How to Create HR Processes that Eliminate Employee Problems

Feb. 25, 2011
Human resources issues die down and profitability goes up in shops that have sensible, consistent policies.

Large companies with thousands of employees have always had to have firm policy for just about any human resources situation that could arise. No manager could have possibly dealt with so many individual employee situations. Nearly every potential issue is covered in detailed policy manuals. Likewise, large body shop companies, those with 100 or more employees, typically have job descriptions and other operational policies.

From what I’ve seen, however, most small shops do not. But they should. And here’s why: In small shops with no official policies, such as human resources policies, decisions tend to be made based on the mood an owner or manager is in that day. Yes, shop operators have moods—some mild and some very intense. I’ve known of a few shops where the owners were screamers. An employee’s misstep that was no big deal on a calm day would suddenly warrant a tongue-lashing on a screaming day. Employees never knew what was going to be OK until they saw what mood the owner was in. Needless to say, this inconsistency impacted technicians, estimators, office personnel—and ultimately, the customer.

“Employee input is essential [to policy-making]. The employee who has some ownership in creating or modifying a policy may take pride in following and encouraging it.”

One of the best uses of policy to keep the shop running smoothly was a relatively small shop located in a remote coastal town where the major employers were a prison and a large military base. This was nearly 20 years ago, before computers were everywhere. But the owner of this shop had computers throughout the shop, and detailed graphs and charts posted in his office showing every production and profit statistic. He also had detailed job description manuals providing policy for actions on the job. His was a highly profitable, smoothly running operation in an area where profitability wasn’t easy to come by.

Policies tend to smooth out emotions in the work place. In even a small shop, disputes can arise over proper procedure. A dispute can be settled quickly if there is a policy manual that spells out the correct procedure. Estimating systems have procedure pages for repair, replace, and refinish actions. Insurance companies require shops to follow these instructions on insurance jobs. Shop employees automatically accept them. But I’ve noticed in many small shops, getting employees to follow more general shop policies can be more difficult.

Policy is most easily accepted by a new employee. Employees who have been with the shop a long time may resent a sudden shift to new rigid policy. One way to ease a long-time employee into a new policy is to involve him in drafting a policy that will affect his work. It’s also important to periodically review and update policies throughout the years, since circumstances evolve and change. Employee input is essential at times like these. The employee who has some ownership in creating or modifying a policy may take pride in following and encouraging it.

Perhaps the hardest policies to implement are those that appear to increase an employee’s workload. I’ve noticed several operators who have struggled to get estimators and front desk personnel to encourage customers to fill out an entire customer information form that provides the shop much valuable marketing information. Generally, the employees are in a hurry to get the customer signed up for the repair and to get the job moving. They may regard pushing for a complete information form as an unnecessary imposition on their time. Only a determined owner or manager may be able to make such a policy stick. Other difficult policy changes: rules on smoking, such as where and when to smoke or not smoke; and policies regarding clocking in, clocking out, break, and lunch times.

With new environmental rules and lean procedures in many shops, policy issues will arise often. New record-keeping guidelines and the requirement of more detailed forms will also create the need for strict enforcement of rules. Sadly, the old fun days of simply repairing vehicles and collecting the money are gone. Today’s collision shop is burdened by endless documentation requirements. Fashioning policies that make all of this record-keeping as consistent and simple as possible can keep the burden a bit lighter.

Having firm policies provides other benefits for the shop. If an employee has to be let go, a record of policy violations may provide a firm basis for the dismissal. As a shop grows, the owner might want to join a franchise or networking group, or pursue a DRP relationship with a carrier or fleet management company. Providing this evidence of a well-organized business operation can be helpful in securing the contractual relationship. In this way, well-designed policies can actually increase a shop’s profitability.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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