5 Lessons Learned As a Lead Field Technician

June 29, 2020

What is it like to be a lead technician? What are some of the challenges and how can you overcome them? When I was getting started I wished there was somebody to share some of the things they had learned along the way. I wished that somebody had put something together like I've tried to do here.

So these are some of my lessons learned. I'm by no means a guru. I don't have all the answers. But it's my privilege to come to you and tell you my truths and my story.

5 Lessons Learned

So there's five things, five things that I want to tell you here today. And I'm going to really break some stuff down here, I'm going to tell you about some real failures that I've had. I'm going to tell you a little bit about some successes that I've had. And I'm going to really put it out there.

Watch the video above.

Who This Is For

This video is directed at lead technicians who are leading other wind technicians in the field, those who are aspiring to be a lead technician and even managers who are here to make sure that their relationship with their leads are really sound and they can work together better.

And if you've been a lead for a long time and you have some comments and some things to add to this please do add to the comments below. I would love to hear your input on what it takes to be a good leader especially a good lead technician because it is a pretty unique role absolutely.

What Is A Lead Field Technician?

Lead techs are pulled in two different directions all the time. One being from the managers above them and then the techs down below them. And that's always going to exist. You're trying to serve two masters and that's a tough task. You want to take care of your guys in the field and make sure that they have everything but you also want to make sure that the business is moving forward and those who are above you looking at numbers and just overall macro-type items that they're pleased with the performance of the wind farm as well as the technicians.

So there's five things, five things that I want to tell you here today.

Andl let's go in reverse order. Why?

Because.

Let's get into it.

5. Train Your Replacement

Lesson number five: train your replacement.

It goes against all your natural feelings of protecting your job and keeping the thing that provides for you and your family but what you don't realize is you need to train your replacement so that you can advance in your own career.

Think about it like this, if there's no one to replace you you're not going anywhere. Throw a tech a bone, let them know exactly how you do what you do and how you're successful at it. In that case, that person can actually be there when you're not there. You get it? You need to move up the rung of the corporate ladder.

And so today don't be so, don't hoard all your information. Basically don't be an asshole and insecure. If you're an asshole and you're insecure about what you're doing then you're just going to always be where you're at. You've got to be able to rise above. You've got to be able to step up to the next level.

And you want somebody to champion you along the way, somebody who's got your back, and training your replacement is really important. Let your guys know that you want them to be better than you at your job. You've got your own ambitions, chase after those, do your job well, but make sure that you leave a rope for the next guy to climb up.

4. Set Clear Expectations

Solution number four, set clear matrix as to succeed. That doesn't really work. Wow, sorry about that guys. How now brown cow. Solution number four... Step number four, set clear metrics on how people are going to be evaluated. We all know we got those year end evaluations and to be quite honest they're rigged, well they were in some of the companies I worked for at least. It didn't really matter you were going to get a raise or you weren't based on if the company was doing well or not. But that doesn't mean that you as a leader should not have clear metrics as to how you're going to evaluate the technicians below you.

Not Corporate Culture Expectations

Now, your company might have some evaluations for corporate culture and things like that like, "How do we assess this person?" And this isn't really having to do anything with that so get rid of that. All right. That's your company's corporate stuff.

What you need to do is clearly let somebody know how you're going to evaluate them.

Show What's Being Expected of You

This is what you've got to do. First, explain to your technicians what you do as a lead technician. Go through everything that you have to do, what your responsibilities are. Be very transparent about this, let them know how you're evaluated by the superiors above you. And then you can set a clear matrix on how you are going to evaluate them.

Say, "Look, I'm being looked at on how this wind farm is being ran. I'm looked at as how well we are doing our day to day functions, how well we're spending money, if we're spending too much or spending too less, what kind of inventory tracking I'm keeping track of, what are my work orders looking at. I'm being asked what kind of solutions do we have for the future? What are my projections for the next couple of years? I'm being asked to just be a good leader and make sure everybody is safe," and not anything in that order.

Line That Up With What You Expect of Them

So you explain way better than I just did what your responsibilities are and then you go to them and you say, "Look, this is what I want you to do and this is how I'm evaluating you," and you line it up. Now you get to pick and choose how you're going to evaluate your technicians or maybe your company has a company mandate that tells you exactly how you've got to evaluate them and then you're stuck in the little box. And hey, that's corporate life so get over it and do what you got to do and move on and set the matrix for what they need to be.

