Building auto repair shop management discipline

Jan. 3, 2018
There are four things that will determine the success or failure of our team members: Skills and Ability, Systems and Rules, Training and Proficiency, and Supervision and Correction.

More than 30 years ago, Lirel Holt, my friend, mentor and the founder of CARSTAR, had determined that most shop productivity issues were related to a lack of management skills. He saw a real need to teach body shop owners and managers how to be great leaders and give them solid systems in order to improve their shop's productivity. The training that he built helped increase shop productivity and changed many shop owners' and managers' lives. The material is as pertinent today as ever.

The training was originally written for production managers, yet the management principles apply to anyone who is in a leadership role. Lirel determined that there were eight “disciplines” that the manager needed to practice in order to be a proficient manager. They are: General Management, Technical Knowledge, Goals and Objectives, General Organization, Documentation, Communication, Delegation, and Parts Control.  In this article I am going to focus on the General Management discipline and how Lirel incorporated the management theories of Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s classic business book, The One Minute Manager.

The general management discipline is the foundation to the successful implementation of the remaining disciplines. General management is about managing your team members and is a skill that most of us are lacking. There are four things that will determine the success or failure of our team members: Skills and Ability, Systems and Rules, Training and Proficiency, and Supervision and Correction.

The first slice is skills and ability. When you hire new team members, do you know what you are looking for? If I am hiring a body technician, I need to ask myself some key questions. Do I want a journeyman or do I want an apprentice? Do I have time to train from scratch? Or will I need someone who has complete repair capabilities and will just need to be brought up to speed on my processes and procedures? The same would be true of any role that I am looking to fill. In order to do this I would need a skills inventory for all roles in my business. Abilities are harder to identify as they are softer and would need to be determined through an interview.

The second slice is systems and rules. Systems would be your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Your shop should have written SOPs for all activities that take place in your business on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual level. SOPs are then used to train a new team member or a current member whose role is changing, and then troubleshoot and retrain if there is a failure. There are many sources available for general SOPs that are already written and can then be modified to fit your business. Your business rules (work hours, benefits, etc.) should be spelled out in your employee handbook.

Slice three is training and proficiency. What training do you have in place for your new and current team members? New team members need to be trained on the SOPs that they will be using, along with your rules and any safety-related items. This training needs to take place before they go to work. Other training requirements would be directly related to the team member’s roles and should be ongoing for all team members. If SOPs are changed or new SOPs are added, then the team members will also need to be trained and/or retrained. In order to measure proficiency, all team members need to have goals, and we as managers need to monitor and report back to our team members on a regular basis on whether or not they are meeting those agreed-upon goals.

The fourth slice is supervision and correction. If we have done a good job on the first three components, then supervision should be minimal as we have done great ground work. Correction will need to happen at times, but there is a right way and a wrong way to correct or reprimand a team member. Most of us don’t know how to do it.

The team member circle of success sounds great, but how do we train ourselves and our mangers to implement this in a busy shop environment?

Lirel found that by helping owners and managers implement the three secrets of management from Blanchard and Johnson’s The One Minute Manager, they could move the needle on increasing their management skills.

The first secret is one-minute goal setting. One-minute goal setting is the foundation of The One Minute Manager and is the starting point to having a highly successful team member. Goals should be established with new and existing team members on a regular basis; new members upon hire; and existing members when current goals are reached or when job roles change. When setting goals, look at using the S.M.A.R.T. goals method. SMART stands for:

Specific — Make sure that the goal is specific to the team member’s role and keep it simple. Goals for a new team member could be as simple as being to work on time for a certain number of days to build the correct behavior or completing outlined training modules with a passing grade in a specific time period. Senior team member goals would be more directed to meeting certain productivity numbers or advancing specific skill set to the next level.

Measurable — Goals need to be measurable in order to be tracked. You should work with the team member to establish their goals and how you will measure them. Remember to keep it simple so that the team member can tell where they are at any given time. A measurable goal for an office manager could be set for processing accounts payable or collecting receivables. Any goals set for a new member would be more lenient than with a senior staff member, as we want them to gets some wins under their belt early to build good behaviors.

Attainable — Goals need to be attainable by the team member. To set a goal with a team member to improve their efficiencies by 50 percent in 30 days would be counterproductive and have a negative outcome. A better solution would be to set a goal on efficiencies improvement of 5 percent every 60 days over a 12-month period.

Relevant — Goals need to be relevant to the team member’s task list and skill set. Setting an aggressive closing ratio goal for a new salesperson who is just learning the sales process would also be counterproductive. A better goal would be to establish current closing ratio then work on 1 percent to 5 percent improvements over a 90-day time period.

Timely — As you can see, I have attached a timeframe measurement to all of the sample goals. Having a timeframe forces the team member to make progress. I like 30-60-90-day goals. Starting with the end in mind, I break the goal into three chunks and then work with the team member to achieve that goal. This allows for wins during the process and opportunities to praise more often, which continues to build positive behaviors.

Once the goals are set, the manager needs to make it clear that you will be watching the team member to make sure that they are achieving their goals, which leads us into the next secret.

Secret two of The One Minute Manager is one-minute praising. The goal is to catch people doing something right and then tell them what they did right and how you feel about that. This is probably one of the hardest secrets to master, as most of us have been taught that the only time you hear from your boss is when you make a mistake. You assume that if you hear nothing, you were doing OK. Blanchard and Johnson wanted to change that behavior and focus on the positive. With a new employee, I would want to praise for simple tasks like showing up on time or cleaning their work area without being told. When I praise them for simple tasks, they see that I truly am watching and that I care about their success. With a senior team member, I would take a different path. I would praise for achieving goals ahead of schedule or for helping a fellow team member with a task without being asked. This shows that team member that even if they have been with me for a long time, I am still watching, and I still care about their success.

The third secret is one-minute reprimands. I feel that if you become very good at the first two secrets, then the reprimand should rarely be needed. But if it is needed, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. First of all, you want to make sure that what you are reprimanding for actually took place. Second, keep the reprimand short and to the point. Tell the team member exactly what they did wrong and how it makes you feel. Always attack the problem or the behavior and not the individual. When reprimanding someone, always do it in private and never when you are angry. Always follow a reprimand with praise by telling the team member that you are not disappointed in them, just their behavior.

I have given you just a taste of this great business book. Think about how you could use The One Minute Manager methods in your personal life with your children or with a sports team you may coach. I have read and reread this book many times and have always picked up something that I can do better when I am practicing the three secrets. If you haven’t read it, dig up a copy and do so. If you have read it, reread it and then set a one-minute goal for yourself to be a great one minute manager.

About the Author

Bob Keith | Bob Keith is the AAM Senior Director - Operations Training for CARSTAR Franchise Systems Inc.

Bob Keith is the Senior Director of Compliance and Education for Assured Performance Network. He currently owns two CARSTAR franchises in Nebraska and two CARSTAR franchises in Kansas.

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