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Getting Employee Buy-In

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Those of us in the automotive industry are especially aware that the gear directly connected to a vehicle engine transmits its power to the gear next to it and then through a series of gears (many of which are far removed from the first gear) to make the vehicle move. The connectivity is what gets this power to the wheels on the road. There are some management lessons to be learned from this simple mechanical principle.

First of all, any failure to connect along the line will result in no vehicle movement. Any damaged gear in the series of gears may disrupt the smooth flow of the power to the wheels. But if all the gears are well oiled and perfectly meshed, the vehicle will move smoothly and efficiently to its destination.

“Like a vehicle going up a steep grade, tough economic times test the quality of connectivity in a shop. During times like these, getting total buy-in from the crew to management’s plan of action is vital.”

The primary power source in any shop is the one who does the hiring, firing, and salary payment determination. Power flows from that source person down through the ranks of the entire business. How smoothly that power flows depends on how well the connectivity to all of the others is managed.

Over the years I’ve observed well-meshed shops and poorly meshed shops. Like a vehicle going up a steep grade, tough economic times test the quality of connectivity in a shop. During times like these, getting total buy-in from the crew to management’s plan of action is vital. Disagreements and opposition from crewmembers can weaken management’s forward thrust.

One of the best-managed shops I’ve visited was Yoshi’s in Granada Hills, Calif. A man named Bob Carson was the owner at the time and he had a policy of hiring new techs that were recommended by his existing crew. If he brought in someone they didn’t know, he arranged a trial period to see if the crew would accept him. If not, the guy was gone. Carson knew he needed a willing connectivity between all of his technicians.

Some old-school managers tend to think of their jobs in terms of supervision. Management guru and author Peter Drucker was more concerned with the flow of management power downward. In his classic book, “Management Tasks, Responsibilities, and Practices,” Drucker offers this advice:

“The vision of a manager should always be upward—toward the enterprise as a whole. But his responsibility runs downward as well—to the men on his team. That his relationship toward them be clearly understood as duty toward them and as responsibility for making them perform and achieve rather than as supervision.... If a one-word definition of this downward relationship be desired, ‘assistance’ would come closest.”

A local social help organization executive used a series of steps to ensure total buy-in by the rest of the team. He said “agreement” is the key word. He even suggested getting everyone to agree on the time to hold a planning meeting. When the plan is presented, he suggests calling it a preliminary plan, subject to everyone’s agreement, and getting immediate responses and suggestions for change or improvement. He would then get an agreement to hold another meeting incorporating suggestions for changes and improvements. He said if there are more suggestions after presenting the modified plan, it might be necessary to hold a third or even more meetings until there is unanimous buy-in.

Does this seem extreme or maybe even impossible? Every owner or manager knows his or her own shop and personnel. But it’s also nearly impossible to know if just one disapproving person is quietly sabotaging the management plan. That one person may be the damaged gear that’s out of mesh with the entire drive train of the organization. It’s best to find that out before putting a costly, long-term plan into motion. These open feedback meetings by agreement may be the surest way to get all opposing views and feelings out in the open.

One company has made this open-feedback approach work very well. Namaste Solar, founded in 2004, now has 62 employees and annual revenue of more than $20 million, according to the June 2011 issue of Inc. magazine. Twice a month the company holds what they call a “Big Picture” meeting at which all employees can participate. Smaller groups, such as marketing or production, meet regularly, but no major move is made unless there is total agreement. CEO Blake Jones told Inc., “It takes our ship longer to change direction, but once we do pick a direction, everyone is rowing with full fervor and we reach full speed more quickly.”

A body shop is generally a high-speed operation. Even finding time for meetings can often be a challenge. But there should be little doubt that it’s worthwhile to have all of the gears working in tandem, with no clunkers slowing down the entire operation.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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