At last week’s Field Service 2011 conference in Chandler, Ariz., executives in managing consulting giant McKinsey & Company’s service practice gave a presentation on fleet and workforce management trends and tips. Much of that presentation revolved around how managers can use technologies such as GPS tracking to monitor field workers for unsanctioned ‘goof time’ — be it tardy starts in the morning or breaks at Dunkin’ Donuts. But another equally important part of the presentation dealt with the importance of employees themselves. People, it turns out, are the linchpin to a successful service organization.

Mitesh Prema, an associate partner with McKinsey & Company, spoke about how a well-trained, engaged workforce starts at the management level. You can sketch the perfect plan on paper, but if managers don’t put in place the right team, with the right people, the system is doomed to fail. A few tips from Prema and the McKinsey team on how to nurture the “people element” in your service organization:

Get the right team in place — Effective leadership will trickle down to workers in the field. Appoint respected employees who understand the business, and the rest of the team will follow. Without effective managers, the best-laid processes will likely fail.

Get away from the desk — It’s essential that managers get away from their air conditioned offices and actually spend time in the field with their technicians. One-on-one interaction is a great way for managers to assess their employees’ strengths and weaknesses, and to provide effective mentoring. Many managers started as technicians themselves, so their knowledge is invaluable to less experienced techs.

Stress training — Clearly communicate what’s expected of your technicians, train them so they’re confidant and capable, set realistic expectations — and follow through. Prema suggests tying performance to bonuses. For larger organizations with multiple field teams, managers can also play teams off each other, using techs’ pride as an incentive to boost productivity.

New technologies and revamped processes can help propel an organization’s service to the next level. But to be successful, any program requires a strong foundation, and people — from managers to technicians in the field — are central to that solid footing.

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