Cure for Confusion
A human resources plan can replace confusion with professionalism, and take your shop’s efficiency to the next level.
Bob Waldron, owner of Lancaster A-1 Auto Body CARSTAR, was plagued by daily irritations and interruptions. “I was finding negative aspects in the shop everywhere I looked, with employee attitudes, productivity, quality and attendance,” says Waldron, from Lancaster, Mass.
Waldron wasted half a day—every day—monitoring issues like break times and cleanliness for his 38 employees. Once, he even had to go out and buy a razor and shaving cream for an appraiser who arrived at work looking too scruffy to meet with customers.
“My daily planner was filled with nickel-and-dime tasks,” Waldron says. “I was wearing myself out getting all those things done when I should have been concentrating on big-picture business strategies.”
After 29 years in business, Waldron sought help. “I needed to bring in someone who had a better understanding of business administration and employee issues. I needed someone who could sew all those pieces together,” he says.
Michael Bragulla, CEO of Hartford, Conn.-based Integrated Benefit Partners, was the answer. Waldron hired Bragulla in January 2009 to develop a human resources strategy for A-1’s two shop locations. Bragulla—whose services run $3,000 to $25,000 annually depending on the number of shop locations and other factors—helped create an employee handbook, safety manual, employee policy manual and job descriptions, as well as equipment and shop maintenance expectations.
-Michael Bragulla, CEO, Integrated Benefit Partners
With the new HR plan, complete with clear job descriptions, Waldron’s shop soon saved $60,000 by cutting a front office position. Because of the clarity of the plan, employees were happier, and technician productivity climbed 24 percent. Most importantly, Waldron reports spending less time at the shop, sometimes even working from home. And the time he does spend? It’s on marketing and sales strategies, rather than trips to the drug store.
Why HR Matters
A solid HR plan eliminates confusion and increases professionalism. Shop operators are able to set clear, mutual expectations with employees. Rules are no longer created on the fly.
Marcy Tieger, principal of Irvine, Calif.-based Symphony Advisors, says shops without HR plans tend to experience miscommunication, inconsistent application of rules, varied treatment of employees, and inefficiencies on the shop floor. That leads to distrust in the workplace, she says: “Having a professionally written HR handbook will create far more continuity in the shop, and ultimately allow shop operators to lead their organization more effectively.”
Phil O’Connor, owner of POC Collision, allows his employees to use the shop in their free time to work on their own vehicles. But until recently, O’Connor didn’t have any policies in place to regulate that, and some technicians took advantage.
“I had people working on their cars whenever they wanted to,” O’Connor says. He had one technician with three vehicles on the premises at any given time—one in the shop, two in the parking lot. Another technician had his car in the shop for several weeks, holding up a bay.
O’Connor says the extra cars in the shop began to affect daily workflow. “Without a policy, it was hard to be fair and consistent with how we regulated the problem—and not show favoritism to certain employees,” he says. He found himself spending hours addressing the problem repeatedly.
O’Connor amended his employee handbook, establishing clear rules about when and for how long employees could work on personal vehicles. “If you don’t have those written guidelines, there’s a tendency to make [exceptions],” O’Connor says. “The more variables you have, the harder it becomes to manage.”
Parts of the Plan
It’s important for all businesses to have an HR plan—especially for larger shops with many employees. A good plan keeps everyone accountable. As your shop grows, it becomes more important to have and to follow an HR strategy.
The most common and critical elements of a strategic HR plan include:
• Employee handbook. The handbook spells out everything pertinent to employees: employee expectations, shop rules and regulations, compensation, vacation policies, dress code, cleanliness, code of conduct, required certifications, emergency evacuation procedures and safety guidelines.
• Job descriptions. Create a description of tasks, responsibilities, performance expectations and quality standards for each employee. “If shops don’t lay this out in a document, people will perform at the level they’re accustomed to performing,” Bragulla says. “It’s important to have this in place to support employees’ personal and professional development.”
- Fawn Richardson, office manager, POC Collision
• New employee orientation. “Employees tend to assume that what was acceptable at their previous job is acceptable in the new position—unless they’re told otherwise,” Bragulla says. A specific orientation procedure will help set your performance expectations for each employee.
• Rewards and recognition programs. “People need to be told they’re doing a good job,” Bragulla says. “Shop owners should have a program in place to continue to motivate their workforce.” (See the “Way To Go!” article from the October 2009 issue .)
• Standard operating procedures (SOPs). Clearly written SOPs explain, in detail, proper shop procedures. Without effective SOPs, shop operators often have to address the same issues multiple times with multiple people, O’Connor says.
The Employee Connection
Employees today expect clear guidelines from their employer. In fact, that perceived professionalism can play a role in where they choose to work, says Tieger. Having an HR plan could help you obtain—and retain—quality employees.
Bragulla, who has consulted 16 collision shops, says the industry demand for skilled technicians will continue to increase, making retention of good employees crucial to a shop’s success.
Fawn Richardson, POC Collision office manager and creator of the shop’s HR materials, says they experienced a lot of wasted time with employees asking redundant questions, controversies over shop regulations and procedures, and improper training and orientation procedures.
Consistent standards put every employee on the same playing field, Richardson says. Having policies in place—and addressing problems before they occur—has decreased her workload by 10 hours, to a more manageable 45-hour week.
More importantly, employee turnover at POC has decreased by nearly 75 percent. Not only does that save money otherwise spent recruiting and training, it has also played a role in the shop’s cycle time improvement. Employee morale is up too, Richardson says.
Secure Your Success
HR plans deliver potentially big benefits: increased professionalism, greater employee satisfaction and performance, lower cycle times, and even decreased costs. To get that, you’ll need to invest some time and, most likely, money.
For shops on a budget, paint companies with value-added programs and some local chamber of commerce websites offer free HR tools and templates to help you create and launch your plan.
As you develop your plan, consider these tips for maximizing your time and your plan’s effectiveness:
• Get help creating your plan. “Shop operators need outside help to put a good HR plan together,” Bragulla says. He recommends shop operators work with an HR professional or an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law.
• Update your materials. “Smart employers review their HR materials at least once a year,” Tieger says. State and federal laws periodically change. It’s important to have a legal or HR professional ensure you remain compliant.
• Get it in writing. Some shop owners have employees sign a form to acknowledge they’ve read and understand every important issue, Tieger says.
• Invite employee feedback. Listen to employee suggestions for ways to improve or clarify your policies, Richardson says. “You will get more buy-in from employees when they’re involved, and that improves productivity.”
• Enforce your policies. Rules don’t mean anything if they’re not implemented, Waldron says. “Employees look for direction and leadership.” That comes from shop operators who follow through with regulations they put in place.
Daily frustrations can thwart strategic growth for your business. An effective HR plan remedies that situation, Waldron says. In fact, the organizational structure is totally different in shops that have an HR strategy compared to those that don’t, Bragulla says: People enjoy coming to work, they’re more productive, they work better as a team, and employee-manager relationships improve. But all of that, Bragulla says, “is based on how well your shop executes the plan.”
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