Six Tips for Building a Strong Partnership with Maintenance Staff
Most well-managed tax credit sites have one thing in common: the ability of management and maintenance to work in a cohesive and productive manner. Working as a team requires both parties to understand the site's objectives and how each area's specific functions contribute to its overall success.
It all begins with the hiring process, says Zachary Howell, a director of the Apartment Maintenance Institute, and a subject-matter expert for the National Apartment Association. When screening potential maintenance staff, consider how each candidate will represent your site, and look for those with a positive, can-do attitude and great work ethics. “Hire quality people first, and then train them how to do maintenance,” he says. “You can't teach someone how to have a good attitude and come to work with a smile on their face.”
Compatibility is also key, says maintenance consultant and author Lou Hager. “The management and maintenance relationship should be like a marriage with both parties sharing a connection and common view of issues,” he says.
But hiring appropriately is only the first step. Building a strong, team-oriented relationship with your maintenance staff requires some effort on your part to break down communication barriers and gain a better understanding of the work that is involved. We've asked Howell and Hager to share their tips for building a strong partnership with maintenance.
Tip #1: Communicate Constantly
Meet with your maintenance manager every morning to review the plan for the day, prioritize activities, and align your efforts, whether it's focusing on work orders, unit turnovers, preventive maintenance, or special projects. It's important for the office staff to know what the priorities are at any given time, so that they don't make assumptions about maintenance's time or make promises that they can't keep.
Tip #2: Walk a Mile in Your Teammate's Shoes
“A maintenance supervisor doesn't understand the complexities of filling the units or collecting the rent in a timely manner—and the manager doesn't understand how to fix a dishwasher,” says Hager. “It's important for team members to have mutual respect for what the other person is responsible for.”
The best way to gain a better appreciation of the work and pressures that other functions deal with is to spend a day observing. “You could learn a lot about how your maintenance staff spends their time, how they deal with residents, how they problem solve, and why various activities take so long,” says Howell. Job shadowing offers an incredible insight, he adds, and should be part of new site staff's orientation process.
Tip #3: Give Maintenance a Budget
A common area of conflict between site managers and maintenance involves the site's financials, yet the majority of maintenance managers never see the budget or know how much is allotted for inventory and materials, says Howell. “Maintenance staff receive no training on cost control or inventory control, yet hundreds of thousands of dollars flow through their hands in the decisions that they make.”
Giving maintenance even a basic budget will help them to manage expenses better, and will help them to make more informed decisions about when and where to spend funds. “And those are the types of decisions that will inevitably make the manager and the team look good,” he says.
Tip #4: Make a Work Order for Every Request
Many managers wouldn't think twice about tossing out a simple request to maintenance in passing, such as changing a light bulb in a common area. But oral requests such as this put the burden on the maintenance worker to remember the task and work it into his daily schedule. If his agenda for the day is already packed, chances are the request will be forgotten.
There is a difference between a service request and a work order, Howell stresses. “A request is somebody asking you to do something—and with anything requested orally, there are no guarantees. But once it is documented in a work-order form, then we have a piece of paper that is a guarantee that it will be done.”
Tip #5: Get Detailed Information When Taking Work Orders
Management staff can help to streamline maintenance's time on work orders by collecting more detailed information upfront. For instance, a work order for “a broken toilet” doesn't give maintenance enough information to identify possible problems before going to the unit. As a result, maintenance staff generally end up making extra trips back and forth to the shop to get the necessary tools to complete the task.
Practical Pointer: To aid office staff in collecting the right details on work orders, Howell suggests working with your maintenance team to create a list of the top work-order issues and questions staff can ask to help maintenance to diagnose the problem and save valuable time. For instance, staff can narrow the possible issues on a request to fix a broken toilet by asking: Is it leaking? Is it flushing? Is it hissing?
Tip #6: Motivation Sets the Tone
Quality maintenance staff are not easy to come by, so be sure that you have processes in place to retain them. Competitive pay and recognition will go a long way toward driving performance.
One of the best motivational tools, says Howell, is offering the opportunity to grow their skills through additional training, which demonstrates that you think they have long-term value. Other on-the-spot techniques for recognizing good work may be as simple as passing out a $5 Starbucks card, or an extra half-hour off on a Friday afternoon, he says. “Those are the types of things that really show that you appreciate people. As a manager, you set the tone; you create the environment for success or failure.”
Lou Hager: Maintenance Consultant and Author; (714) 240-2293; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zachary Howell, CAMT: Director, Apartment Maintenance Institute; (503) 209-2760; email@example.com.
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