Photo Courtesy of PacLease
For a change in the maintenance bay to be successful, fleets need both management of processes, tools and techniques and leadership to ensure technicians are motivated to change.

How to manage technicians through maintenance process changes

Dec. 12, 2018
Change management helps fleets implement process changes with minimal operational disruption.

Think of a great idea, a process with a perfect application in a fleet. One that, when implemented, will surely decrease related downtime incidents. Think of the no-brainer decision, the small-effort, big-effect change that would improve a fleet’s performance. Maybe it’s as simple as adding another line to a preventive maintenance checklist. Sound “simple”? Maybe on paper.

Now, think of the most valuable veteran technician in that maintenance bay. Imagine they hate that great idea. They’ve done this a million times and it’s never been done like that before. They’re reluctant, resistant. Maybe the technician implements the change, but hates every second of it. Morale decreases. And eventually, the idea fails and the cycle starts all over.

Who’s to blame? The "hard-headed" technician who "hates" change, or the fleet’s management who failed to properly manage the change?

The answer: Fleet management.

“Resistance to change is because of lack of understanding,” explains George Williams, an instructor of the University of Wisconsin’s maintenance management certificate program and CEO of ReliabilityX. ReliabilityX is an asset management and operations consultant company.

Lack of understanding from the technician means inefficient communication and guidance from management. Perhaps lack of vision and poor planning also contribute.

Luckily, people are predicable when it comes to change, and that allows fleets to better prepare for future changes. The goal is to guide the team through the transitions and land on effective, evolving implementation that is sustainable for the fleet. This is called  change management.

Change management can be broken down into two parts, explains Williams: management and leadership.

Management includes the process, tools and techniques used to ensure changes are sustainable for the fleet. Leadership is ensuring technicians are aligned with the change and motivated to implement it. For a change in the maintenance bay to be successful, fleets need both.

And it starts with the “change curve.”

Understand the “change curve”

Resistance to change is a normal human response. It stems from fear of the unknown. In a perfect situation, technicians would embrace changing procedures with open arms every time. But, it’s important to always prepare for the worst-case scenario: technician resistance.

To prepare, the first step is understanding how humans respond to changes. A common way to reference this is the Kubler-Ross model (See Fig. 1). The Kubler-Ross model is widely known as the “Five Stages of Grief.” When this model is translated into change management terms, it is known as a “change curve.”

The change curve illustrates how people will react when a change is introduced. The stages are: shock, denial, frustration, depression, experiment, decision and integration.

  • Shock – A feeling of surprise or being caught off guard when a change is introduced.
  • Denial – Disbelief the change is taking place. Often, the person will look for evidence that it will not take place.
  • Frustration – A person will recognize the differences because of the change, and sometimes become angry or frustrated by them.
  • Depression – Low morale and low energy results from the frustration.
  • Experiment – There will be initial engagement with the change.
  • Decision – After engagement, people will learn how to work with the change and start to feel more positive about it.
  • Integration – Finally, changes are willingly integrated into the workflow.

Guide technicians through the change curve

Once it is understood how technicians will react to a change, fleets can prepare to guide their team through every stage.

A shortcut to this can be broken down into five stages of leadership: vision, engagement, coaching, recognition and demonstration.

  • Vision – Create a shared vision among employees by helping them understand the change, the reason for the change and the benefits of the change once implemented.
  • Engagement – Explain the importance of the change. Do not give up when there is resistance.
  • Coaching – A combination of support, challenge and direction. Help others achieve changes that may be difficult to implement into their workflow. Don't let obstacles get in the way.
  • Recognition - Acknowledge achievement and continue to clarify the benefits of the change.
  • Demonstration – Assure benefits have been gained from a change being implemented and that they will not be lost. Be a role model.

Some technicians may sail through the change curve and others may get ‘stuck’ in a stage. The important thing is to find ways to get everyone in the fleet on board with the changes. If a fleet is doing “everything right” in communicating with a team member and they are still resisting, consider giving more consideration to their perspective. Was this person or department considered in the process to implement the change? Were they given time to respond, critique or provide input in the decision? If not, perhaps they are seeing something that’s been missed, and in that case, it’s important for them to be heard.

Anchor change in work culture

When a new goal or process change is introduced in a fleet, it may initially be demotivating. But, remember, if it were never introduced the process would remain stagnant. Goals and changes force operations to think critically about their performance.

In general, all processes should be reviewed after every significant change to the business and introduction of new equipment, or every three years, advises ReliabilityX’s Williams.

(See ‘Find maintenance ‘problem-spots’ in a fleet using management software’ for more information on how data can help justify process changes.) 

When reviewing the current process and setting new goals, be sure to develop clear expectations which will be communicated effectively to the staff. 

“Otherwise you are unfairly measuring them against a yardstick they don’t know exists,” Williams says.

As technicians warm up to the idea of a change through guidance from fleet management, they will advance through four steps of engagement: awareness, understanding, buy-in and ownership.

  • Awareness (“I heard it.”) -  Realize a change is taking place.

    During this stage of engagement, technicians have some knowledge of the change, develop a view of the change based on their personal position and will ask questions.

  • Understanding (“I get it.”) - Know the rationales and implications of the change.

    In this stage, technicians have realistic expectations of what the change will deliver and when. They understand the rationale and implications behind the change, and know what they need to do.

  • Buy-in (“I live it.”) - Behaviors shift and skills develop.

    Technicians will start to agree with the change in this stage. They will adjust their workflow to implement the change and participate in discussions related to the change. They will also respond quickly to requests related to the change using new skills and approaches. Technicians will also deliver feedback about the change back to the fleet.

  • Ownership ("I own it.”) - Those that implement the change now help others do the same.

This stage is the end goal. Technicians now take ownership of the efforts and the success it brings. They start to help other technicians make decisions and take actions aligned with the change, and support the outcome. In this stage, technicians will independently spread the message of the change and its process to others in the fleet.

By understanding and anticipating the natural stages of resistance when introducing changes into the maintenance bay, fleets can better prepare technicians for transitions in their workflow.

Information gathered from the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering’s Professional Development course “Maintenance Management 101,” instructed by George Williams and directed by Jeffery Oelke.
About the Author

Vesna Brajkovic | Associate Editor - Vehicle Repair Group

Vesna Brajkovic is associate editor for the Vehicle Repair Group.

Brajkovic has covered the transportation industry for a number of trade publications, with a focus on the vehicle maintenance and automotive aftermarket industries since 2016. Prior to that, she covered the global aviation industry as assistant editor for Endeavor Business Media's AviationPros.com, and held a number of editorial positions at an award-winning community newspaper.

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