Running a Shop Leadership

Getting Employee Buy-In Through Change

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In his 10 years as shop manager of Rydell Collision Center, a 24,000-square-foot, $5.3 million-a-year dealership shop in Grand Forks, N.D., Randy Sattler has had one constant: continuous change.

From switching paint companies to implementing a team-based production process to undergoing a recent (and drastic) overhaul of the shop’s work-in-progress policies, Sattler and the staff at Rydell are always working to become more efficient, productive and, ultimately, profitable.

“The only thing we’re focused on is getting better,” Sattler says. “Our ownership is so focused on improvement; it’s what our entire company culture is based on.”

The fear for many shops looking to improve, says Jim Smith, senior consultant with Management Success!, is that change often leads to disgruntled employees. In reality, though, it’s mismanaged change that leads to employee frustration, Smith says.

Leading a business through change can be one of the most daunting tasks of a shop owner—but it doesn’t have to be. Utilizing a simple, yet highly successful eight-step process developed by internationally renowned leadership expert John D. Kotter will not only allow your business to implement and analyze its changes, but it will also increase employee buy-in and increase your company’s chances of success.

‘The 8-Step Process for Leading Change’

Kotter is a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard alum, he has written numerous New York Times–best-selling books on the subjects of leadership and business transformation, most of which are based on “The 8-Step Process for Leading Change” he developed.

Sattler doesn’t have that kind of résumé; his leadership skills and managerial ability have been honed on the shop floor. But, running a progressive, forward-thinking facility, Sattler’s views on change leadership, and methods for carrying it out, are virtually identical to Kotter’s.

The core principles of Kotter’s 8-Step Process are taught widely in business schools, and are foundationally the same as what Smith and his team preach to their clients as well. These eight simple steps can transform the way your shop progresses through change.

1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency

“Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.”

The first step in getting staff buy-in on change is making sure they understand that there is an issue that needs to be resolved, Smith says.

At Rydell, Sattler has daily meetings with managers and twice-monthly staff meetings where progress on various initiatives and issues in the shop are evaluated and addressed.

“We’re always looking at how things are working—looking at this and that, and measuring everything,” he says. “If you’re on top of these things, you can see where the problems lie, and it’s easier to demonstrate to your team that these issues are actually there and they need to be fixed.”

2. Creating the Guiding Coalition

“Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.”

Any management decision is going to affect the people working for you, Sattler says. “So, why not have them in on the decision making?”

Depending on the change being initiated, Sattler works with his staff to make decisions and come up with plans. When switching paint companies, for instance, he asked each employee to list the shortfalls of the former product and what they’d be looking for in a new company. Then, every staff member dealing with those products was a part of any demonstrations, and voted on the final decision.

“It helps them own that decision to be part of the group making the final say,” he says.

3. Developing a Change Vision

“Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.”

This is the most important step of the process, Smith says—and where most change initiatives fall apart in shops.

“You have to have a clearly defined goal, and you have to have that vision of where you’re company is going,” he says.

Whether it’s an “emergency” change for a drastic problem or a gradual shift in philosophy, Smith says to focus on what the ideal end result is, and then work your way back by determining the steps you need to take to get there. This gives your decision-making team direction, a pathway to the end result.

4. Communicating the Vision for Buy-in

“Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.”

At Rydell, the decision to move to team-based production was the result of a new shop mindset: The focus was no longer on individual, technician productivity, but rather on the “productivity of the car being worked on.”

“How fast is that individual car getting through the shop?” Sattler says. “That became our biggest measurement and our focus: cycle time.”

Sattler made sure the entire staff, not just the technicians, understood this new mindset, and he explained how the switch to a team system in the shop would help achieve those goals.

5. Empowering Broad-based Action

“Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.”

Change in one area of your shop can affect the entire business, and the changes that you’re trying to make can be hindered by other policies and procedures already in place. Evaluate everything that will be affected by the change, and work to eliminate any hindrances, Smith says.

Sattler also encourages his employees to offer opinions on the processes and systems being put in place: “It’s inevitable that your staff will come up with a different view than you have,” he says. “It really helps to shape the way you view the situation.”

6. Generating Short-term Wins

“Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow through with those achievements and recognize and reward employees who were involved.”

Reward. Reward. Reward. Employees need to see that the changes are working, and that they’re going to be recognized, Smith says.

“One of the best things you can do in getting people on board with change is to make it a game,” he says. “Set benchmarks and goals, and when you hit them, reward people. It’s amazing how it gets people excited about it.”

Smith has had clients that have offered bonuses, raises, vacation time, gift cards, meals and even the use of an expensive SUV as prizes.

7. Never Letting Up

“Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision; also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision; and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.”

Sattler calls it an “evaporating process,” where a process is put in place and people slowly drift back to their old ways.

“It’s a killer,” he says. “You have to stay on top of it, and really enforce the processes you’re putting in place.”

Regular meetings are key to review progress and discuss any problems. It also allows you and your team to make tweaks and adjustments to the process.

8. Incorporating Changes into the Culture

“Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.”

Kotter says culture is made up of two things: “norms of behavior and shared values.” That is to say, a change in your business will not become a part of your company culture until it is fully ingrained into daily work habits and the core thinking of employees.

For this to happen, your team will have to believe that the new way is an improvement over the old, Kotter says, and that success must be visible to everyone.

“This is why changes need to be carefully planned,” Smith says. “Your credibility as an owner and manager is going to be based on whether these changes work. And that’s going to affect your ability to lead through change in the future.”

Sattler has found that, because employees are in on the decision-making process, they clearly understand the results and how they were reached. It gives them a sense of pride with the accomplishments they’ve achieved, he says.

“Everyone takes pride in the changes we’ve made,” he says. “That’s how we’re able to constantly tweak our systems to make it better. Everyone understands the reasons behind it, and we’re all just trying to get better.” 

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