Summer Trips Into Fall

By Jeff Dearduff

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray. Summer vacations have come to a close, and the kids are all back in school. Holidays are creeping up on us, and it’s this time of year when Sundays off, a plate of nachos and John Madden become the order of the day. Before you know it, here comes the snow, and at halftime, you kick back and dream about being on a beach in California.
Well, nachos are easy, and Madden is a fixture, but what about those Sundays off? Just as the seasons change, so do the minds around the maintenance shop. Are your crew and your facility ready for late fall and winter? Just as bears try to hibernate in winter (our Chicago species haven’t come out of their last nap yet), so does the enthusiasm and motivation at work.
Here are some thoughts on how to approach the most dismal weather season of the work year, at least for those who live and work in the snowbelt. Those in the sunny South and out West should pay close attention because when this global warming-climate change thing shows up one day, Santa Claus just might be able to slide into Santa Fe, wheels up, and you want to be ready.
One of the first things to get done early, before the brutal cold weather and snow arrives fall, is your outdoor building maintenance and special projects. Maintenance procedures such a checking the roof drains for blockage can be the key to a better spring when the snow and ice melts. Roof-mounted heating systems need to be checked out to make sure they will fire when needed, and what better time to check those belts and filters? Cooling towers, storage tanks and condensers are a real pain to work on when there is a -10ºF wind chill, so double-check all their functions to keep your time spent outdoors at a minimum.
And don’t forget to reset your outdoor lighting system clock so you have a secure perimeter at 5 p.m. when darkness sets.
Nothing boosts morale in a maintenance shop more than engaging your crew in a significant mechanical project. This is not to say you should delay all improvements until this time of year. Rather, take advantage of the season, and keep everybody engaged by strategically planning something interesting.
Wintertime typically has fewer distractions outside of work, so your crewmembers are more likely to remain focused on the task at hand and complete their projects on time. Create a small projects list that includes conveyor rebuilds, fabrication jobs and safety improvements that the crew can pick and choose from.
When people get to select what they want to work on, it usually drives an outstanding result because they feel empowered. In some cases, this empowerment process will lead to that person’s overall performance moving in a positive direction and remaining there in the brighter times of the year.
As the holidays approach and you have to deal with many requests for shift switching or days off so a team member can attend a family function, a little bit of stress might start knocking at the door. It’s important to get an early look at what days the holidays fall on to see how that fits with your typical schedule format. You also have to cover production time on the holidays, so chances are some people are going to have to work while others are carving the turkey or eating the cookies so that the kids think Santa actually came.
Make sure you find a fair way to cover the hours and that everybody buys into what will happen. Open communication with your crew and supervisors is a good way to find the right path to a stress-free holiday season. So start early, and find the right plan that gets you from mid-November through the Super Bowl. (It’s a holiday too, right?)
Another great place to get a nice bang for the buck at this time of year is with training. Here is another area you can plan ahead for. When things are dreary, a little education might be a smart idea. Don’t pile up all your required training  instead of specialty stuff for this time. Start addressing deficiencies in the shop with some PLC training or teach some welding skills. Any training, opportunities that a mechanic will see as helping himself get better is far more motivational than just doing what you have to do to meet company initiatives.
And finally, with everything going on at this time of year, it’s the perfect opportunity to recognize some accomplishments. You typically want to keep this at a level where you are recognizing the crew’s performance as a team, but individual recognition can go a long way. Maybe someone has completed some high levels of training or has been known to lead well when the chips are down. Putting some effort in this direction will help motivate others to be the ones that you talk about next year.
If you really want to be California dreaming in the recliner on that cold Sunday afternoon, nothing will provide that opportunity more than good preparation on your part. When your crew members’ heads are in the right place and your facility is in good shape, you can go ahead and kick back (Boom! Madden-esque), remote in hand. SF&WB