Let Them Know How to Succeed

Clearly define how these technicians can see success. All right. They're going to want to see results, they're going to want to see more money, they're going to want to see maybe rise to the rank. If I'm a one I want to be a tech two. If I'm a two I want to be a tech three. How do you do it? How do you clearly define it? If your company doesn't have that defined or ready you've got to help them do it. Because people need to know what they need to do to succeed and to make you happy and when they make you happy let them know, "You made me happy today boys. You're doing a great job." Don't hold back on those compliments. Keep them coming man we like that shit.

3. Get Organized

Steps three, get organized, organized with your materials, organized with your tools and organized with your communication.

Keeping info handy

Organize Your Documentation

But let's focus on this part, the organization of your documentation. The first thing you've got to do is you've got to get all your ducks in a row and those ducks are lottos, JSAs, work orders, technical documents that tell you how to do what you need to do out in the turbines. You need to create a travel drive or some kind of cloud space that has all of your information digitally so that your techs can access it.

And you need to clearly let them know, "This file system is organized this way so that when we communicate together I can tell you exactly what file this document is in. Do not change the order of documents, not move documents around. That might sound like I'm being a little bit controlling but it's for our better good because we can then communicate about where things are."

A Story

So I've got a perfect example about this. In the beginning, I had to teach a lot of new guys so there was a lot of material that just didn't quite click until they got into the turbine and then it really clicked. They were like, "Oh man, this is awesome." And there was a couple of people that just like to have things the way that they did. But when I would share all of the information, and granted I shared all of the information I didn't hoard anything. I always told my guys, "Look, I want you to be better at this than I ever was."

I had given the information and there's a few guys that actually like to move things around because it didn't make sense for them but when it came down to it they couldn't find it, meaning the document that they needed to do their job, they couldn't find it when they needed it. And I had to explain to them where it was at but it was in that folder that I knew I put it in but they couldn't find it. So it took a lot more time for them to get the document and understand exactly what they needed to do. And back then we didn't have a ton of great tools like Tulli to share documents. So, a perfect example of how to get organized.

Get organized with your documentation and all of the things that you need.

Organize Your Tools

Also, get organized with your tools. If your shop looks like crap clean it up. Put everything in a place where you know that it's going to be next time. The thing that people fight about the most in the field aside from football or whatever is actually where is the tool. Do you have the tool? Do I have the tool?

A lot of these tools are really expensive and we might want our company to buy an abundance of them but it doesn't really make sense all the time. So the tools we do have we have to keep them in a place that we all know that they're at and if they're not there then we know somebody has it and then that person should be like, "Hey, I got it. It's over here. I'm going to be done with it today I'll put it back."

2. Honest Communication

Here's tip number two, open honest communication with technicians. You need to be able to be able to say whatever you need to say (respectfully) to another person...

Praise In Public, Criticize in Private

...and know when and where to say it. If you've got some criticism that you want to share with an individual take them aside, don't do it in a public setting with their other technicians. You want to praise people when there's people around but if you have something negative to say take them to the side. Let them know exactly what they weren't doing correctly and to talk about it.

Warts And All

You want your techs to be open and honest with you. So that means, hey, you've got to be open and honest with them. Do a little bit of self disclosure. You've got to talk about the times that you didn't do things well. You've got to talk about the times that you messed up. You have to show a little bit of vulnerability and you can't be afraid to tell the truth... because that is what sets people free. :).

A Story of Trash Talking Techs

So, let me give you an example when two techs weren't getting along so well. Talk trash behind each other's back because that's what you do, right?

I preferred to actually go out into the field and work alongside them and help them work through their issues with the individual, I liked doing that better than in my office. The whole office experience doesn't feel good. It feels like a pressure cooker, the door is closed. They can still hear through the wall so it doesn't really matter so you might as well just go out. Go for a drive or go in the turbine and do some work with somebody and talk to them.

So, I would talk to an individual and say, "Hey look, I know it man it's hard to get along with people. You're having some issues. Tell me what they are. Let's talk about them." And eventually all of the garbage would come out.

What I'd do: tell them a time where you had that experience, you lowered yourself to that level because you have all done it. But then give an example of when you rose above that level and what the positive things were that happened.

So I shared an experience of being fired from a company and coming back and then working with this individual who fired me and rising above that and saying, "Hey look, we've got to get over our differences so that everything can work out." And he's like, "Oh, okay. I get that."

