength for Continuity

Oct. 24, 2014

In my February 2011 column, I suggested that the number of equipment-manager positions was declining. That was due to the 2008 recession-related failure of some companies, consolidation of more companies, and/or significant de-fleeting and outsourcing of many equipment division functions. If anything, these trends have continued or accelerated. This article addresses organizational changes that have occurred and ways to organize your equipment-management group to ensure you have proper continuity.

Can we all agree that the modern equipment manager is much more of a business manager than a super-technician? In fact, heavy equipment today is so much better and more technical, most user shops outsource most work except, the replacement of routine wear parts and basic component R & R work (remove and replace). Just as we have seen in the automotive industry, our user shops don’t have the expertise or tooling to do any serious work. OEM dealers have gladly stepped in to assume most of the other work and, in doing so, sell more labor and parts than ever. Extended warranties and the growth of Total Maintenance and Repair (TM&R) have further added to the shift of repair work from the user shops to the dealer shops.

Now, the equipment manager’s task is to concentrate on the asset-management part of the job. His or her job is to make sure that the fleet is sized appropriately (more renting, more leasing); acquisitions are standardized; equipment is well-maintained and repaired properly; and proper data are collected to be able to manage downtime and cost per hour. At the end of the day, minimizing costs and downtime are the ultimate goals.

So dear reader, if you’re still with me, we both agree that the old school, traditional equipment manager is being replaced by a tech-savvy, business-oriented manager. In the past, the traditional equipment manager was the brains and the driver for almost all of the actions of the equipment division. Today’s equipment manager’s primary job is about selecting and overseeing a supporting team that can get those jobs done well and in a timely manner. Organizational, motivational and communication skills are critical.

The next step is to ensure the equipment-management team is assembled with the right people who are good at their specialty. Someone has to be good at acquisition, someone has to be good at preventive maintenance, someone for selling, someone for repairs, and so on. Having a clearly defined organizational chart with assigned accountabilities and job descriptions is essential. Once you get your equipment organization to that structure, you are positioned to be able to back up each position and have the desired continuity in place.

Each successful equipment-management team probably has at least three or four critical managers—each accountable for their own job. The key to your continuity is to have a written, annually updated “Bench Strength” plan for each of those specific individuals. Each critical person should have another one or two people currently in the organization identified who will be trained to replace that manager. Do your plan today. Don’t wait until your PM manager walks into your office and announces he is moving out of state in two weeks. The “Bench Strength” plan will identify what training and experiences are required for the designated backup person to assume the new role. The backup can fill in for the primary person during vacations, during health absences, or provide assistance when the primary is slammed with new work.

The “Bench Strength” continuity plan isn’t hard or complex: The message here is to have a plan, communicate that plan, and execute that plan. It’s your choice: Have some kind of plan, or deal with the chaos that surely will come.

Think about it.