One year as a field manager

It’s been one year since I took a sharp and unexpected career turn, from acting as a manager of a handful of office based workers, to becoming a middle manager, with other managers reporting to me with line staff.  I wrote my ‘first thoughts‘ after the first week on the blog.

Sunsets over the depot
Sunsets over problem poles and wire (site visit on the way home)


In a similar fashion, I want to review how the year has gone, what I’ve achieved and what I’d like to achieve in the coming years.

Firstly, I’ve gone from 75 staff that ‘roll up’ to me.  Now I have 52 staff appointed and three apprentices. I did not fire a person (I couldn’t even if I wanted to!).  There’s been a wide spread implementation of a voluntary redundancy program, and many volunteered.  The initial 75 didn’t include about 10 staff I came to inherit after it started to seem apparent I was effectively their manager due to geography! What this says is there’s been about 30 (!) staff leave.  A few have moved roles internally as well.  It’s been really good to clear out those who wanted to go – as they were demoralised and unhappy at times, and it didn’t help productivity. That being said, there’s still a huge amount of business pressure to further reduce headcount overall, but there’s no one who ‘wants’ to go in my groups, so everyone is very nervous that voluntary redundancy will evolve to forced redundancy.  Me?  I would prefer we had a mechanism to remove those staff who are a destructive influence to productivity – who ACTIVELY take the business for a ride.  The staff who take inordinately more time and energy to manage than the majority.

Photos of the Kurnell storm 'recovery' (not my photo!)
Photos of the Kurnell storm ‘recovery’ (not my photo! I stayed in the office for the whole time, as I couldn’t have all computer systems working remotely as effectively.  Plus – it was pretty cluttered with people!)

Achievements, of all sizes

  • Improved bins for light globe and head recycling: I was having all sorts of grief with what would and wouldn’t be collected, and with much back and forth, managed to get all the right bins to satisfy the environmental group and appease the waste contractors
  • Bigger truck parking bays: this was a concern to some of the staff, worried about the tiny gaps between truck and the twisting they needed to get in and out.  It was such a simple change (repainting lines) but with many things, just need endless vigilance to resolve the issue

Developing staff

  • Appointed five of my staff to the highest technical training course (and over time, they will get financially rewarded).  Sadly, one of those promoted will move locations to meet business needs, but it’s still a net benefit for him.
  • Appointed four staff to the afternoon shift I oversee, which effectively ‘saved’ most of them from their precarious contract conditions
  • Names an additional three staff for short course training to take on higher responsibilities (again, a pay bump!)
  • Trained two field workers in an office based role – me offering informal training and mentorship for no immediate financial gain for them
  • Two field workers ‘acting’ roles in the office with the financial rewards

Cost savings

  • Returning a number of fleet which were surplus to requirements, to reduce business costs (and the win was: I offered before I was forced!)
  • Rolled out iPads to 90% of my staff, and offered first port of call assistance on every issue <- an epic undertaking!  It’s wonderful to be able to email field staff, and get high resolution photographs in the middle of the work day (not when they get back to the depot)
My fleet includes a boat to inspect otherwise isolated assets!
My fleet includes a boat to inspect otherwise isolated assets!  This was my maiden journey

Overall, I LOVE my job.  To many outsiders, it was a big change.  From the role I was ‘acting’ in for six months to this one, it’s a pay cut, but as I said in my linked post, this role comes with a vehicle which offsets the dollars for me.  What I really enjoy about my job is the people contact, but further than that, the development of these people.  I often feel proud of being able to ‘grow’ the people in a business that is contracting and cost cutting.  I really appreciate a boss who by and large trusts me, and supports me in my crusades and missions.  Occasionally, I’m ‘too passionate’ or ‘too frustrated’!  I feel a sense of autonomy, without having to check in, clock in etc; I feel trusted.

What would I like to achieve in the year ahead?

  • Daily iPad usage  for the ‘getting’ and ‘closing’ or ‘reporting back’ on work.  I want to move away from print outs and the time in the depot morning and afternoon to collect and return items. It will be a watershed moment when time sheeting becomes electronic for field staff, though whether that will be within the next year, I have absolutely NO idea.
  • Personal responsibility to getting tasks done: currently if it doesn’t get done today, it gets passed back in to be ‘rescheduled’.  Things slip through the cracks.  I’d prefer crews/staff knew it needed to get done and ‘fitted it in’ at the very next opportunity.  With electronic jobs, the idea of “lingering” tasks will be more transparent.
  • Productivity increase: simply, not one staff member in the depot after the first half hour (after 7.30am) and before the last half hour of the day (3pm).  There’s a strong lingering attitude, and I want to work to fill 7 hours with meaningful work!
  • Field supervisor led team briefs – smaller groups, shorter, more meaningful (hopefully)
  • Personalised, serious performance reviews and development plans, rather than repeating the same handful of lines for everyone, every half year
  • Focused ‘targets’ to meet for different work programs: there are some standards that are well know (fix street lights in 8 working days), but overall, there’s not a strong focus on meeting this and all the other targets that ‘management’ have.  I’m not sure if it’s lack of visibility and timely feedback loops on target progress, or whether the ‘work tasks’ chop and change every day in the week, so there’s no ownership.

Here’s to a stronger year ahead – lean and efficient, but growing and learning more.

4 Replies to “One year as a field manager”

  1. It is fantastic to hear someone say that they love their job! It sounds like a massively complex situation to have had that level of staff attrition but for all the right reasons. You inherited a very complex situation and it must have been very difficult to work through it so successfully. Even more amazing that you can still say you love it after what sounds like many complicated situations in the first year. It sounds like you have built a good foundation for future goals in that role.

    It’s intriguing to read about what other people do in their jobs! So often, you hear that someone is employed in a ‘such-and-such’ role and it’s hard to picture what that involves!

    1. Thanks Fiona – I know you love your job too, so I’m in good company.

      One thing I didn’t touch on in this post, and happened overnight, was the impact like a freight train, of the lives and families of my staff, and the good and bad news that comes with it. Engagements, baby announcements and then births; but also freak accidents, injuries and the general wear and tear of aging parents and grandparents. I’m thankful to have my faith to personally support me for some of the tougher times.

      I think many people would (perhaps) not have a clue what a day in my life is like, and I should probably also post a ‘day in’ one day. It’s hard – there’s so many different days. Today I will start in our head office to work with IT to improve iPads but this isn’t my core role, but something I’ve fallen into. Other days (yesterday), I’m in my own depot all day, including in the ‘yard’ taking photos of auger bit (ie HUGE drill bits) and inspecting the piles of old poles. Those tasks are more what people imagine, at least within my business, that I do!

  2. Great post! I could learn a lot from you. My job is so different because the day to day work of the staff is ongoing and not very time sensitive. My very favourite part of my job is developing staff. I am proud when someone I’ve mentored, moves up in the library system. I also like supervision and just supporting staff and being a resource as they get their work done. I also get to do frontline work. I am so glad to hear that you are still enjoying your job.

    1. Thanks Dar – I’m curious as to what you feel you’d learn from me? I do feel you and Jo from BlueDay were instrumental in guiding and developing my idea of what a ‘manager’ was when I first acted as a manager, and posted about my first week, and thinking I wasn’t cut out for it! So I feel you were both my mentors and guides, even with a brief paragraph comment!

      Developing staff is just awesome – I’m honing in on the two dozen that haven’t seen development in the past year, and working to see how i can help them grow – I have had an informal chat with one guy who applied for many of the opportunities but wasn’t successful in any this past year. I like them to know I see a future for them, even if right now they weren’t the ready.

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