Improve Your People Skills

July 1, 2009
You can make better changes by making change better. Improved people skills are good for business.

It’s not often that employees enthusiastically embrace changes to their work environment, procedures or job duties. But the growth and improvements required to run a successful business rarely happen when you stick to the status quo. Of course, growth and improvement don’t happen when you lack staff buy-in, either. In that moment of change, there’s an opportunity for your business to grow stronger, or to falter. Change management training can help you make the most of the opportunity—and the least of any resistance that might arise in your business.

Change management focuses on developing a set time-frame for the transition from where you are to where you want to be, and then making the change stick. “It is having an organized and proactive method of identifying resistance to change and then doing something about that so that resistance can be minimized and the organization can move toward more rapid acceptance and adoption of the change. By doing that, the change is sustainable over time,” says Lew Lash, director of business development for LaMarsh & Associates Inc., a change management consulting firm in Chicago.

Change management support is available through various books and organizations. Some collision repair organizations, such as CARSTAR, are making the training a part of their toolkit for success. Whether you go for a complete change management training program, pore over the latest how-to books, or simply glean a few tips from shop owners who’ve embraced the practice, you’ll be better positioned to manage the changes your business needs to succeed.


Joe Impell was struggling to convince the eight employees at his 9,300-square-foot shop that when he asked for their input, he meant it. That was a real problem for Impell, who was trying to implement lean principles at his shop. He wanted his team to embrace the new business philosophy and pull together to make it work. “To get buy-in from the employees, they’ve got to believe in it,” says the owner of Premium CARSTAR in Bethel Park, Pa.

Through change management, Impell and his staff learned how to sit down together and work through a pending change. “Now, we talk about it and figure out how to implement it. I get their ideas and input first,” he says. “Before, when I asked for their input, they were either reluctant to give it to me or didn’t believe I wanted it. Now, they look at this brainstorming session as it should be: ‘He really wants our input.’” That confidence from employees has led to valuable feedback at team meetings, and the process of implementing the new lean business philosophy is much smoother.


When Kim Taylor got word of a change from her supervisor, she’d promptly implement the new mandate. Needless to say, that rarely went over well with employees at CARSTAR West in Wichita, Kan., where Taylor is the general manager. “A lot of times they would roll their eyes, make negative comments or have the attitude, ‘Now what?’”

Change management techniques have improved shop communication considerably at the $1.3 million-a-year business. Taylor and her staff now have biweekly meetings that last 30 to 45 minutes. Each meeting is led by the employees, rather than by management. The purpose of the meetings is for staff to offer ideas and observations about management’s latest plans—before they’re implemented.

Things are much more relaxed at the shop now, Taylor says, and job performance is up even when the shop is very busy. “They know we’re all on the same page,” she says of how everyone eagerly pitches in to help boost productivity.


Technicians and office staff were in something of an us-against-them standoff at Randy & Bob’s CARSTAR in Chicora, Pa. And lack of communication between estimators and technicians and between management and bodymen caused confusion and misunderstanding over policies and repair procedures. The result? “You don’t realize you’re on the same team,” says production manager George Hobaugh, whose shop has 16 employees and earns $3.2 million in annual sales.

To improve the situation, Hobaugh applied what he learned in change management training: He took time to sit with his technicians and ask them what made their job hard. Where was the miscommunication taking place? What policies and procedures were they struggling to understand?

Since meeting with the techs, Hobaugh says there has been much more interaction between them and the estimators. He’s also seeing better cooperation between office staff and technicians. To keep the good trend going, Hobaugh is considering scheduling monthly and quarterly meetings to bring the entire staff together to discuss shop business. He thinks such meetings could go a long way to improving employee relations and building better teamwork. “It’s obviously not an overnight thing,” he says, “but it’s something we’re going to keep working on.”


The trick to making good changes in your organization is to get better at how you approach change. That takes some skill. “Being skilled in change management … will help the people in the organization move faster through their natural resistance to change,” Lash says.

Opening the lines of communication, valuing employee feedback and avoiding a “my way or the highway” approach all encourage the buy-in that enables employees to accept something new and different in the workplace. “If you give people a forum in which they can improve their environment, they will want to,” says Rick Miller, CARSTAR director of operational services. Nurturing that kind of business climate increases the likelihood that your changes will take root.

Taylor admits that creating lasting change wasn’t easy, but the end result made the effort more than worthwhile. “Things are so much better now,” she says. “It’s a team effort, and we’re all on the same page now. There’s a definite improvement in overall morale.”

Need a Little Change?

These books and Web sites offer insight and training to help you improve your change management abilities.

The Change Management Pocket Guide by Kate Nelson and Stacy Aaron.
Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Technologies of Organizational Change by Esther Cameron and Mike Green. A plethora of helpful info, including tutorials, a bookstore, articles and training information. A renowned provider of business improvement courses, Dale Carnegie Training offers courses nationwide. To find locations and class schedules, click “search courses” then select “Change Management Training Courses and Seminars” from the “subject area” drop-down menu. LaMarsh & Associates is a change-management consulting firm that has served automotive clients such as Ford Motor Company and United Auto Workers, as well as companies in industries such as insurance, consumer goods and manufacturing. The site offers case studies, a blog and other publications.

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