In the last two columns, we reviewed the service and body team production system’s history and many facets, which over decades evolved into a variety of successful and not successful offspring. When developed and installed correctly, it is by far the most effective union I have witnessed, participated in, and installed for producing maximum quality output in a minimum of stall space.
At the same time, this more intimate organization develops correct technician skills in rapid order, along with the necessary disciplines. It is both a winner for the skilled tech, who finally benefits from high production work performed by subordinates, while the apprentices and semi-skilled techs receive the advantage of a professional hands-on education like no other.
Along that line, many service managers are struggling mightily to find competent technical help, while tech schools are struggling to fill classes like never before. I received a letter after my last column from a manager in Florida, who wrote that his regional technical school went from several hundred auto tech students only a few years ago down to a class of 20 grads in the last graduation. Sadly, only 10 were qualified to have a hiring interview. He also stated that only one was worth hiring – consider all these numbers!
I have noted that installing this type of high-volume production system requires time and dedication to ensuring all the supporting elements are honed to excellence, well before the final selections and grouping of technicians are instituted. The primary reason installs failed in the past was that so-called installers and managers failed to analyze and fix the many areas that ensure the success of a high-performance shop, which becomes capable of producing some 20 to 30% additional flat-rate hours versus the current output.
Simply put, the bear was created before it could be fed. Support systems, which took me months to perfect were assembled and started in weeks or less, guaranteeing failure.
What so many beat-up, worn-down, and just plain tired managers of all dealer departments don’t realize is just how many support mechanisms they are surrounded with which are running in a “get-by” mode. Of course it would help if there were at least 40 hours in a day for these folks, many who frankly are in a no-win position due to the pressures of today’s raucous dealer environment.
We often laugh out of desperation noting that management has become a game of Whack-A-Mole, where the next fire rears its ugly head one after another, day after day. Improving the performance of the support mechanisms is the only way to take the pressure off. Aside from the ones discussed in past columns, following are some additional key areas that need attention before a high-performance arrangement is instituted.
Special Tools and Equipment
With the constant upgrades/add-ons, re-engineering, and general penchant for being different, the collection of special tools, testing devices, and various pieces of equipment keeps growing rapidly. The need for finding, organizing, cleaning, and even fixing these items is something no one in particular is assigned to manage these days. Ask any tech why they have so many tools in such large tool boxes and they will tell you they got sick and tired of trying to locate company tools. In a high-performance production system, this is not acceptable.
The same management pressures occur to techs in the team system, where accurate and objective accomplishment for each member (time management) is not an option like it is in a typical non-team shop where each tech basically determines today’s results. Since these tools, testers, and equipment pieces are vital to everyday production, mis- or no management is a source of unacceptable stress creating lost clock time. This is one of the first fixes needed no matter the production system.
Tech Skills Requirements
Performing a study of repair orders to determine the actual skills sets needed to maximize their application to the needs is another vital area needing consideration. Staffing by “gut feel” gets a typical service department by for the one-on-one shop, but for teams organizing each unit with proper capabilities is mandatory. That may mean organizing some additional training beforehand, recruiting and hiring some skills sets, or even replacing/moving some people who just aren’t capable or motivated enough for high performance regardless of skill level. Mixing these uninspired flat raters in with motivated techs is a predictable application of failure.
This type of assessment is seldom done in any system. With the average stall expense at some $10K a month, filling one with an apathetic producer guarantees a loss rather than a profit, month after month for that piece of cement. It’s exacerbated when a tech occupies additional stalls. This situation also exists for the collision industry.
A motivated and competent supervisor is a mandatory part of high production. Each group has to have a leader who sets the quality and production standards for the group, as well as being an individual capable of managing an aggressive workload within the skill sets he or she has. New techs will emulate what they experience from these direct supervisors, who are strong influencers (standard setters) regarding their ultimate work output and ethics. These include working hours, cleanliness, continuous study, ensuring quality repairs throughout, maintaining an upbeat and cooperative attitude with the team, contributing to others’ needs, keeping an organized tool investment, and communicating appropriately with other employees and customers.
