Running a Shop Leadership Operations

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

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Last week we blew one of our daily goals out of the water. And what excited me the most had nothing at all to do with the fact that we surpassed a goal.

We have a daily goal in our shop to deliver six cars each day, Monday through Friday. I want that to become the average, normal day. Last Friday, we delivered 17 cars and had three more ready that could have gone but the customers were not able to pick up for various reasons.

Now, I know for some that is not a lot and perhaps delivering 20 cars is just an average day. For others, delivering six might feel like a very large goal or even a dream. For us, however, getting 20 cars through our detail department was a massive feat. Many of the deliveries had just been painted and reassembled that very day. To do three times the number of cars on a single day was breakthrough work on my team’s part.

But again, that is not what excited me the most. What really impressed me was when I went around at the end of the day to thank the team for their extraordinary efforts, they all started pointing at other team members and gave them the credit.

“Now, after several years, we have a culture of encouragement that I used to only dream of.” —Kevin Rains, owner, Center City Collision

I started in our detail department and gave one of our detailers a high five and a “way to go!” The first thing out of his mouth was, “We couldn’t have done this today without paint doing such a great job this week on keeping the paint jobs as clean as we’ve ever seen them. I don’t know what they did but they should get the credit because we hardly had to buff at all.”

I thought that was interesting, as detail had been complaining for weeks about overspray and how dirty the paint jobs were and how much extra work it had been at the end to get cars ready for delivery. Hmmm. Next, I sent a text to a manager and thanked him for organizing the cars in such a way that we were able to get that many delivered. He immediately said, “Honestly, Andrew did that.”

I texted back, “How’s that even possible? He wasn’t even here today!”

“Well, he did such a good job earlier in the week it made today seem easy,” the manager said. “All those cars were already on a fast track to detail before he left yesterday.”

And on it went. Department by department. Every time I thanked someone for their efforts, they immediately credited someone else.

This is literally the stuff my dreams are made of! I knew that each person I thanked had a huge hand in pulling off that many deliveries. But they deflected the praise and pointed at someone else.

And just so we’re clear: this has not been a normal part of our team’s culture. There have been seasons where my team felt very underappreciated and there have been conflict between departments. And I know that this is something that needs to be nurtured, but no matter how hard we try, it is likely there will be conflict and blaming between the departments in the future. However, this day needed to be remembered and marked as a major breakthrough, not just in productivity, but even more importantly, as a win for our culture.

Jim Collins in his outstanding book, Good to Great, talks about “level 5 leaders.” One of the core traits of a level 5 leader is their ability to take the blame for their team’s failures and to credit their team for the wins. Jim uses the images of a mirror and a window. Lower-level leaders look in the mirror when it’s time to assign credit for the wins and out the window to blame others when there’s a loss. Level 5 leaders do the opposite and look in the mirror when the team fails and ask the really hard questions about what part they may have played in that failure. Then, after a win, they look out the window to see who they can give the credit to, even when they had a huge part to play in achieving the win.

For several days after this big delivery day I was asking myself, “How did we turn the corner on getting our team to credit others for the wins we are currently experiencing?”

What kept coming to me was our shop lunches. Once a month, we gather our team in the shop for a meal. We shut the shop down for an hour and spend that time eating together and talking about our goals and how we’re doing against them. But the part that may be finally starting to stick is the “atta boys and girls” that we do.

At first this was just about the managers finding a few team members who demonstrated extra effort in some way over the course of the month and singling them out with a short word of praise and a small gift card of some kind. But then we started having the team do the “attaboys” or “attagirls” for each other. The first few times we did this there was very little response. But last month, the managers noted how this became the longest part of the lunch meeting as there were so many people wanting to make sure their coworkers were getting the credit they deserved. Every time we started to cut it off, another hand would shoot up in the air and we’d do “just one more.”

The best part for me is how this practice of encouraging has gone from something we did at a shop meeting that felt kind of uncomfortable, and at times even a bit forced, to now being just a normal part of our day.

So to close this column out, I need to give credit where credit is due. I want to look out the window and say thanks to Chris, our director of operations, for instigating this practice at our shop meetings. Now, after several years, we have a culture of encouragement that I used to only dream of. Thanks for seeding this into the culture many years ago. I hope seeing the fruit of your labor is gratifying. I, for one, deeply appreciate it.

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