Out of Alignment

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If I walked up to your service counter and started talking about my car pulling to the right as soon as I let go of the steering wheel, my guess is an entire universe of potential causes and cures would start running through your head.

If I followed with a complaint of premature or uneven tire wear, loss of almost 10 percent of my fuel economy and a nasty wheel wobble that continued to get worse the faster I tried to go, you would have already penciled me in for a front end alignment. 

That’s what I would be doing.

The symptoms are there: Continually fighting the steering wheel, working too hard to keep the vehicle moving in a straight line, while attempting to deal with the unnecessary wear and tear. 

It’s obvious that something’s not right. You can feel the loss of performance. You sense the increased “rolling resistance,” and the faster you go, the worse it gets. Wobbling, shaking, wear, frustration, and another unnecessary, unbudgeted expense.

Staff Graphic

If you’re a motorist with little or no knowledge of automotive service, maintenance or repair, you know something is wrong, you just don’t know what.

But, what if it’s your shop that is exhibiting those symptoms. What if “the rolling resistance” is just too high and the stress level is right up there with it? What if things just aren’t headed in the right direction? What if the whole place is just shaking itself apart? What then?

Could your business be out of alignment? Of course it could be—and, often, it is.

Proper alignment is just as important for your business as it is for the vehicles you work on every day. Having your goals and objectives aligned with your mission and your vision reduces stress, eliminates unnecessary wear, promotes productivity, and increases efficiencies. More than that, it almost assures your business will go where you point it.

You already know what it feels like when your business is out of alignment. We all do. Every one of us has experienced that pull; the shimmy, shake and resistance, at one time or another. And almost all of us have experienced the “feel” of a business that moves forward effortlessly; a business that almost drives itself, if only for a little while!

The problem most of us have is that we know how to align the vehicle. It’s aligning all the elements necessary to have your business run smoothly that drives most of us nuts. The problem most of us have is getting the business to go where we want it to without having to constantly fight the wheel.

But, aligning your business isn’t as difficult as it may seem. It starts with a deep understanding and appreciation of your passion, purpose, beliefs and values, and it requires the ability to communicate them all well enough—clearly enough—to inspire and motivate everyone on your team. In other words, you need a deep understanding and appreciation of the culture you’ve created, the culture you’ve allowed to develop and grow, within your shop. And, just like a proper alignment, having a culture that works depends on bringing the business within spec: achieving the right metrics, maintaining the critical key performance indicators for your business. 

Culture is the “how” and “why” of how things get done around your shop. It is the generally accepted philosophy of the business and everyone associated with it. It is how you relate to each other, your clients, your vendors and our industry. It’s how you see yourself, both individually and as an organization, inside the company and out.

Culture is the collective set of beliefs and values shared by everyone in your organization—at least, everyone who should be a part of your organization. Should be, because if those values and beliefs aren’t shared, that individual—whomever he or she might be—should be working someplace else.

If you are able to communicate your passion, purpose and beliefs clearly enough, everyone who walks with you will understand how they will personally benefit through your success and the success of the business, and you will never have to worry about inspiration or motivation again.
Your people will understand where you are going and, more importantly, why getting there will make a powerful and positive difference in their lives. Then, all you will have to worry about is getting out of the way.

I’m working hard at my shop to create a deeper understanding of who we are and why we do the things we do in the way we do them. I’m continually working to refine our company’s culture, because I understand it will define us only as clearly as I am able to define it. 

Culture flows out of your story, the story of who you are and how you came to be. If everyone in your company understands and embraces that story—the “why” and “how” of your culture, there really isn’t much for you to do beyond the joy of living it and the constant work involved in refining and reinforcing it.

What’s your culture all about? When did you first become aware of it? Are you able to articulate it, and what have you done to refine and/or reinforce it?

What about our culture, the culture of our industry? Is it appropriate for this moment in time? Is it adequate for the future? Or, does it need to change?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about all of this.

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi, Calif. He is a longtime industry educator, trade journalist, author and seminar facilitator. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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