Time to Take Out The Trash!
It’s great to get home after a long day at the shop and finally relax. I remember one particular night that things took a wrong turn before I wheeled into the driveway. The trash can was not out to the curb again. I asked how this could be, one of my sons said, “Oh is that like every Wednesday?” This is the point where it seems the best thing to do is to do it yourself. Situations like this cause me to reflect a little. I recalled my drill sergeant at Fort Dix saying, “You men are lacking one of two things, either motivation or training”. I then drafted a chore chart that included the days of the week, description of the job to be done, and my sons initials indicating they fully understand the standards and what to expect if their performance is not satisfactory. Things went pretty smoothly from then on. Management and parenting have many similarities. They both require leadership, accountability, discipline, praise, and respect.
Shop owners and managers are a special breed. They will do whatever it takes to get the job done. They handle every crisis, wear too many hats, and usually work way too many hours. Working like this eventually results in constant exhaustion. It will affect your decision making ability, your physical health, mental health and personality. Eventually you and your business will be in a state of decline.
The fact of the matter is that you are only one person and you can only do so much. No matter how much you push yourself, you just cannot get it all done. The “to do” list gets longer every day. You begin to lose your enthusiasm. You may even begin to feel distant to people in your daily life. You owe it to yourself, your employees, and your family to correct this dysfunction and lead your company into a future worth looking forward to.
For years we have all heard the mantra of working on instead of in your business. The problem with that would be that immediate change would be way too drastic to be practical. After all, you can’t go into the shop tomorrow and make extreme changes instantly. What you can do is to begin to analyze the situation in your shop. Begin by paying attention to what you are spending your time on, all those situations that you are reacting to during the day. Keep a pocket notebook and write down what events are consuming your time. After a few days you can review your notes and determine the root cause of these situations. In other words, not just what fires you are putting out but how are those fires getting started? It could take a week or two of monitoring the situation for a pattern to emerge. Take your time and determine what needs to change so that things run more smoothly.
Analyzing this information correctly means digging deep to get the reason things require your involvement. Your shop should run smoothly in your absence. You may discover that your employees are simply unclear about their responsibilities. There may not be any set policies, procedures or clear guidance. They do not know what to do when challenges arise, so they bring the situation to you. When you put that fire out, you have successfully fixed the symptom, but not the problem. Once you have determined the problems, put them in order with the most pressing concern at the top of your list.
Begin having regular shop meetings. Share your vision for the future. Begin and end each meeting with something positive. Develop a structure for your meetings. For example, have a concern, something that you could be doing better, and the cause. Begin by asking what might be one of the reasons we are falling short of the mark. The last is correction. What are some possible solutions? Take notes during the meetings to review later. Ask open ended questions. Having these regular meetings will demonstrate your vision for the shop and help you connect with your employees at the same time. Hold these meetings at least once a week. To help with focusing on the daily priorities have a quick meeting just before opening each day. I call this the morning huddle. You can discuss the priorities for the day ahead. Get progress updates on all the cars that are currently in the work process. What parts are expected to be in, what has to be done, and in what order. Just a quick overview so that everyone heads off into their day feeling like a part of a team. These meetings will also help you address some of the concerns you have discovered. The second part of this two pronged approach is to lay the groundwork and structure that defines exactly what each employees’ job requirements are, as well as company policies and procedures in any given situation.
Your employees will never be successful if they are not crystal clear on what is expected and what are the agreed upon standards. It is your job to train and motivate your employees to attain the company goals that you have prescribed. There must be a clear understanding of expectations before there can be any accountability. Using your recent observations of your company as a guide, begin working on three documents that will help you manage and grow your staff and your company. You need a company policy book, a procedures book, and job descriptions for every position in your company. If you already have any or all of these, you many consider re-evaluating them with new eyes. It may be time to update them to meet the current needs of your company.
Job Descriptions; Begin with an overview. Describe the basic function of their job, the purpose and goals. Then cover the typical tasks that are performed. Describe the required performance standards. There are many templates to use as a basic starting point. Customize it and make it fit exactly what you want from each position in your company. This is the best way to communicate to each employee what you expect and what the job entails.
Company Policies Book; This could also be referred to as a company handbook. The following is a list of topics you may want to include: attendance, appearance, drug & alcohol policy, workplace safety, employee pricing, vacation and holidays, probationary period, social media, and time card procedures. It is intended as an overview of the company. As things crop up over time, you may decide to write a policy to cover a particular topic. You will now have the ability to address the situation once and for all by crafting a policy and adding to your company policy book. Begin with the basic topics, and add policies that experience dictates and you will be well on your way. Having policies in place will benefit yourself and your employees.
Company Procedures Book; This can be very helpful to your employees. How is the phone answered at your shop? If it’s never the same way twice, you can write a phone policy. Answered by the 2nd ring, answered by a service writer or manager only, the standard greeting is: Thank you for calling Undercar Digest, this is Bob, how can I help you? Always answer with a smile and pen and paper in hand. You can write procedures for racking cars, how inspections are performed, how comebacks are handled, or anything else that requires it. Be sure that everything you do conforms to local, state, and federal laws.
Continue to take notice of how time is spent by yourself and your staff. Introduce new policies and procedures at your weekly meetings. Have each employee sign, indicating that they understand what is expected. Keep that on file and provide them with a copy. You will begin to see your shop run smoothly. Your employees will be happier. Your customers will have an improved experience. You will be in a position to work on your business, You will no longer be just reacting to one crisis after another. Profitability will improve and stress will diminish. It is time to take out the trash by holding you staff accountable instead of holding their hands.