Pieces of Success

Jan. 1, 2020
You have the perfect business plan, your location is great, you have knowledgeable and experienced staff, you have provided training and your marketing is cutting edge. All the pieces are in place — and your business is failing. What could have

When all else fails, it's time to look at yourself for accountability.

business running a business repair shops repair shop automotive aftermarket
You have the perfect business plan, your location is great, you have knowledgeable and experienced staff, you have provided training and your marketing is cutting edge. All the pieces are in place — and your business is failing. What could have gone wrong?

A profit and loss (P&L) statement or other monthly statement will assist you in identifying where to begin your investigations. It is typical for our clients to have a labor operation, a parts operation and a tire operation. As separate entities, which of these areas fell furthest from expectations, and which is having the greatest negative impact on overall performance? The answer to these questions normally will yield a game plan and a road map. What do we do now?

The next obvious step is to determine what went wrong and who was responsible. The "what" part typically is easy, but assigning responsibility often can be a minefield of emotion and hurt feelings. If we were unclear in what we expected, if we were not clear in our communications and, most importantly, if we did not check progress along the way, we are entirely responsible as leaders for the less than spectacular results and cannot hold staff accountable for the shortfall.

In another life, I was a student at the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy in Ansbach, Germany. This was a course for would-be sergeants and it taught the basics of leadership. I remember a four-step process described there about situations similar to those we are working with. One thing the military was great for was holding people accountable for actions or lack of actions, and I still use this process today.

The steps are first, assign the task; second, set the standards; third, check progress; and finally, make sure the standards are met and the task completed. Use of this process will demand that you, as the leader, assign the task and define expectations. And to whatever degree you are successful here, you will be able to hold others accountable and nearly always count on the results. I would again emphasize that checking progress in the midst of all this is critical, but the day you are finally willing — and also able — to hold your people accountable is the day that you will begin to see the changes in your business that you need to see.

I have a great client in a small central North Carolina town who, undoubtedly, got tired of hearing me nag at him every week and consequently developed a very effective method of holding his people accountable. In a multi-store operation, he was flirting with the bottom of the barrel and knew that his people were capable of far better. He first investigated the issue and found there were distinct problems with his labor operation. He had trained his people, verbally discussed his expectations and set his staff free to accomplish all the great things he knew they were capable of.

Within a few weeks, things had taken a decidedly negative turn. He investigated right down to the individual, broke his expectations out into 10 or so performance areas and began having weekly meetings to discuss the results. Almost immediately, once each individual saw that they were being held accountable and be subjected to weekly performance reviews, cooperation and consistency grew, and performance improved dramatically. His perfect plan actually now is working, and all because he held his people accountable to the weekly result.

None of this was going to ever occur unless he inspected what he expected and insisted that his standards be met. Given the opportunity and finally understanding what is expected, people will almost always do the right thing. Occasionally they will not, and we have a solution for that as well.

Very often I hear of good employees who suddenly become rebellious or ignorant and fail to complete seemingly simple assigned tasks. Very often I find out we were less than diligent and are way less than thoughtful in assigning the tasks, and as painful as it might be to accept, the failure is ours. If growing the business is important to you, and it should be, it is very important everyone know and agree upon what is expected. Employee manuals and job descriptions are invaluable in this effort, but ultimately you, as the leader, need to look your people in the eye and make sure they are hearing what you are saying.

If you ask for a duck, you need to get a duck. A chicken that quacks will not do.

We have now defined the job and set expectations for implementation and performance. In the process of this, we have answered any questions that might have come up, and we have checked progress along the way. It is now entirely reasonable that we begin to hold staff responsible and accountable for the result. You get to both praise excellent performance and demand better when your standards are not being met.

As an assist to the final outcome, be lavish and public in your praise. Be explicit and direct in your criticism, and always do this in private. No matter what their contribution, no matter their position or rank, all employees will benefit from the guidance and respond to sincere and public praise.

There are those rare hard cases that no matter what we do, they do their own thing. Like everyone else, these people need to be held accountable. If they refuse to change or modify their behaviors, we need to have a direct and final solution with their name written all over it.

Be reasonable in your expectations and demanding of the outcome. These are your dreams and your vision, and a half-hearted effort is not good enough. Accountability is not a weapon.

It is the result of strong, effective leadership and good communication. When your people are accountable and are doing the things they should be, amazing things can happen.

Brian Canning has more than 25 years in the automotive service, tire and parts industries. After his discharge from the U.S. Army, he has run multi-state, multi-location automotive operations across the mid Atlantic. He is currently employed as a management and leadership coach at the Automotive Training Institute (ATI) in Baltimore, Md.

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