Learning from Success

May 1, 2015
Sometimes great achievements in one department can reveal deficiencies in another

As I have mentioned before, I have returned to my first love in the shop: selling. After a particularly good week on the sales front, one of our managers threw down a challenge: “I bet you can’t do it again!” Challenge accepted. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that our increased workflow had not created much extra stress for our file handlers and they both felt like they and our team of techs still had margin for more. That’s absolutely great news for a sales guy like me! That means I get to start getting creative about finding more and new opportunities. 

But here is the thing about capacity: Eventually that margin shrinks and the weak points get exposed. 

We see this all the time in the body shop vs. paint shop dynamic. At times, the body shop is flooded with work while the paint department is slow. Then it seems like all of a sudden things flip. Now the paint department, which was bored just the day before, is overwhelmed the next. Of course the goal is always a nice, steady flow of work from one department to the next, but things rarely—in my experience—work out that neatly. 

The same has been true for us on the sales vs. operations side. Sometimes sales is working just as hard and fast as they can to capture all the work that is coming toward them; for instance, on the first sunny day after a snow storm. And while all that work is being captured and processed (estimates written, follow-up calls, setting up rentals, making files, contacting insurance companies), the operations team—what we call file handlers—are twiddling their thumbs wondering where all the work is. Then it hits them, like a flood. Now they have to order parts, assign the work to technicians, follow up with supplements, get the cars moved from body to paint, and on it goes. 

The learning for us recently is that as one department fills the margin of the other, weaknesses are revealed. And when weaknesses are revealed, tensions go up between departments. Here is a specific example: 

As we write more estimates and process more cars in our intake, it becomes easy to overlook details or to write a half-hearted estimate and just assume that things will get tightened up in the supplement process. The reality is that they will, but at what cost? Now the file handler has more work to do. Longer supplements require more time and effort on their part. That extra effort creates a tension where they do not trust that the intake team has their best interests in mind. That is fertile soil for misunderstanding, lack of trust, and frustration on all sides. 

The lesson here for us has been that success and growth in one department creates new challenges and therefore opportunities for frustration for others on our team. It’s like squeezing a balloon. If you squeeze it on one end, the other end absorbs the added pressure and gets distorted and vice versa. 

For me, the lesson has been that success in any given area does not always feel like success, or at least it does not feel like I thought it would. Instead, success causes all the weak spots and constraints in the overall business to be revealed.

But this is really a gift. We are familiar with the idea that every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve. The same can be said of success as well. As the weak points get revealed, we have an opportunity to change things up, to grow, to create a new process or standard. 

In this particular case, what we did was create two new checklists that every job must go through before it gets put into production. There is a list of items to do before it goes on the calendar. Then there is a second list to go through when the car is on site, detailing what happens before the handoff to a file handler. If you would like to see our lists, let me know via email and I am happy to share it. 

Here’s to learning from your success!