Boggs: Through the Storm

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On September 1, we had an F3 Tornado touch down in our area that left a path more than 13 miles long. If you live in Kansas and have a relative named Aunty Em, that might not be big news to you. Here in New Jersey, though, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event.   

Incidentally, the path of the tornado passed about 500 yards from our church. Having never seen the aftermath of a tornado up close, I was shocked to see our church was untouched despite complete destruction just a short walk down the road. It snapped thousands of trees in two as if they were toothpicks.  

Members of our church walked down the impassable streets to ask our neighbors how we could help. The reality is, those neighbors were in shock and didn’t even know how to assess their needs. 

Our church congregation jumped into action, though; less than 24 hours after the tornado hit, we had 75 people volunteering with their chainsaws cutting down trees while others dragged the branches. By day four, we had 200 volunteers.

Due to the location of our church we became a de facto command center. Volunteers would just show up at our church and ask, “Where can we help?” The biggest newspaper in Philadelphia sent a reporter to capture what was going on. In a matter of days we became the hub of the relief efforts.  

OK, so why am I writing about this? As with most lessons in life, I find there are always applications to our industry.   

How did so much get done?

I was amazed at how much was accomplished in such a short amount of time. The first property we assessed we thought we needed 100 volunteers to work for 2-3 days to get all the trees cut.   We finished that property in 2.5 hours the first night with roughly 50 volunteers.  

Another homeowner thought they needed weeks to take care of all the trees—100 of which were laying criss-cross on their lawn—that were downed on their land. We finished that property in a few days. I kept asking myself, how are people who A) don’t do this for a living and, B) never worked together before and, C) are not getting paid accomplishing so much? The answer is they all had a common goal. Everyone’s purpose was so crystal clear that they knew exactly what they needed to do.   

How many times do techs show up to a body shop each day without a clear common goal? We might think that the goal is obvious and that everyone knows it, but if we take a step back and get perspective, most techs are there to either put in their 8 hours or, if on flat-rate, to make sure they hit their own personal goals of hours produced by day's end.  

How clearly do you or the leaders at your shop communicate to the team what is the common goal? It can’t just be a number to hit. What is the purpose of the goal? What does accomplishing the goal mean to all the stakeholders? Without clearly stating what the big picture is, people can get bogged down in their own little corners and feel like what they are doing is meaningless. It’s proven that when people know why they are doing what they are doing, they will do it more effectively, as opposed to operating blind toward the big goal.

Why did they keep coming back?

To my amazement, there were members of the community who kept showing up night after night. They came straight from their day jobs, pulling into our church parking lot and asking which property they should go help. The only thing we offered them was a bathroom to use and a couple slices of pizza at the end of the evening.   

Yet they kept showing up. 

All around America, help wanted signs are everywhere. And here we were getting free help day after day.    

So, what made people keep showing up? First, I would point back to what I discussed a few paragraphs ago, that they knew they were part of something bigger. But the other thing is they were appreciated. Night after night, the homeowners expressed such gratitude to the volunteers. These were people who had their biggest possessions damaged, if not destroyed, and still, they took time to give every dirty, sweaty volunteer a hug.    

This industry is littered with technicians who don’t get appreciated for what they do each day.   I know, they get a paycheck each week. So does every other working person in America. How about adding in a simple “thank you” or “nice job on that repair” once in a while? That gratitude will go a long way. It will be worth more than a signing bonus or a raise. People just want to know that someone is appreciating their work. And if they are appreciated, they will keep showing up the next day.

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