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4 Steps to an Effective Shop Improvement Meeting

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For years, Jim Kronick employed a 3:1 technician-to-painter ratio at the shop he manages, Hoffman Auto Body in West Simsbury, Conn. But when multiple jobs came in during the day, the painters got bogged down with too much work.

This year, Kronick decided to make the leap and add another paint booth, an apprentice technician and reduce his staff’s burden of work. The result? The shop will have increased efficiency by 15 percent, Kronick believes.

It’s a change that could have a significant impact on his shop—and it’s all thanks to taking the time to sit down and meet with his staff regarding areas of improvement.

In order to conduct successful staff meetings to get his team on board with future changes, Kronick believes it’s imperative to ask for input from the technicians and encourage their professional growth.

“What’s a stumbling block for you?” he asks his technicians.

By introducing change gradually to his staff—he’ll plan ahead by at least a year before implementing a new process—and meeting with his top-performing technicians every day for less than an hour to find areas of improvement, Kronick has been able to raise shop efficiency from 175 percent to 268 percent in the eight years he’s worked at the shop.

Kronick, along with advice from Daren Fristoe, president of the Fristoe Group, a human resources company, outlines steps to effective improvement meetings.

 

Step One: Create a Game Plan.

Before Kronick even steps into a meeting with a team member, he plans in advance. Kronick’s one-on-one meetings take place every day with his top technicians and last 15–30 minutes.

Fristoe says it’s important for the manager to take a look at open items from previous meetings, break down discussion topics and gather any relevant materials to bring to the meeting.

Fristoe advises the manager makes an agenda in advance, posts it and stick to it. And conversation might wander in a meeting, so hold any unlisted topics for the end or a later meeting. Kronick’s plans usually involve increasing efficiency or labor rates.

Kronick goes in with a broad idea and asks his technicians to think about past topics on which he’s solicited feedback. Then, he’ll wait a couple days for them to think it through and ask for their input.

“If you just talk at them, then it’s a lost cause,” he says. “What you’re thinking and what they’re thinking might be completely different things.”

For example, Kronick decided to change the current priming process. He no longer wanted his technicians priming cars, so he set up a seperate prep station for priming. While he was encouraged by OSHA rules and not able to let the team paint in an open area, the separate station resulted in some negative feedback from his team. So, Kronick listened to his team and hired a new technician out of college to solely prime cars. His production rate increased by 18 percent.

 

Step Two: Show the Numbers.

A manager can’t just sit back and share big ideas with his team, Kronick says. The manager needs proof to show the technicians that his idea is not based on thin air.

Kronick uses the management system Dealertrack, which the shop switched to roughly 1.5 years ago, to track the “hard” numbers.

Managers should keep a printout from their management system of the shop’s monthly numbers. If a technician is only performing 52 hours of work in a week and his or her goal is 72 hours, then the manager should present the current efficiency numbers to the employee.

Kronick’s shop is on an 80/20 plan, which means for every 9 hours in a work day, the technicians should produce 7.2 hours. But, this is a tough number to hit, Kronick says. In particular, he pays close attention to the amount and length of breaks his staff takes. Then he’ll reiterate to them that they have 1.8 hours in a day for the s to walk and grab a new car or just standing around and talking.

If a technician is looking for a new way to set up a bay or add a new tool, Kronick will talk about the square footage of the shop floor and how much tools cost. For example, Kronick usually invests in a new tool for his technician when the tools cost around $500.

“That’s a huge investment to ask technicians to pay out of pocket,” Kronick says.

Kronick says whenever possible, he likes to back up his information with numerical equations to show the impact.  

He looks for lost time in the collision center’s overall production and shows the numbers to the employees in four stages: estimates, parts, paints and delivery.

    

Step Three: Establish Trust.

Kronick avoids confrontation. Instead, he’s solutions minded and seeks to talk in open conversations with his team. He’ll start by closing his office door so the technician knows the meeting is serious but he never places the blame on his employee.

Managers should focus on setting ground rules before the meeting even starts, Fristoe says. The manager needs to inform the employee or employees if his or her cellphone need to be turned off and when it’s appropriate to take breaks.

He’ll say, “Let’s talk openly” and, “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Fristoe says trust and feedback go hand in hand. Successful feedback comes from sitting back and actively listening to the team.

He’s noticed many people in the industry complain so he tries to avoid initiating meetings that result in negativity.

    

Step Four: Continue to Check In.

“I can only ask them to change and do the best they can,” he says.

When Kronick first started at the shop, he decided to observe the eight workers in their environment for a couple of weeks. Then one day, he came in early and moved each technician’s bay to a different side of the shop then they had been on. This way, Kronick says, the technicians will be forced out of their comfort zone but know that Kronick took time to do it.

“It’s like driving to work every day,” he says. “From my college psychology background, I learned you want to take different routes each day.”

Kronick will also ask if there is anything that needs to be changed at the monthly, all-staff meetings. And to top off the gradual change being implemented, he’ll schedule a time every 1–2 months to bring in lunch for the team and have them sit through an OEM training session.

Establishing action items at the end of each meeting is important for each individual to focus on the responsibility and task and not feel threatened or at risk of their job, Fristoe says.

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