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The Golden Rules of Change

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I recently attended the FenderBender Management Conference (FBMC) and got to meet many of you in person. It was great to network and exchange ideas about business improvement, team building, and customer relationships. If you didn’t attend the conference, I encourage you to go next year, because I believe there’s a lot of value derived from the discussions and presentations. I was able to take away several good ideas and will be working on implementing them at our shops. 

At the conference, there were several sessions that took a deep dive into the concepts of blueprinting and the benefits of implementing this process (In the interest of full transparency, I was a presenter at the conference, but several other people had great presentations on this topic). There were valuable discussions about the challenges that come about when implementing a blueprint system. 

Blueprinting is the cornerstone of a lean organization and is probably the first place to start when developing your overall production improvement processes. Most of my columns this year have focused on blueprinting and I’ve tried to provide insights that should help you avoid some of the pitfalls that we encountered when we deployed our system. I want to close out this topic with just a few more ideas and suggestions for your consideration.

Based on some of the feedback I heard at the conference, I would ask you to consider developing your blueprint process in a collaborative format. One shop owner that attended an FBMC session told the group that his biggest obstacle to implementation was the lack of employee buy-in and outright resistance to trying out the system to which management wanted to transition. He explained that there was this one employee that was very vocal in condemning the project and it was creating dissension between several employees and the management team. 

I’ve had this happen to me in the past and I’ve experienced some pretty spectacular failures of implementation because I forgot the Golden Rules about change. I may have already shared the first rule about change but it bears repeating. Rule One: The only creature on the planet that likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper. Rule Two: Humans will not respond positively to change unless there is a positive WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) that is clearly understood and accepted. 

Now, I certainly realize that our businesses are not democracies where the employees get to vote on everything and the majority rules, but I’ve noticed that good changes happen a lot faster when the stakeholders are involved in the decisions and choices that make up a process deployment. You, as a leader, need to set the vision and make it clear that your company is going in a particular direction, but engaging your employees to develop the plans and procedures in collaboration with your vision is the best way I know to get things changed and have the change be sustained. 

If you’re serious about implementing a blueprinting process, I recommend that you create a team of people from your staff to assist. The team might include the general manager or production manager, an existing estimator, your parts person and one representative each from your body and refinish teams. These people are the ones that will be affected the most by the changes, so get them involved right away in planning the change. Set up a schedule of team meetings where the new standard operating procedure can be worked on together for roughly 90 minutes each meeting.

Start off by explaining that you are exploring the best way to implement a blueprinting process at your shop. Tell the group you have many ideas on the topic but want to have input from the team because they’re the ones that will be doing the actual work once an SOP is developed. Give them an overview of what blueprinting looks like at other shops. Then get them engaged in the WIIFM by asking, “What are some of the things that go wrong in our current process that cause frustration, delays, comebacks, missed parts, or multiple supplements?” The answers will become the focal points for creating detailed steps in your process to prevent their recurrence and you may be surprised to learn that your team already has some great ideas to solve problems and make life easier for themselves at the same time.

When the team honestly knows that they are a major part of creating the process, trust me when I say they will own the process and keep it on course after it is implemented.

Finally, let me offer you a cautionary tale. There are some process ideas we tried that, in retrospect, were amazingly absurd, so let me share one with you and spare you the agony through which I’ve already gone. For some reason, early on in our journey, we had the bright idea that we could fix cars faster if we didn’t put them into production until we received all of the parts. Picture us holding up a quarter panel replacement job just because we had not received the rocker molding clips. This was a giant fail and a real hit to our cycle time and customer satisfaction scores. 

I bring up this example because you will still need to be diligent in overseeing the team as they work on your blueprint processes. During your planning meetings, you’ll want to find the leadership balance that is not dictatorial but is also not a “let’s sit around the campfire singing Kumbaya” hands-off approach. 

In the end, you and your team will be able to come up with a well designed process that works because it was created in a collaborative format that generates ownership of the process. That leads us to Rule Three of change: No human wants to see their own ideas fail.

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