Shop Life Columnists

Boggs: The Importance of Rule Following

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In July of this year I spent two weeks in Poland and the Czech Republic working with Ukrainian refugees. It was an amazing trip and hopefully someday I’ll discuss the trip in this column. However this month I want to talk about my travel experience as I flew in and out of Berlin, Germany. There was a church in Berlin which offered us the use of their van during the trip. We gave away 50,000 free books to children and the van was perfect for our mission.

Driving in Germany is a pure joy. My wife has relatives in Germany so I’ve visited and driven there before. Everyone, and I mean everyone, follows the rules there. German efficiency is not just a saying, it’s poetry in motion. The left lane in Germany is purely for passing drivers. They move over immediately after passing a vehicle. I live in New Jersey, and every lane is considered a passing lane here. And we also get those drivers who do the speed limit while cruising in the left lane. Even bicycle riders in Germany use hand signals to let people know when they are turning. And the best part about it is everything works smoothly. I’ve never experienced a traffic jam in Germany. With everyone obeying traffic laws, people just move along without getting in anyone else’s way. 

When I was walking with a German friend on the sidewalk I accidently stepped into the bike path. He let me know, immediately, that if I didn’t get off the bike path that I would be hearing the bikers ring their bells letting me know I was in their way. 

I would not mind driving for a profession in Germany. To put that into perspective, I lived a quarter mile from our collision center, and if I could afford it I’d fly there every day instead of driving. Driving is not an activity I enjoy. Yet with everyone following the rules in Germany it becomes a very enjoyable endeavor. 

So, it got me thinking about how well we follow rules in the shop, from a rule as simple as where, or where not, to park a vehicle to something like mixing the paint for the repair in the beginning of the repair process versus making the paint while the vehicle is sitting masked up in the booth. Every time we would break rules in the shop it would hurt our efficiency. 

I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to blow a gasket because a vehicle would be sitting in the paint booth masked up while the paint team was struggling to get the color matched. We made the decision in 2008 to verify the color and mix the paint for each repair during the blueprint stage. Yet in 2022, with mostly the same team, we would find ourselves breaking the rules and paying the price. 

Another example of me breaking the rules came in our hiring processes. I learned to interview people at least five times before hiring them. It worked out so well that I hired a bunch of people, following our hiring rules, between 2004-2006 and then we didn’t need to hire anyone for over a decade after that. We would hire someone if the right person came along, but that was just adding to the team, not filing a void. In 2020 a body tech moved into our area from out of state. I went through our normal interviewing process and eventually hired him. He turned out to be one of the best hires I ever made. Just after deciding to hire him a painter moved into our area from out of state as well and asked to interview with us. Feeling like things were going so good for us, I broke the rules and hired him during the second interview. That hire did not turn out well. I had to fire him after a frustrating year. 

So why do we break the rules? I think our culture accepts rule breaking. In fact sometimes it’s even rewarded. I think we don’t realize the consequences of breaking rules until it’s quite painful. The Germans figured out a long time ago that following the rules, even the tiny ones, was beneficial for all. I think we are such an individualistic society that we do what’s best for us, not the good of the whole. 

When I look back over the best periods of our company, it’s when we are following our own rules that we wrote together as a team. We would often stop the system, sit together and talk when the pain of not following the rules had become unbearable. We’d all agree that we weren’t going to let it happen again. Somehow we’d find ourselves having the same conversation again a year later. 

It’s likely that there are rules, or processes, your team has devised together that aren't getting followed on a regular basis at your shop. If you are wishing your team efficiency was better, take a look at what rules are not being taken seriously. Have a review with the team about why those rules are in place and commit to sticking to them before the pain gets too difficult to bear. It will pay huge dividends in the long run. 


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