Lead the Way

Feb. 1, 2013
Two top production managers share their secrets for becoming a great shop leader.

Production managers are more important to business success than some of them even know. They serve as hands-on leaders throughout the shop on a daily basis, and set the tone for the company’s operations and culture.

But leadership skills don’t come naturally to everyone. Many production managers excel at supervising quality and workflow, but lack abilities to be true leaders of the company. Meaning, they’re not always able to derive positivity, motivation and new ideas from employees in order to sustain a productive culture, efficient habits and cohesive team—all important aspects of overseeing a healthy business.

All production managers should strive to obtain that leadership know-how to garner long-term success, says Mike Troxel, production manager at Rife’s Auto Body in Columbus, Ohio. Production managers must be able to constantly improve motivation, productivity and operational processes while maintaining happy, stress-free work environments. Without these traits, production managers will cause stagnant performance, plateau the company’s success, and cultivate a negative culture as soon as the owner steps away, he says.

It’s not as hard as it may sound for production managers to equip themselves with successful leadership skills. Two of the industry’s finest production managers discuss what it takes to be the best of the best, and their best secrets for motivating employees, improving productivity, developing new processes and maintaining a positive environment.

Production Manager: Mike Troxel

Shop: Rife’s Auto Body in Columbus, Ohio


Create contests

Contests are great ways to improve employee motivation. Friendly competition between employees motivates them to continuously boost performance with regards to work habits and teamwork.

I have a monthly competition called the “Big Dog Award,” in which I set certain goals for the staff to strive for. The contest is different each month, and focuses on things such as teamwork, customer service, quality and operations. The entire staff votes on each month’s winner, who receives a trophy and various gift cards.

I also have technicians compete against themselves with individual challenges. I’ve developed certain goals for each technician, and they are awarded with a vacation day if they meet those goals three consecutive months.

The benchmarks you set to win a contest should not be easily obtainable. Set the bar higher every time in order to challenge employees to get better, which ultimately improves overall shop performance.


Train proactively

Proactively preparing your shop for changes in the industry regarding repair methods is essential to maintain productivity and reduce wasted time. You have to stay ahead of new changes so that you’re fully trained to handle every vehicle that lands in your facility, and avoid circumstances when technicians don’t have the knowledge and skills to make a repair.

I send technicians to as much training as possible, as quickly as we can make it happen. For example, I found out that I-CAR started offering certifications in spot welding with resistance welders. I had trainers out to our facility the next morning to certify three technicians. Quick response to training advances is crucial to prevent problems and ensure workflow won’t be hindered due to lack of knowledge.
Production managers should stay in tune with industry trends and news. Pay close attention to manufacturer bulletins and updates, and habitually read industry-related articles so you know what’s coming and what training your technicians need.

Make sure to track and monitor each technicians’ training status. Tracking that information keeps you in tune with knowledge gaps that exist in your facility, and allows production managers make necessary employee training recommendations to the owner.

Idea Development

Establish an advisory team

We implemented an advisory team composed of one representative from each department of the shop. Each member compiles a list of issues experienced in their department, and suggests possible solutions for improvement. The team meets once a month, and everyone is charged with presenting at least one new idea. The purpose is to have a forum strictly reserved to evaluate challenges and promote positive change. 

New ideas presented should not be self-serving. Make sure advisory team members do not pitch ideas that only benefit them or their department. Ask them to explain how the idea will improve performance throughout the shop.

Positive Culture

Develop relationships

Shop leaders can’t be serious all the time. Make room for fun and enjoyment during the workday to shoot the breeze with your staff.

I make an intentional effort to walk through the shop and spend a few minutes with each technician individually. We also take time off periodically to have a cookout or sit down to lunch together. Find things to talk about other than business. Try to understand your employees’ personal interests. Ask about their families and exchange jokes. That’s the perfect way to foster close relationships and open communication.

Those interactions provide opportunities for staff and management to grow together. Employees become more comfortable to speak with their supervisor candidly. That builds trust and honesty, which leads to a lighter, happier mood throughout the operation.

Production Manager: Arthur Klos

Shop: Greater Pittsburgh Collision Works


Reward your staff

Recognition of a job well done is the best way to maintain and improve motivation. I reward technicians with positive encouragement as often as possible—both formally and informally.

Informally, I make a habit of singling out employees. They are publicly recognized in front of the entire staff immediately after something positive is noticed. That gives employees instant gratification and encouragement, and shows that their efforts are always appreciated.

We also have a weekly trophy that gets passed around to employees for outstanding performance. Each week’s winner, who is elected by the previous week’s winner, is awarded with a $25 gas card and time off on Friday.

That acknowledgement is extremely effective, and goes a long way in developing positive motivation. Make sure to give positive recognition the moment good things occur in order to offer instant gratification to technicians. Waiting to say something until a weekly meeting or performance review makes them feel like their effort was overlooked.


Know your techs’ abilities

Fully understand and assess the abilities of every technician, including strengths and weaknesses. Each has various skill sets and areas of specialty. As work comes in, we don’t simply assign jobs to the first available technician. Work is delegated to the technician whose skill set best matches the needs of the job. It’s an effective strategy to boost productivity because jobs are tailored to each technician’s strengths as much as possible.

Idea Development

Listen to your technicians

Technicians experience several issues during their workday that management can’t always see. Technicians also tend to have ideas in mind to overcome those challenges. Shop leaders must keep their ears open and be willing to consider employee ideas for improvement.

We ask technicians to make notes of problems and solutions, and bring them to weekly production meetings. A portion of the meeting is dedicated to allow technicians to voice those ideas. It’s highly beneficial when technicians take the initiative to do that. It shows they are constantly thinking critically about their own workflow, and makes implementation of new processes easier. Technicians know their work habits, and are more willing to accept change when it’s their idea.

Take time to assess and validate all ideas suggested by employees so they know that the suggestion didn’t fall on deaf ears. Sit down with the employee to talk it through. Hash through various shop scenarios, and identify whether the idea would improve operations, or if it could cause other problems. If the idea sounds beneficial, have that employee assist with its implementation. If the idea isn’t good, thoroughly explain the reasoning.

Doing this illustrates to employees that their ideas are appreciated, and encourages them to continue voicing new ideas. Technicians feel satisfied when new ideas are considered. When they’re satisfied, they continue to brainstorm new ideas. It’s a cyclical effect that goes around and around. It also generates positive attitudes, which leads to an ongoing, positive environment.

Positive Culture

Turn negatives into positives

Mistakes will always happen, as much as you attempt to avoid them. The way you handle those scenarios sets the tone of your shop’s work environment. Negativity only breeds more negativity, so production managers should always strive to be as positive as possible.

Try not to lash out at technicians when a mistake is made. Offer advice on how to correct the problem and provide insight on how to prevent the same mistake from happening again.

Rather than simply demanding technicians to follow a better process, spend time educating them about why it’s a better process. Describe how performing a certain task properly will improve their individual performance and profitability.

That shows technicians you care about their success. Offering effective feedback drives positivity and improvement, and turns negative situations into positive learning experiences.