Seven tips for making the most of your morning meetings

May 1, 2020
See the following tips collected from business experts and your peers. Use them to add an extra dose of caffeine to your mornings and rev up production and improvements in your shop.

When it comes to great stories about struggling shops turning around their fortunes, few are better than Warrensburg Collision’s. Manager Casey Lund took over the business nearly a decade ago when his father, the owner, fell ill. Though Lund had a background in business, and even possessed an MBA, he faced serious struggles at first. Seeing the shop sinking, he decided the only way forward was a thorough transformation. He enrolled his staff in four-day Greenbelt training and held a number of kaizen events.

To help ensure the business would put those lessons to use, he empowered his entire staff to make changes and instituted daily improvement sessions. The shop started the day with hour-long meetings aimed at fixing its repair processes. Employees took turns identifying wasteful areas and laying out solutions that could be adopted as SOPs. The staff would then review the day’s production plan, along with a topic of the day (everything from new ways to spot waste to inspiring others on the job).

The transformative process, whose goal Lund tells ABRN was to “help employees work on the business and make their own decisions," was a big success. In the first three years of use, the shop tripled its revenue and the staff is more engaged than ever.

Such is the power of a motivated workforce and inspired leadership dedicated to turning ideas into action. But don’t overlook the factor that was lynchpin for success, an effective morning meeting. Many shops hold morning meetings, especially to examine the day’s production activity and goals. These meetings have far greater potential to build a business when they’re conducted using guidelines that have proven successful across many service businesses including collision repair.

See the following tips collected from business experts and your peers. Use them to add an extra dose of caffeine to your mornings and rev up production and improvements in your shop.

Tip 1. Set strict time parameters. Your morning meeting should start at the same time every day and only run for a set period of time, for most shops no more than 30 minutes. “If your meeting starts at 8, start promptly at 8 not around 8,” says Ron Vennet of 21st Management Solutions, a Phoenix-based company that consults with small businesses. Promptness is important because it sends a message that the meeting is important. That, along with a set length, help businesses focus on the matters at hand instead of meandering off in unproductive directions.

“You’re better off squeezing your subject matter into 30 minutes rather than letting a meeting linger on. You want your staff to know that the meeting time is critical, as critical as the time they spend performing their daily tasks,” says Vannet. If a subject comes up that needs further discussion, schedule a second meeting.

Tip 2. Always have a set agenda. This may seem like common sense, but many businesses fall into the trap of having a regular meeting just to have a meeting in case a particular issue or matter needs immediate attention.  “Before we had a morning production meeting we used to just have a regular morning meeting where everyone would grab a cup of coffee and discuss the job or whatever was on their minds,” says Paul Gibson, owner of PG Quality Autobody in Pittsburgh. “I eventually found at that everyone hated it because they thought it was a waste of time or just a bull session for anyone who wanted to complain.”

When the shop moved on to blueprinting its work and holding morning production meetings it faced a new kind of agenda issue. The format proved to be confusing and unclear. Gibson says the first manger too the lead on the meetings prepared poorly and would jump from one job to another discussing the day’s work. “He was great on the floor directing work, bit in our meetings tended to jump from one subject to another or go far into detail on a single job that not everyone was a part of.”

Gibson fixed this issue by putting together a template for meetings. Only one job at a time would be discussed. If one job needed especially detailed coverage, he would turn that discussion over to the manager and workers on that job or walk his staff over to the vehicle so the details would make more sense.

“We try to have people come up with questions ahead of time so we can prepare answers. That saves us time, and everyone gets the information they want. Plus, it gives us a chance to print off information so we all have copies of the information,” says Gibson. Also, he would plan discussions on other topics outside of production. Subjects like vacation scheduling, benefit changes, training, etc. would be planned ahead of time so his staff would have a chance to prepare questions instead of being forced to come up with them on the spot, which often meant planning a second meeting later to ensure everyone was prepared to take part.

