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Transparent Leader

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Take a look inside the employee break rooms at any of Richard Fish’s four Fix Auto locations in Southern California and you’ll find some seating, a kitchenette, and a foosball table in the corner.

But a closer look reveals that the room serves a greater purpose than just a communal space for employees. Nearly all of the walls are covered in scorecards detailing key operating metrics in the company. 

“What I witness with small business owners is that they measure but they don’t share it with anyone,” Fish says. “My view is that I have a moral obligation to share all these reports with my employees, so they can feel the grace of their accomplishments or their failures.”

For Fish, sharing all of the metrics with his employees is part of an overall shift in leadership strategy, changes that have helped drive consistent growth in all four of his Fix Auto locations in Oceanside, Long Beach, Tustin and San Clemente, Calif. Each location is among the top in Fix Auto’s network, and the shops combine for $13 million in annual sales.

“It’s our willingness to pursue a different way, and a recognition that we’re never, ever done,” he says. “When you measure things, even if you don’t implement all the other lean-type practices in your company, if you just measure and share those measurements, you’ll be shocked at how they improve.”

Becoming a Student of Lean

Fish spent his early years working for other multi-shop operators across the country before relocating to Southern California and purchasing his own body shop in 2007. He grew the shop, Coast Collision Centers, to two locations before deciding to join the Fix Auto network in 2011. During this time, he also became devoted to lean manufacturing processes.

Fish began to “focus fanatically on process improvement.” He made sure all of his managers received PPG Green Belt training, developed meticulously crafted SOPs, and ensured that the front and rear end of the shops were set up to follow lean tenets, most notably implementing a complete disassembly process. Fish says implementing the process has resulted in efficiency gains and reduced cycle time.

“What we found is that we run a pretty tight ship,” he says.

“We’re not firefighters, we’re fire preventers. There’s a lot of sanity in our body shops because we stick to some very basic fundamental tenets that have served us well.”

Driving improvement

After joining Fix Auto, Fish added two locations, bringing his number of shops to four. As his company continued to grow, he says he started to consider how he could consistently drive change throughout all of his locations.

“Through my own experiences, I knew the only way you drive and sustain change in a company is that you have to cheerlead it,” he says. “You have to own the change, but one of the ways to keep things alive is to measure, measure, measure.”

To do that, Fish adopted a transparent leadership style that allows all of his employees to become intimately involved with the company’s performance.

“The way we drive and sustain change in the company is that we share every single key operating metric in the company with our employees,” he says. “If you’re a porter or the top technician or a painter or a service writer, everybody knows where we stand in the marketplace because we made a choice to proactively share every one of those metrics.”

Sharing the Metrics

To easily share the company’s performance measurements, Fish decided to go straight to the employee break room.  The scorecards he created list key performance indicators (KPIs), such as sales, supplement rates, cycle time, rental cycle times, materials cost usage, CSI scores and average repair orders, broken down into monthly increments.

JUDGE FOR YOURSELF: All four of Fish’s Fix Auto locations post a large array of key metrics on their break-room walls. The openness about the business’s numbers helps staff understand where they stack up and the improvements that can be made, says Keith Baxter, the manager of the Oceanside facility. Photos by Kyle Espeleta

“There are probably half a dozen reports on the wall and they’re all labeled. Even on the label, it says what the report is and how often it should be posted,” he says.

The reports are broken down to detail each of Fish’s operations, plus the top shops in the Fix Auto network, and other shops in the marketplace (which Fish obtains from Fix Auto).

He also compares all four paint shops against each other to give painters an idea of how the other shops are performing.

“There might be a painter who’s struggling in one area, but if they see other painters who are actually doing what that person is struggling with, they’re more inclined to reach out and ask for help,” he says.

Fish says that he purposely chooses KPIs that are easy to understand and clearly relate the company’s core values, such as number of repair orders, cycle time, CSI scores, paint cost per hour and sales per employee.

“Our theory is that these are the measurement indicators that we’ve chosen to share and if we keep them moving forward, we’re adding a lot of value to the industry and we’re really fulfilling our value proposition,” he says. “Our value proposition is essentially high-quality repairs done really fast.”

According to Fix Auto-Oceanside center manager Keith Baxter, who has been with the company for four years, sharing the key numbers has been a welcome change from his prior work experiences.

“From where I worked before, a lot of this information we produce for our people here is not shared as much. You always have to guess or you have that one company meeting out of the year and the owner comes up and says, ‘Hey we’re not doing this right.’ It’s always that bad meeting,” Baxter says. “The difference between what we do here at Fix Oceanside is that we want everyone in the company to be aware of where we’re at, where we stand, what we’re doing, how they’re doing, where we’re going.”

Fish says that although he tries to make the reports as easy to digest as possible, he also supplements them with training, frequent meetings to go over KPIs, and the publishing of his yearly What’s Important Now (WIN) document, a one-page piece that lists key objectives that each shop is trying to accomplish in the coming year.

“If you read that, you’ll know exactly what our company is trying to accomplish within the next 12 months,” he says. “We try to keep it simple. The goal is that anybody could look at the scorecard and not need a single number explained to them.”

Fish says displaying metrics has been the key to not only cultivating change, but also to creating a culture that embraces and consistently strives for change.

“What it’s allowed us to do is bring pride into the equation,” he says. “Because when you measure things, people want it to be better. And frankly, it’s had a favorable impact on our employee retention. They have pride in the business.”

A Key to Resolving Problems

Since creating what he calls his “strategic break room,” Fish has started to involve his staff even more. At the end of every night, each center manager leaves Fish a voicemail giving a one- to three-minute synopsis of what happened in the day.

‘A PRETTY TIGHT SHIP’ For the last few years, Fish has been dedicated to implementing lean practices in his shops. The focus has been on “fundamentals” that help the business operate efficiently. Photos by Kyle Espeleta

“The whole idea is that they tell me enough information that I can keep abreast of what’s going on at each of the shops, but also to participate in supporting them if they need help,” he says. “I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t burden them.”

Fish also holds monthly meetings with his operational review team, which consists of the center managers, production managers, accountant, human resources, and a corporate support contact from Fix Auto. The group provides feedback, which Fish integrates into his WIN documents.

The scoreboards have particularly helped Fish’s paint department, he says.

“We opened our Tustin center in July of 2009 and for a solid 18 months, the level of paint materials usage was exorbitantly high, relative to sales. It was just out of whack,” he says.

Fish worked with his paint jobber at his Oceanside location to develop a month-end paint department scorecard, which measured liquid cost per paint hour produced in each of the paint departments.

“The first two months we started measuring, the Oceanside store was noticeably better than on their scorecard,” he says. “They were probably four or five dollars per paint hour cheaper than Tustin.”

After two months, Fish sat down with his painter in Tustin and they brainstormed improvements that could be made. He also invited the painter to have lunch with his Oceanside painter. By the third month, Tustin was only $1.50 behind Oceanside.

“It’s a good thing to know that you’re accomplishing what other stores can’t do,” Baxter says. “You can call it friendly competition but it’s a nice thing to go in and see you’re in the top two or three stores every month. It’s a great feeling to go home and share with your family that you work at a great place.”

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