Empowerment matters

Empowerment matters

Lew Flowers promotes self-directed work force concept to keep U.S. Postal Service’s Oklahoma District fleet running

Lew Flowers promotes self-directed work force concept to keep U.S. Postal Service’s Oklahoma District fleet running

Name: Lew Flowers

Company: U.S. Postal Service

Title: Manager of Vehicle Maintenance, Oklahoma District

Other Positions Held: Trainer, motor pool manager, technician

Industry Experience: 32 years

Professional Activities: Director-at-large of TMC; past TMC general chairman; Silver Spark Plug Award winner; Peggy Fisher TMC Leadership Award winner; past TMC committee chair; past chairman of the

Oklahoma Trucking Association Maintenance Council.

Empowerment and the feeling that technicians are part of a self-directed work force are keys to success in maintaining the 2,100-vehicle fleet of the Oklahoma District of the U.S. Postal Service, according to Lew Flowers, manager of vehicle maintenance.

“We want the technician to feel like it is his own shop,” says Flowers. “We assign technicians a set of vehicles to maintain, and they are responsible for all aspects of maintenance on that vehicle — from preventive maintenance inspections to breakdowns or road calls. We tell the technicians, ‘These are your vehicles to maintain, so you make the call according to our set of standards.’”

That means predictive maintenance may be done before the schedule calls for it if a vehicle is not scheduled to return to the shop for a long period of time.

“Communication about what needs to be done between the supervisor and technicians centers around the work-group assignment,” he says. “It is almost self directed. The tech knows the PM schedule and what he needs to do on a weekly basis. We also get unscheduled repairs written up at night, which we call vehicle condition reports, or VCRs.”

Those reports often are completed by drivers who notice something may not be right with the vehicle.

“The supervisors decide if something needs to be fixed right away, which is the case for all safety-related items, or if the repair is less urgent, Flowers says. “There is a lot of communication between the supervisor and technicians. We have open communications, so a technician can talk to a supervisor at any time.”

There are 41 technicians who work in the three Oklahoma District shops, located in Oklahoma City, Lawton and Tulsa. About 10 to 12 technicians work two shifts in Oklahoma City, the largest of the three shops.

Training

Training is an important part of technician job satisfaction.

“We support ASE certifications and definitely push the program,” Flowers says. “Technicians who are certified have fewer comebacks on their work than those who are not certified. We measure road calls to track performance and also pay close attention to operator feedback cards, which are filled out by drivers.”

Good performance is recognized on a public wall of fame and in private reviews.

“I’m not a psychologist, but intrinsic awards like public recognition or a pat on the back are more important than money,” Flowers says. “When somebody earns an ASE certification, we put it up on our wall of fame. We put ASE certifications and patches up on the wall so our internal and external customers can see them.”

Supervisors will accommodate technicians who want to take ASE tests by making sure their work schedule allows them to attend the test, he says. The Postal Service also has a national training center in Norman, Okla., which is like a large vocational school.

“The Norman training is specialized according to what we run, such as a Mack engine course,” Flowers says. “There is a training plan for each employee.”

Quarterly performance reviews keep track of technicians’ training progress, as well as other issues.

“It can be a pat-on-the-back session or a kick-in-the-rear session,” Flowers says. “We talk about how they are doing and what they can do to improve. We can give a cash award based on the results of the review.”

Recruitment

Flowers says he does not have difficulty attracting qualified technicians.

“We are a pseudo-governmental agency, and people know about our health benefits,” he says. “When technician openings occur, I go to a list of applications, conduct interviews and hire them. We have a written test and a hands-on performance test.

“The hourly wage we pay technicians may be lower than a nearby dealer, but if you add the value of the benefits, it is a good deal. In some parts of the country, it’s harder to recruit technicians because the gap in pay is larger between us and the private sector.”

The Postal Service’s recruiting efforts cast a wide net and tend to get lots of referrals from employees.

“Our Web site lists jobs nationwide, and people can apply for them online,” Flowers says. “The postal family is pretty close knit. Our employees tend to tell their relatives, friends and neighbors about job openings. We’ve got a lot of good ambassadors out there. We’re also involved with Skills USA and TMC on a national level to get our name out there for recruiting purposes.”

Flowers tries to hire technicians with eight to 10 years of experience.

Being green

When your company has a sister organization called the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it’s a good bet you will be environmentally conscious.

“We are very green because the policies of the Postal Service are EPA-driven,” he says. “We sample our waste streams and try to minimize or eliminate certain chemicals.”

The district’s waste-stream analysis showed it is not disposing of any hazardous materials in landfills, Flowers says. Used paint, oil and antifreeze are recycled, and old tires are retreaded or turned into scrap rubber.

“We’ve had lots of successes on the environmental side.”

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