That's a quick example of having open, honest communication and really communicating about your own faults and that you're not perfect. You don't want your team to think that you think that you're perfect. Have some humility. Be humbled by all of your experiences. Remember them and communicate them to your team.

That's tip number two. I thought tip number two went well. Cheers to tip number two.

I digress. We continue on the journey to mythical freedom of technical leadership...

1. Realize You Can't Do Everything
(and step away when you need to)

And the first of which is... You are not Superman. You can't do everything. Realize you can't do everything.

You're going to definitely have your challenges but you need to be able to stop and even funnel people into the sources of communication you want them to use so that you can manage it better because when you have so many coming at you it can become difficult.

The Story of the Broken Multimeter

I'm going to tell you a story about when I lost my cool and I broke a multimeter. Yeah, that's right I lost my head and I broke a multimeter. I cracked the screen and I had to get a new LCD screen put on it.

multimeter

This is what led up to that situation and it's going to lead up to that for a lot of you too. The stress piles up over time. I think it was about a month into our new self ops and I'm leading about eight guys most of them really fresh and new so they've got a lot of questions. So, I'm on the site I get a lot of radio phone calls or a lot of radio calls like, "Hey Neil, what are you doing over here? We've got this thing."

And so, you might have two or three crews up the tower and they're both hitting you up on the radio, they're text messaging, they're even calling you if you've got cell phone service and then you even have people in front of you. And that's exactly what was happening and I remember we had this GE converter who we were troubleshooting and it was acting funny and I was testing some fuses on the APS card and I'm like, "Okay, this meter isn't going to good." I was trying to teach three people I think it was at least that was at my tower about what I was doing, explaining what I was doing and how I was going through the troubleshooting guide. And then I'm trying to answer people on the radio and my phone and I've got some emails dinging in my pocket about a report that I need to send in.

So at this point I'm stressed and the guys that are in front of me are just wandering and looking around and I'm like, "Man, this isn't good." So, I start testing these fuses and something's not right. I'm like, "This meter is messed up."

And I think it was one more phone call that I got and it just threw me off and I realized that the meter was not reading correctly and we needed new batteries in it and it wasn't able to do its job correctly. And I threw the meter down on the deck and I immediately knew what I did, I had lost my cool. I was their leader and I had lost my cool. And so I said, "You guys, I need to take a break. I'm going to go for a drive."

Stepping Away

And that's exactly what I did I drove about nine miles to the wind farm and I went and I talked to my boss and I told him I said, "Look, I lost my cool this is what I did. I've got to buy a new meter. I've got to repair it." And he was like, "Neil, I'm not worried about the meter." He's like, "You're our guy make sure you're good." And I was like, "All right." And he had my back, he had this, I knew I had his support and I was humbled that he responded like that and I came clean about everything.

Then the next day I got all of my crew together and I apologized for my actions. I told them, "Look, I lost my cool out there, it was a lot going on yesterday. Yesterday was a hard day we had a lot of towers down, a couple of them that had been down, hard down for a couple of days. And we had to compile some lessons learned from the day before." And I just came in humility to them and said, "Look, I ask you guys for your forgiveness here in this situation. I know I didn't get angry with any one of you but I was feeling a lot of pressure. And I did something that I didn't think was of leadership quality."

And man, so much respect from my team at that point. They were like, "No man, we get it you're good." And you know what? That next meeting that followed was one of the best meetings we had because we were able to come together, share ideas about what we had done at different turbines, and I was able to align people out like, "Look, we could do this, this and this, and let's get after it." And then bam, we were good to go and that day went over really well.

About Technicians Doing Their Jobs Better

So a lot of the things we've been talking about today are basic stuff. Things that I learned and things I gave you examples about. Real life examples from the field.

What I'm trying to do is help technicians do their jobs better.

So, I decided to make posts and videos like this and tell you a little bit about a product that I think is going to add some value to you. And we've been working on this Tulli project for a while now and it's actually really coming along. I want you to check it out, download it today, give us your thoughts, give us your feedback,.

Use it to communicate. Use it to keep your information organized. Use it to create checklists. Even use it to help you create better communication and complete work orders. It's a really cool thing. Check it out. I think you'll like it.

Thanks for hanging out.

Neal Gyngard
Tower Climbing Grease Monkeys

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