Running a Shop Leadership Operations

Meaningful Meetings

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Let’s be honest. Most people did not get into auto body repair because they just love sitting in meetings. This is not an industry that is known for even having lots of meetings. Personally I don’t love meetings either. Yet I have grown to embrace them as an important and necessary part of getting things done.

As our shop has recently grown to two locations, we’ve been having more meetings than we used to. In order to coordinate between the shops and also because of my role, I am now attending similar meetings at two different locations as well as meetings to coordinate efforts between the shops. Thankfully, I’m not leading all the meetings as I have some very capable leaders on my team. In time, I would like to attend fewer meetings as they get traction and take on a life of their own. But, for now, my schedule includes meetings on a daily basis, sometimes several in one day. And I’m learning how valuable they can be.

Here are the types of meetings my team currently has:

Production meeting: A daily meeting of the managers, estimators and parts manager at each location to go over all jobs and talk about what’s next on each. They’re also to prepare us as a team to update our customers. We take notes on every job’s status and what’s next on a centralized spreadsheet so that anyone can update a customer who calls.

“Meetings can go from meaningless to meaningful by being clear on why they are needed and having a clear agenda and outcomes for each one.”
—Kevin Rains, owner, Center City Collision

Leadership teams: Each week the leadership teams at each location meet to discuss some of the important but not urgent items. This meeting tends to blend some of the strategic goals but with a stronger emphasis on the tactical. For instance, a strategic goal might be to improve cycle time and then we’ll brainstorm together the tactics to achieve that or dig into a few actual jobs to see how we could have done better.

OSM: That’s an acronym for “Operation Smart Money.” When I hired a controller, someone who is like an in-house accountant, we decided we needed to meet weekly to discuss how to optimize profits. This is morphing into my executive team that oversees the strategy for both shops. It is made up of my controller, my director of operations, our chief financial officer (CFO) and me.

Shop lunches: This is a monthly meeting for the teams of each location to share a meal in the shop and also the primary place where we build culture. We cater in a meal, typically. This past month, however, we did a chili cook-off for which four team members volunteered to make chili and then we voted on the best one. We also do “atta boys” and “atta girls” at this meeting where team members get to brag about colleagues going above and beyond during that particular month. We start by going around the table and everyone shares a bit of “good news” that is happening in their personal life. We also read a recent positive online review.

Department lunches: The general manager from each location has a budget to take out one department each week to lunch and just check in and say thanks for what they do for the wider team.

One-to-ones: I personally do a one-to-one lunch or coffee weekly with a manager as part of their personal development and again as a way to encourage them and thank them for their unique contribution to the team. Even just listing all those meetings feels draining! What I have come to discover recently, though, is how much actually gets done in those meetings that could not happen any other way.

For instance, there’s no way we would have the culture we have grown in the past few years without the monthly shop lunches. When those started it was hard to get anyone to even talk. Most of the team did not even want to be there. But over time people started to open up and learn to both receive and give praise for a job well done. It has also been a key time for us to share for a few minutes one of our core values, like customer service, generosity or quality craftsmanship.

What can you do to foster more meaningful meetings?

The first thing is to review the meetings you have and make sure there’s a clear purpose for them. What is the meeting intended to accomplish? Then be brutally honest and ask if it is actually accomplishing that.

Second is to have an agenda for each meeting prepared ahead of time if possible, or at least at the start of the meeting. Then set an end time, with an alarm, for the meeting and move through the agenda from the most important and pressing topic to the least. Sounds obvious and easy, but in practice this takes a lot of skill. For one-on-one meetings I like to use a question I learned from Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations to set the agenda: “What is the most important thing we need to talk about today?” 

Third, make room for the various personality types in the meeting. Extroverts will help get a conversation going but will also happily dominate meetings, whereas introverts may have something really crucial to add but will gladly sit on it rather than put it out there. This may mean calling on a quieter team member with a gentle, “You look like you may have something to add here … ” and giving time and space for them to share or the freedom not to if they’re not ready.

Lastly, make a list of three to-dos that are needed and who is going to do them—decisions that were made even if no action is required right away. And list any changes of direction that were agreed on.

Meetings can go from meaningless to meaningful by being clear on why they are needed and having a clear agenda and outcomes for each one.

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