Guest Column | July 23, 2018

Field Service Leadership – The Director's New Toolset

By Bruce Breeden, principal, Field Service Resources LLC

Field Service Leadership

The traditional business and leadership skills of past service business are not what is required in today’s field service industry.

“Automating A Complex Field Service Operation” was the headline in 2016 when my company was featured on the cover of Field Technologies magazine. I have appreciation of that feat, but also realize that the required outcome today has advanced to innovation versus just automation. By definition, innovation will challenge existing structures, roles, systems, compensation, policies, and metrics. Innovation is certainly a challenge to the position of “that’s not how we have done it around here.” To clarify, I mean innovation that provides customer, employee, and financial value, not just misguided change. As field service leaders, it is time to check our leadership skills to see how they measure up for an era of innovation. We need to ensure we are capable of leading innovation and managing the complexities of organizational leadership in the business environment. 

Recently The Wall Street Journal published an excellent article on how the oil and gas industry has changed the landscape of employing “roughnecks” with digital tools, and new field service roles. The use of augmented reality, data, and analytics has created a new high-tech style of field service requiring smaller teams and more highly skilled field technicians working in coordination with office-based scientists and their systems and analytics. Innovation drives new service delivery models, which in turn provides new value, organization roles, and systems.

Here are major factors that change the way a director leads a service business:

  • Prevelant use of technology in everyone’s job from field service management to online applications for project management, learning, expenses, payroll, documentation, vehicle use, team communications, dispatch and system troubleshooting with IoT, and inventory
  • Everything is mobile
  • Use of big data
  • Cyber security and device management
  • Applications and emerging designs for augmented reality and wearables
  • The aging workforce, limited skilled technician market, and importance of recruitment, on-boarding, and retention. Increasing use of third-party labor, contractors, or service partnerships
  • Employment of multiple generations with greatly different work styles and needs: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers
  • Increased industry and government regulation
  • Customer expectation for immediate support or predictive failure
  • Corporate expectations to improve margins, growth, customer satisfaction, and brand equity
  • Outcome or value based-pricing and contract models
  • Next up: self-driving vehicles and 3D parts printing

Even performance management is and will continue to change to more effective methods. No longer do we wait until the year is over and have an evaluation, review accomplishments, and award a pay increase. Daily coaching and using modern mobile technology to improve engagement with transparent, real-time KPIs has become the norm. Real-time technician location, job status, JSA/safety check-off, and measurement of daily KPI accomplishment is standard. 

To address the above dynamics, service leaders must base their actions in innovation for all points of the business. This may be in the form of process improvement, implementing new technology, team structures, role creation, or communication and engagement tactics. I still believe “systems thinking” is another strong leadership approach considering the broad set of responsibilties a service leader has and the number of cross-functional touch points a service business has within the enterprise.

Here are five main aspects of effective leadership for today’s field service leader:

  1. Lead innovation at all points of the service business based on solid process improvement practices, customer-centric philosophy, employee involvement, technology use, and updated organizational structure and roles. Challenge resistance with logic, customer and employee impacts, expected business outcomes, measured risk, and take action to lead innovation.
  2. Establish a purposeful organization development plan to address knowledge transfer, soft-skill development, ongoing professional development, effective recruiting and on-boarding new hires for today’s technician and engineer roles, technology use and adoption, flexible organizational structures, and management/leadership abilities.
  3. Assign cross-functional technology teams keep abreast of new offerings and determine how to best integrate within the enterprise, develop ROI-based proposals, and lead project implementation and organization adoption.
  4. Master the communications pyramid with multiple channels and styles to effectively inspire the organization to action. Ronald Reagan was know in his time as the “great communicator;” leadership depends on not just the director, but excellent communication skills in all leadership positions, especially with today’s immediate social channels and multiple generations working at one time. 
  5. Lead with the business outcome and metrics in mind for everything you do; innovation, organizational design and development, training, technology implementation, and communications. We’re all busy, but we must be deliberate in all we do to ensure our actual business outcomes are achieved.

Bruce Breeden is the founder of Field Service Resources, LLC and author of the book, The Intentional Field Service Engineer, and creator of the Field Service7 development program.

Bruce advises field service organization leaders on organization development, mobile technology applications and provides technician and management training.