Tip 3. Use visual aids. Speaking of paper copies, try to make use of aids like dry erase marking boards, white boards or TV monitors to clarify your points. “Putting something in writing always helps,” says Vannet. “It lets your staff where your focus is, and they can come back and review what was discussed.” Work and flow diagrams are particularly helpful as are bulleted lists of tasks.

Vannet says TV monitors are proving their worth since they can be used to blow up photos of repairs or highlight areas of documentation your staff needs to pay attention to.

Tip 4. Eliminate distractions. One of the goals of a morning meeting is getting everyone on the same page early and starting the day off on an organized note. For that to work, everyone needs to be paying attention. Vannet says smartphone and other electronic devices need to be away unless they’re being used as part of the meeting to make a point. Employees shouldn’t be meeting in areas where their attention can be drawn away by windows or noises from neighboring businesses. “Find a quiet spot and make sure you’re sitting or standing in a formation where everyone is facing one another. Don’t be afraid to call out someone who isn’t taking part or giving the meeting the attention it deserves,” he says.

Tip 5. Everyone must take part. Gibson says when he first began holding meetings he would sometimes allow certain staff members to not take part if there was pressing work, for example a job or task that needed to be completed that morning or day. He put an end to that practice after he seeing the effects on the rest of the staff. “It sent a message that what we were doing wasn’t that important. Eventually, I had a whole bunch of people who had excuse for better things they needed to do than attend a meeting,” he says.

Vannet notes that for a meeting to be effective, it must be given importance. That means everyone must attend. Gibson says he does let one person regularly miss his meeting, the receptionist who answers the phone. In this case, he meetings with the receptionist at the beginning of her shift with a print out of the meeting agenda and discussion points to keep her informed.

Along with mandatory attendance, make sure everyone is given the opportunity to speak and that no one person is allowed to monopolize the discussion. Vannet says expectations need to be set to ensure everyone respects one another (no one should be interrupted when speaking) and to prevent the meeting being dominated by one voice or devolving into venting about the job.

“If there’s a problem, pull those people aside and let them know what they’re doing is unacceptable. Say ‘Nick, I know you mean well but what you’re doing is unfair to others. They need to speak too,’” explains Vannet.  

Tip 6. Have an action plan. Obviously, if you’re holding a production meeting, when it ends everyone should go to work. When other subjects are included, such as training or new work practices, your staff needs to act on the next steps. In these cases, your staff needs to know (1) specifically what to do next and (2) when the actions start.

For example, if you’re instituting a new process for submitting hours or request for training or supplies, provide your staff the instructions (in writing) for how to do so, along with the date when the change goes into effect. Then, follow up. Check with everyone to make sure they have adopted the policy. Bring it up at your next meetings.

Tip 7. Get help. Companies like Vannet’s can step in help you develop better meeting guidelines and formats and make them more valuable for your business. A terrific alternative is seeing what your colleagues do. Reach out to your local shop associations or repairers you know with successful businesses to see how they operate their morning meetings. You’re bound to pick up valuable lessons you can bring back to your shop.

Gibson sat in on meetings with two shops recommended by his paint vendor. “I picked up on mistakes my shop was making as far as moving too quickly on some topics and not making sure everyone had time to speak. I also found out I should put different meeting leaders in charge on different days to help break things up and give each meeting a little bit different flavor,” says Gibson. “Putting different people in charge also helped them develop their communication skills and let me know who needed help with this duty.”

Ultimately, your morning meeting, like your business, is a work in process. Meetings are something you work on to continuously improve so your business can grow with them. You may not get the same results as Warrensburg Collision over the same brief period (that their particular story), but you will be part of a process that has proven its ability to boost the fortunes of any shop willing to invest the effort.

About the Author

Tim Sramcik

Tim Sramcik began writing for ABRN over 20 years ago. He has produced numerous news, technical and feature articles covering virtually every aspect of the collision repair market. In 2004, the American Society of Business Publication Editors recognized his work with two awards. Srmcik also has written extensively for Motor Ageand Aftermarket Business. Connect with Sramcik on LinkedIn and see more of his work on Muck Rack. 

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