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Training to SOPs

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Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs)—the written documents outlining specific steps for completing a task—is an important step in the process of developing and implementing new procedures. Making sure that employees don’t fall back into old habits is critical, too. Laziness or carelessness can easily creep back into your shop, rendering your SOPs useless. 

To combat this problem, Joe Martin, manager of Gerber Collision & Glass in Fort Myers, Fla., created a training process for new hires to ensure SOPs are reinforced and maintained. The training process has not only proven useful, it’s also decreased the number of comebacks in the shop.

Training to SOPs is actually fairly simple; it’s mainly based on execution and consistency. We wrote SOPs for every department in the shop, including body repair, plastic repair, paint, structural, and front office. When we hire somebody, we give them a new hire package, which contains all of the SOPs relevant to their position. They start with our human resources department, which goes through the package with the new hire and introduces the SOPs. Then, HR administers an SOP pretest. 

This is a multiple-choice test that we created with 3M to see where their skills are at. We have multiple pretests: body department, plastic repair, cavity wax, and structural. The questions run from the more basic, such as, “List three reasons why you would seam seal,” to the more specific, such as, “After body filler has been applied, what is the correct grit of abrasive to use for your first cut of filler?” 

The test doesn’t have to be very long; our shortest is six questions and our longest is 20 questions. The point is that you’re asking specific questions that test their knowledge. When you’re just going through an SOP page by page, it’s easier to say you know it. It’s harder to fake your way through a written test. 

When we get those test results back, we don’t use them against the new hire. Instead, we find out the areas where we need to train. We will then go through the SOPs that they need more training on page by page, explaining the procedures and making sure they understand it. 

Shortly after a new hire starts, a representative from 3M (with whom we have partnered) will come out for two or three days, meet with the new hire and make sure they go through those SOPs together. They already have the pretest results, so they know exactly which areas to hit on. It’s not only more efficient, it’s also more effective because you’re able to spend more time on the areas where they need the help. 

The representatives also spend their time observing the entire shop and checking the quality of our repairs. It’s a good opportunity to check on everyone and ensure the SOPs are still being followed.

For existing employees, it’s still important to keep up the training process. If there are any questions or red flags with a repair, we go right back to the SOPs to pull the facts again. If there is a comeback, that’s where we’re going to find out what step was missed along the way. The SOPs are stored in our body men’s toolboxes, so they are always available. You can also use simple checklists for employees to follow to avoid missing any steps. 

Above all, I encourage feedback from the staff about the SOPs. I want to hear what they think or point out any inconsistencies or problems. During our check-in meetings, we regularly talk about the SOPs. They’re a living document and we change them as need be. You need the full circle: the pretest and the follow-up system in place. If you’re not consistent, it doesn’t matter that you’ve written these SOPs. You need to show your staff that you take those procedures seriously. 

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