Stop Telling

Oct. 1, 2017
Cut the fire fighting and adopt a more lean-friendly state of mind.

It’s Monday morning and I’m so relaxed. I’m in my glass-walled office here at the body shop, feet up on the desk, tablet in hand checking out the latest interesting articles on Happy, smiling customers are waving at me and blowing kisses through the glass mouthing, “Thanks so much. You guys are the greatest.” Customer experience representatives are in the workspace next to me, telling jokes to each other and laughing with their customers on the phone: “That’s right, Mrs. Jones, your car is going to be ready two days early! I know you have a hair appointment today, so can I deliver your car to you at the salon, pick up your rental car and return it to the rental company for you?”

Insurance adjusters are high-fiving my blueprinters and I can hear them saying, “Wow, I’m so happy to only deal with only one inspection after teardown and even though I’m paying for operations that no one else charges for, I don’t care—it’s the right thing to do.” There are 23 people lined up outside of the shop applying for the one position we have open. 

Now the phone on my desk rings and I grab the receiver. No one is on the other end and, hey, wait a minute, the phone is still ringing, even though it’s in my hand. How can that be? I look down and realize it’s the alarm on my phone that’s ringing. It’s time to wake up and get ready to start another week at the body shop. 

Now, my Monday can go one of two ways. It can be pretty close to what I was dreaming or it can be a grind that I dread facing. One secret to making sure I experience the more desirable option is to have a lean state of mind. Management expert and lean guru Jim Womack has a comprehensive definition of the lean state of mind. To summarize, the lean manager thrives on problem solving, he goes to where the actual problem is occurring, and he performs root cause analysis, all while showing respect for lower-level managers and colleagues. However, the lean manager clearly understands that he cannot and should not solve a problem at a lower level. Problems can only be solved where they live so the lean manager must assign responsibility to lower-level managers and to everyone that touches the process that is causing the problem. These are the people that can actually solve the problem. The lean manager must support and encourage and constantly converse with those whose current actions are contributing to the problem.

I can make this concept even more simple. If your Monday (and every other day) is not like the one in my dream, I’d say to you, “stop telling!” When your CSR says they have a picky customer and asks what should they do, stop telling. When your parts manager complains for the hundredth time about a vendor, stop telling. Each of these problems and all the others like them are not your problems to solve. The truth is that we are conditioned to run around the shop putting out fires and in our mind we get really good at it. The reality is this just expends energy and does not get the results you really want. And worse yet, the problem continues to occur. 

When we are fire fighting, we are too busy and are full of other people’s clutter. Being busy is the enemy of execution and clutter is the enemy of clarity. Stop telling and start guiding. Lean managers are guides that help show people the way by helping them make better decisions. The lean manager knows to put ego aside because it’s not about him, it’s about them. It’s about empowering them to solve problems by performing root cause analysis. When a painter asks your opinion about a color match issue, he typically already knows the answer and ultimately ends up redoing the job. Instead of getting you involved, empower him to mentally go through the color matching process: was the color-matching camera used, were spray outs done and verified, was the metallic coarseness matched, etc. In most cases, paint match issues result from process deviation and by doing this root cause analysis, the painter will arrive at a solution to the problem. You’ve trained that painter to come to you with problems so you can’t be surprised when he does. Now, empower him to make better decisions and to solve problems and do so with persistent consistency. It’s going to be really hard to stop telling and in the beginning you’ll catch yourself defaulting to telling.

A mentor of mine, Kevin Wolfe, has a leadership development company called LeadersWay. From him I’ve learned this:

When we tell, we boss people.
When we tell, we cut out the learning process.
When we tell, we coerce people into doing things.
When we tell, we create more work for ourselves.

About the Author

Steve Morris

The late Steve Morris was the regional director for Classic Collision in California (formerly Pride Collision Centers). He was an Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) and ASE-certified master technician. Morris died April 22, 2022, at the age of 63 of complications following surgery.

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