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Five Mistakes to Avoid in Release Meetings

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Release meetings are critical to making sure shop employees are on the same page on a daily basis, but, when held incorrectly, they have the potential to be unproductive and a waste of valuable time—hindering a shop’s efficiency and profitability.

“There is a lot of backlash about too many meetings,” says Charles Dayton, president of consulting firm ActionStrategy and a former client partner at leadership firm FranklinCovey. “People get tired of meetings. They’re often a waste of time.”

Unlike regular production or more traditional shop meetings, he says release meetings are a quick daily meeting to go over the status of vehicles scheduled to be delivered that day. 

Although most shops hold daily meetings, they are not always conducted in the most effective way. 

“A good meeting can really facilitate collaboration in a way that other forms can’t,” says Dayton, who has extensive experience consulting in the automotive aftermarket. “People recognize the value of getting together to communicate, but if they lack a clear purpose as to why they’re there, people find a way to fill the time with some discussion but it won’t be strategic in the sense of fulfilling its purpose.”

Dayton and Robert Rick, strategic account manager at Axalta Coating Systems, discuss the top five mistakes shops make during release meetings and how any shop can correct those mistakes.

“Whether it’s a part, a sublet, a back order part or whatever is going on with that car, I should be talking about that proactively.”
—Robert Rick, strategic account manager, Axalta Coating Systems

Mistake #1: Meeting Held Too Late

Rick says that one of the critical components to having an effective release meeting is conducting the meeting before the shop opens.

“Shops sometimes don’t have that meeting until nine or 9:30,” he says. “They finally get the information on the cars to update the customer service manager or estimators so that they can productively call customers. The customer has probably already called the shop, no one knows what’s going on with the car and now, by 10 a.m., the status of that car has changed anyway.” 

Instead, Rick says the meeting should be held right away in the morning, preferably before the doors open, or the night before.

Mistake #2: No Clear Purpose

A meeting with no clear purpose is automatically a waste of time, says Rick. A release meeting should have one clear goal: Going over the cars that are going home today and what’s stopping those cars from going home today, he says.

“Whether it’s a part, a sublet, a back order part or whatever is going on with that car, I should be talking about that proactively,” Rick says. “If we have other cars that aren’t scheduled to go home until three or four days from now, we want to touch those cars, but do we need to go through all 20 cars that aren’t going home for more days this morning? No, we don’t.” 

“When you’re talking about productive, be productive about the cars that are going home today and tomorrow,” Rick adds.

The goal with a release meeting is to go over any obstacles that could derail a vehicle’s delivery date and make sure that every department can do its portion of the repair process correctly.

“That way, my customers can be notified and we can follow up on getting the moulding here by 10 a.m., so it can get to the detail department, so that by 1 p.m., the production manager is touching that car one more time and calling the customer with a confirmation that the car is coming home,” Rick says. “We can get proactive to tee up our parts support, our sublet support, our techs and create a sense of urgency.”

Mistake #3: No Action in Place

Dayton often references the book Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem by Brent Peterson and Gaylan Nielson when consulting with companies on creating more strategic meetings. In it, Peterson says that many organizations estimate that 40–60 percent of work would be considered “non-strategic” work.

“A fake meeting is one where there is an unclear purpose, where people are unwilling to make decisions, where there’s no follow-up on previous commitments and no action is taken or planned for,” Dayton says. “As a result, people walk away from the meeting, saying, ‘Did we decide on anything?’ That obviously can create a lot of frustration for individuals.”

Rick agrees, and says that critical information needs to be followed up on.

“Let’s say your car is scheduled to go home today but we’re waiting on a moulding and we don’t know where the part is,” he says. “By 9 a.m., somebody better find out where that part is. If that part is not here, that car may not go home today. We need to know that early in the day.”

Rick notes that there are several ways to ensure actions are in place. Use physical reminders to help staff remain accountable for the jobs that are going home today. For example, he says shop owners can print out information about all of the vehicles from their management system and pass it out to those responsible for that job.

“The painter will have their own list of jobs, the detail department will have their list of jobs, and so forth,” he says.

Rick says another effective method is utilizing a whiteboard on the shop floor that lists the vehicle discussed, the problem with getting that vehicle out that day and the person responsible for fixing that problem with the vehicle. 

“Focus on a 15-minute time slot so that you can be pulling those cars through production and not pushing them through.”
—Robert Rick, strategic account manager, Axalta Coating Systems

Mistake #4: Not Having the Right People in the Meeting

Meetings often become derailed for an easily avoidable reason: The right staff members are not in attendance.

“Sometimes, people will come into meetings and they lack the authority,” Dayton says. “There may be a significant issue but no one can pull the purse strings or make the appropriate decisions to move forward on an issue.”

When deciding who should be involved in a meeting, Dayton says to ask yourself the following two questions: Who has the information that we need to make good decisions? And then, who needs to have this information? 

When it comes to release meetings, Rick says it is ideal that the parts person, production manager, technicians, painters and estimators are all there. 

If that configuration is not possible, he says to hold an initial meeting with the painters, body technicians and production manager, and then hold another, separate meeting with the parts department and front-of-shop personnel, like your team of estimators. 

Mistake #5: Meetings Taking Too Long

A release meeting should only be 10–15 minutes, Rick says. 

“Focus on those in a 15-minute time slot so that you can be pulling those cars through production and not pushing them through,” he says. “If that release meeting turns into other issues—like the shop’s tools are broken or we have a problem with our paint company—that should be a dedicated shop session.” 

Instead, try to stick close to that time limit and steer the conversation back on topic should it veer off course.

“If that becomes a problem, you need to have some clear meeting guidelines and have leaders with the courage to pull people back and remind them why they’re there,” Dayton says. “Candor and confronting reality is important. If people are dancing around the issues and not dealing with the elephant in the room, it creates an unhealthy dynamic.” 

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