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Let’s Be Frank – Micromanage your way to success!

By Inspector Frank. August 29, 2019
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Editor’s Note:

Writing under the pseudonym Inspector Frank, the author of this column offers a first-hand, candid view of what he has witnessed throughout his career. His purpose in sharing these experiences and opinions is to encourage readers to think deeper about what they do, why they do it, and the possible impact of their decisions.

Inspectioneering is committed to protecting the anonymity of pseudonymous authors. We do, however, hold these contributors to the same editorial standards as those writing under their own name. In this, we know the author’s identity and maintain communications regarding the author’s published works. If you have and questions, feedback, or concerns stemming from this article, please send an email befrank@inspectioneering.com and we will forward your correspondence to the appropriate party.

“You want me to do what?” I asked while staring incredulously at my supervisor.

“I want you to start explaining to me what all of these inspection personnel do exactly, and why they never have time for company initiatives or these other tasks coming from corporate? I want to know what each individual is doing day-to-day.”

So began one of the more painful periods in my asset integrity career. My orders were to become micromanagement at a level I could have never dreamt up. What started as a series of simple weekly updates devolved into something that was eating up a good part of my department’s time.

My supervisor – a strong, experienced engineer with little to no background in inspection, NDE, asset management or people management for that matter – sent us on a mission of pure banality that  wasted time and provided hours of frustration for me and my team.

We were providing weekly spreadsheet updates that were accounting for almost every minute of every person’s day.

Think about that for a moment. Think of the time that takes. Think about the effect that has on morale. Think about the message it sends to those working for you.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for accountability. In fact, the backbone of a good Asset Management system is all about accountability. If you boil process safety management down to it simplest form, it’s figuring out the right way to do things, and then ensuring the system keeps everyone doing it the right way through audits and other checks and balances. Thereby you end up holding everyone accountable to said system. ‘Cradle to Grave, do it the right way every time’.

Unfortunately, this concept takes a turn for the worse when you apply it at an individual level. Some of you who have managed personnel will be familiar with various tools that get used in performance management. One of them is the work improvement plan. Usually, the purpose of these plans is to document the failings of an employee, discuss the issues with said employee, and all the while, providing a path and a means to improve. A key part of that system is micromanagement. As in, I don’t think you know what you are doing, so you are going to prove you know what you are doing or show you can learn and we are going to document the crap out of it. Obviously, the time spent with the employee, with both of you documenting the process, will demonstrate if that person can actually do their job or needs to be terminated. In the later case, you now have all the ammunition needed to terminate with cause.

Let’s get back to the boss’ excellent adventure in management techniques.

We start documenting how integrity people spend their days:

Time spent prepping for the next scheduled outage.

Time spent closing out the last scheduled outage.

Time spent reviewing ‘on the run’ Inspections.

Time spent dealing with plant upsets and unplanned outages.

Time spent dealing with quality issues.

Time spent dealing with safety audits and field observations.

Time spent reviewing MOCs.

Time spent on RBI (we were in the middle of a corrosion assessment/RBI study at the time).

Time spent reviewing engineering packages.

Time spent in meetings with process.

Time spent in meetings with maintenance.

Time spent in meetings with reliability.

Time spent in corporate hand holding meetings.

Time spent on corporate wide initiatives that have nothing to do with our department’s tasks.

Time spent prepping next year’s budgets.

Time spent explaining why we went over our last year’s budget.

Time spent tracking down poorly filed documentation.

Time spent properly filing documentation.

Time spent arguing over whether that inspection technique will stand a chance in hell of finding that damage mechanism.

Time spent dealing with HR.

Time spent with personnel leaving their positions.

Time spent with hiring replacements.

Time spent reviewing incidents in the industry.

Time spent reviewing if our practices would avoid that incident.

Time spent drinking coffee because you didn’t sleep for a week once you realize there’s a hole in your integrity systems and that industry incident could happen at your facility.

Time spent with salesman and technical service reps that have all the answers to your problems.

You get the picture.

And of course, for us the lucky, the time spent documenting how our time was spent. I started to think my boss didn’t believe that I, or my team, were capable of doing our jobs. When I asked him if that was the case (actually, my words were “if you think I am incompetent, then just tell me, and I will quit”) he stated no, he thought I was good at my job. Well, actions speak louder than words, and his actions were contradicting what came out of his mouth.

Fast forward a few months. What has happened may you ask? We lost a few competent inspectors because they thought this was ridiculous. Replacing them was difficult so remaining personnel had to pick up the critical work that got dropped. Morale was near rock-bottom. His requests for changes to all this tracking had made things even more painful in our day-to-day lives. People were stressed.

But wait, there’s more! After sitting in on higher level meetings with my boss, I realized he isn’t even reading these updates. He is still basically as clueless as he was before about what we are doing day-to-day. All the while, countless personnel hours are being eaten up generating data and information that serves no useful purpose.

In my last article, I talked about how you can learn from failures, including those of others. This is another situation where you can learn from others’ misfortune and another example of an asset integrity fail that would be better for everyone if it never happened at your facility.

What was the fail? There are actually a few good lessons to be learned from this:

Firstly, just because you have a technical expert does not mean they will be an expert at managing people. Like any skill set, it takes training, time, and mentoring to become a good personnel manager. If you put someone new into a role, support them. Don’t assume that the technical skill set and experience of a 20 year engineer or inspector will translate into being an effective manager. If you get put in charge of personnel, take the time to get to know them and what they do before you go off on a wild tangent and ‘redraw the map.’ And for crying out loud, put some time and effort into learning how to manage people.

Secondly, as the expression goes, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. If the person in charge builds a system that looks a lot like performance management at a department level, then maybe it is. At least, that’s how personnel will perceive it.

And lastly, think about the things you (and your department) do on a daily basis that serves no useful purpose. If you’re spending a lot of time generating useless data please stop. Take a step back, reassess and come up with a better game plan.

Don’t be that guy.

As a postscript, I didn’t last much longer with that company. I had been involved in hiring quite a few of those integrity personnel and still feel like I failed them by abandoning them to that situation.

If you have ideas for your own column or article but, like this author, cannot currently publish under your own name, we invite you to reach out to us at editorial@inspectioneering.com to discuss anonymous publication. Be sure to include the work “CONFIDENTIAL” in the subject line.

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