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Create a Cohesive Team

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In the flurry of managing your shop, it’s easy to overlook an important part of developing your leadership skills—building successful teamwork among your employees. Though the task may not seem like it should rank high on your priority list, it really is essential to ensuring the efficiency and profitability of your business. When employees aren’t working as a strong unit, they can disturb workflow, productivity and morale—and, unfortunately, that’s something your customers may notice.

“I had to get my wife’s vehicle repaired, and you could tell the morale wasn’t all that great there. They weren’t acknowledging me or other customers,” says Norman Rose, president of Excel Sales Consulting in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, of his recent experience at a body shop.

Rose’s experience isn’t as unusual as you may think. He says that shop owners and operators often miss the importance of bringing their team together to create a single cohesive group. “We get caught up in our day-to-day and don’t see it within our own collision centers, [but] there is definitely a need for attention to it,” Rose says. “It’s what creates a distinct advantage over competing shops.”

Here, Rose shares how to develop the leadership skills needed to build successful teamwork among your employees. Better yet, he sheds light on how these strategies can boost both your productivity and your bottom line.

THINK POSITIVE

Fostering a strong sense of teamwork within your shop begins before you even set foot in the door. “It really does start with attitude,” Rose says. “It’s critical—number one in my book. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always easy in the body shop business.”

Leaving all of your personal problems at the door—a hard task at times, no doubt—is essential. Your team will notice what frame of mind you’re in, so try to shake off any issues you may be dealing with and remain upbeat, he says. “It’s important to remain optimistic as a leader.”

COMMUNICATION SMARTS

Adjusting your attitude is important to bringing your team together to improve efficiency, but developing a great set of communication skills is also critical. As an leader, how do you achieve better communication? “Make time and realize inefficiencies in your shop,” Rose says.

Calling regular meetings between the front office staff and the technicians in the back, for example, can help solve a common shop communication problem. “It’s important to have production meetings to make sure expectations are met [regarding] repairs, timelines and delivery times. It’s all about teamwork, and if there’s a disconnect in communication, that affects your customer,” he says.

“If you’re not setting goals, you’ll keep experiencing
the same things.”
—Norman Rose, president, Excel Sales Consulting

Getting your entire staff on the same page and addressing potential problem areas is a must. For example, is a certain employee not working well with the rest of your team? Is there a snag in a particular repair process? Does everyone understand what is expected of him or her to help the shop run smoothly? Are your employees treating customers properly? Taking the time to address any issues in your shop will go a long way to ensuring successful teamwork.

COACHING YOUR TEAM

You may not think of yourself as a coach, but mentoring employees is a great way to motivate them, assess their skills and offer encouragement and feedback when needed. The end result is that productivity increases and you’re getting more cars out the door.

“You really need to be on the front lines,” Rose says. “For example, if you see someone ignore a customer for five minutes because they’re talking to another customer, you should pull the person aside and talk to them about it.” You should aim for continuous coaching in a relatively informal way, he says. Your employees will appreciate the more relaxed way you approach them, and they’ll also be more apt to work harder and to improve.

Setting expectations is an important aspect of coaching and can be done during employee evaluations. According to Rose, when you go over standards regarding a person’s attitude, communication skills and teamwork you are able to assess how things are going. “What you get out of that is what’s working and what’s not working,” Rose says. “It’s important to have that communication.”

A part of reaffirming expectations is also establishing goals for your team. “If you’re not setting goals, you’ll keep experiencing the same things,” Rose says. He cautions against setting too many, though. “You lose focus and you’re not effective; you’re pulled in too many directions. If you pick two or three key goals and develop action plans for these goals, that will help you eliminate barriers,” he says. “If you narrow it down, they’re much more achievable and manageable.” Your employees should also have a say in what goals they’d like to set for themselves, thus providing you with an additional opportunity to work on your coaching skills.

HANDLING THE EXCEPTION

So, what to do if a particular employee is uncooperative and unwilling to work together with everyone else? Rose suggests remaining upbeat. “The first thing is to bring them in and start positive—do a one-on-one. Don’t do it publicly. Positively greet them. Explain and identify the troubling behavior—what you saw or what you recognized,” he says. “It could be a lack of support, phone skills [or] disrespect for other employees. Then ask them—and this is key—how they think they can improve in this area. Avoid telling them. If they come up with the solution, there’s a greater chance they’ll improve. Draw them out through questions.”

Make sure the employee also understands the consequences of his or her behavior. Rose provides the example of a person who has a poor attitude. In this situation, it may be useful to point out that the person is clearly not making new friends and is eliminating productivity, as well as the fact that you’re not happy. If the problem persists they could even lose their job. “They have to understand the consequences,” Rose says.

The last step is to follow up. “Make sure you document the meeting and have a follow-up time,” Rose says. “In the meantime, monitor them, compliment them—publicly even—and continue to coach them.”

SMOOTH OPERATING

Realizing the importance of building strong teamwork within your shop is a time and money saver that you can’t afford not to take advantage of. The results will be more than worth your while. “It sets standards within the employees—of accountability and commitment,” Rose says. “Everyone is working more in harmony, which is going to increase productivity and the number of cars going out. It ties in with speed and trust. If there is higher trust, cost goes down and speed goes up.”

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