Running a Shop Leadership Shop Culture

The Tyranny of the Urgent

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A Healthy Culture
How a healthy culture brings clarity and lightens your load.

Last month we looked at the intersection of leadership, character and culture as a driver of performance in our shops, as well as a way to raise the reputation in our industry as a whole. This month I want to discuss why culture is so important and consider the benefits of fostering this important aspect of your shop.

Your shop is constantly under enormous pressure. You have insurance companies trying to minimize their losses and encouraging you to get cars repaired as quickly as possible for as little money as possible. You also have pressure both internally (you want to do a good job!) and from manufacturers of repairing vehicles properly so that the people we put back in the cars are safe. Then there’s the customers themselves who are frustrated because of the interruption an accident creates in their lives and they are wondering why everything takes so long and can’t you just, “buff it out and be done in a day?” If only!

Then there’s the daily pressures and the ongoing temptation to focus on “the tyranny of the urgent” (a Charles Hummel term). You need to answer the ringing phone all while managing the competing expectations for quality and speed on each and every job. There there’s the tech who just called in because his daughter is sick and the hard-to-match pearl white bumper, which was painted twice yesterday, needs to be repainted again. And did I mention the unhappy customer standing at the counter clicking their nails on the countertop, threatening a negative online review if you don’t fix the oil leak that is “obviously related”? Wait, wasn’t this the 1996 Celica with the minor bumper damage? And the list grows on.

In the midst of all that, who has time to develop a strong culture and why would anyone take the time to do so? Take a deep breath, try to get out of the urgency mindset and consider these two key reasons why improving your culture actually saves you time and makes you more profitable in the long run:

  1. Culture decides ahead of time how people will behave in your organization. In a sense, having a strong culture saves the shop’s leadership time. It is very time consuming to reinvent the wheel with every decision. But once values have taken hold and a culture is being fostered, people can make decisions without the leader needing to weigh in on every little thing that comes up. Recently, I had a young manager ask me a question about how to handle a sensitive situation with an upset customer. Ultimately he wanted me to fix it for him. Instead I asked him a question: “We’ve talked a lot about our value of caring for our customers recently and how that translates into empathy and creating an effortless experience for them. How would a shop that holds those values have you respond to this customer?” He didn’t even answer my question but immediately said, “I got it” and in that instant he knew what to do. Culture is not created by a platitude that leaders spew or an inspirational poster on a wall. It is created by the hundreds of moment-to-moment decisions that get made on the fly as we go about our work with our core values as a constant point of reference. And once those core values are internalized by the team, the heavy burden of leaders needing to make every little decision is gone.
  2. Culture draws and retains talent. We all spend an incredible amount of time at work. Half our waking hours in fact! In light of that, who we work with matters a lot! Having a strong culture draws the right people to our teams and repels the wrong ones. I was talking to the manager of one of our recently acquired shops about the need to hire a new technician. He sensed I was concerned about the heavy workflow in the shop and said, “Don’t worry. Word travels fast in this town and the techs all know each other. When they hear we are looking, the reputation of this shop sells itself.” That’s the power of an established culture. Once it is in place and known, it “sells itself” to potential hires and customers.

Shaping our shop culture around our core values will never feel like urgent work. But if we understand how important it is and consider that it actually helps us with the more urgent work once it's established we realize that it is worth the effort. The dividends are both greater peace of mind knowing that your team is doing what you would do even when you’re not there, and financial, as you will attract more talented team members that can lead you to a more profitable future.

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