Attempting to assemble a team program without appropriate leadership is a formula for quick failure. True leadership is both a learned and innate behavior, which is seldom recognized or rewarded in today’s shop environments. However, these diamonds are existent throughout organizations and they must first be nurtured before they become nurturers themselves. On the flip side, the long-standing adage of “one bad apple spoiling the bunch” is quite appropriate here.
A high-production program requires a proactive, not a reactive, organization regarding traffic controls. Semi-managed appointment systems populated with marginally-educated so-called BDC personnel, manipulating some marginally-designed software program is not being proactive. On top of that, claiming to literally thousands of customers that they do not need an appointment is ultimately going to create service reception chaos.
A high-performance shop has to function with a well-planned flow as well as being organized enough to handle the emergencies. Pulling personnel off of jobs regularly to attend to the next ticked-off patron affects both quality and production, as well any semblance of a true schedule. The good news is that well-managed teams have their own customer base who are much more likely to respond to reasonable scheduling, and far more tolerant when typical issues arise. Other than warranty and recalls, there are few reasons to utilize a dealership for service unless there is marriage of personnel, just like the independent shop. Check the terrible dealer retention numbers overall – thank goodness for warranty coverage. The team organization provides that environment.
Sales to Service
Building a “book of business,” tied to a well-trained and proficient team service manager, is absolutely necessary to feed high production team systems. That begins with securing each new-and used-vehicle purchaser to a team so that this vital relationship begins budding immediately. I performed some customer focus groups and one issue that came up often was how uncomfortable customers were at the outset of using dealer service. Dealer service departments are usually housed in large facilities, fast-paced, and crazy busy first thing in the morning – an intimidating environment for many consumers. And the pick-up process afterward can be just as daunting, not something they care to do twice. Note how many people bring vehicles in for others who don’t want to experience the cacophony again.
A fruitful program for tying customers to a team manager can occur at vehicle delivery, or it can occur later by a combo of phone, email, text, and regular mail. This is a too often missed piece of the high-performance puzzle.
A high-performance team system requires an advanced level of management, far more than the typical one-on-one self-managed shop. Service managers who remain buried in customer and employee issues, dealing with a consistently uncooperative used car manager, re-prepping ill-prepared paperwork, or additional bookkeeping created by the next factory initiative, corrective measure, altered rule, recalls, etc. cannot thrive with the communication and auditing needed dealing with high-performance production.
When a motivated staff, expecting to hit specific performance targets each day, encounters an issue which misdirects their efforts, service management has to be aware and able to address it right after the occurrence. Not only does the service manager have to integrate with staff regularly, they also have to be resolute decision makers, who do not put off judgments hoping they will disappear.
Often times the fix for the overwhelmed service manager exists within the personnel with which they are surrounded. A high-performance program requires a high-performance manager who is free to take a new approach to a more integrated management style, including the development of middle management. An organizational setup where everyone revolves around the service manager is another formula for disappointment.
Where there are tall expectations there has to be both a consistent group and intimate communication program. Agendas for morning objective-setting and performance review huddles with the TSM staff; weekly team meetings to review objectives, results, and needs; monthly shop meetings to review results and celebrate; and a short but specific individual performance review every three-months are necessary to maintain the expected standards. While many will agree that this type of proactive meeting program would be very valuable, most do not implement it due to time constraints related to the reactive environment they are struggling to overcome.
I have something you might want to use to assess your organization. It is a simple self-questionnaire which at worst will stimulate your buried management juices. Just send me an email addressed to Ed@NetProfitGroup.com and put on the subject line “Team The Good-Bad-Ugly” and I will pass it along forthwith. While high-performance teams may not be for you right now, the concepts which surround the team successes are for everyone who aspires to be the best. What else is there?