Creating In-House Harmony
SHOP STATS: C&C Automotive Location: 5 locations Owner: Aaron Clements Total Staff Size: 45 Shop Size: 58,000 square feet (combined) Number of Lifts/Bays: 51 (combined) Average Monthly Car Count: 1835 Annual Revenue: $7.5 million
Changing the oil in a car and talking to customers on the phone are two very different jobs, but in your shop, it’s important that these two worlds work together effectively.
You may have run into problems with your office staff and your technicians getting into issues with communication or teamwork, which stops the efficiency of sales throughout the day and slowly wears down your shop's culture.
You will always have issues within your employees because every business has tough situations, but with the right processes, culture and leadership, those little situations don’t have to interrupt the flow of business.
“When you have more synchronicity between your team, you go faster, you go better, you’re more efficient and you’re more effective,” says Rick White, president and coach at 180 Biz, a company that fosters business growth in automotive shops.
If your employees are not on the same page, it creates problems and people become frustrated. It’s hard to have a pleasant and efficient workplace if the front and back of your shop don’t get along.
“If you have a technician that’s mad, he’s not going to work as fast or efficient as he would if he was content,” says Amanda Clements Drake, vice president and manager of C&C Automotive in Georgia. “They have to feel good about each other to help one another.”
Ratchet+Wrench spoke with White and Clements Drake about creating harmony in the workplace and how to ensure that your front and back of house get along efficiently to push your business forward.
All About the Culture
The most important thing for you to do to foster a perfect harmony between your employees is to create a culture that favors teamwork and communication. Your shop’s work experience should be pleasant, where everyone feels comfortable to raise any issues and have open communication.
“The biggest thing is to make sure everyone feels seen, heard and appreciated,” White says.
Try to build a culture that shows that the technicians can’t do their job without the service people and vice versa. Everyone should know that they need each other to succeed.
When you make the decision to hire new people for your shop, make sure that they will align with the culture and environment that your employees already have. Listen in your interviews to find people that get along well with others, know the industry, and have a history of being a friendly employee.
“You don’t want to add anybody that’s going to disturb the culture,” Clements Drake says. “Really the culture is the most important thing in the shop.”
Share the Work Fairly
It’s easy for a technician to become frustrated when they think that the service staff is handing out work unfairly. They may feel that they have gotten too many cars compared to other techs, or too few.
If you don’t show your technicians the service providers’ process for assigning work, they may think the work isn’t handed out equally. It’s important to clearly lay out your process for assigning work so that the technicians can see how every job is assigned. Keep track of how many cars each technician is assigned, and what type of work each of them are getting.
It’s helpful to have a visual system, such as tallys or an assignment board. This way, each employee can see how the work is being spread out amongst the technicians. However you do it, make sure your technicians know that the office staff are taking their concerns into account.
“We have to have a visual, organized way of handing out work so that we can prove to them that we handed it out fairly,” Clements Drake says.
Stress the Cohesion
A large underlying concern for the technicians is that they are the ones performing the harder, more physical labor in extreme environments. They often feel that they are the ones doing the majority of the work, and see the office staff as having an easy job.
“They’re picturing them up there in the cozy, air conditioned office not doing anything, when they’re back there working on vehicles, which requires a lot of physical activity,” Clements Drake says.
Realistically, the back-of-house staff needs the front just as much as the front needs the back. One cannot work without the other. But this is something your employees may not realize if your workplace culture isn’t productive, and you aren’t showing them essential, everyday work that each employee does.
“It’s the owners job to make sure that everyone understands what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and the impact it has,” White says.
The technician can’t work on cars if the service staff doesn’t sell them work, and the service staff can’t sell work if the technicians aren’t doing their job well. Still, it’s easy for the technicians to feel that they’re doing most of the labor.
“What the service counter is doing for the back has to be constantly shown to them so they know that they have a partner, not people that they are necessarily working for,” Clements Drake says. “We try to emphasize to everyone that one side can not do anything without the other.”
Daily Check-Ins Go a Long Way
Communication is the key to any workplace issue between employees. That’s why having your office staff check in with the technicians twice, or three times a day can proactively stop problems. Daily check-ins will streamline open communication between the front and back.
“Ultimately we should be having huddles throughout the day with our team,” White says. These huddles can address any small issues and remind the employees that they are all working together.
Service providers assign the diagnostics to each tech, so the providers should be checking in with the technicians to see that they have everything that they need, and if they are on time to complete the inspection.
The front office wants to sell work just as much as the back does, so it’s important to get the technicians everything they need to complete a job on time. It’s also key that the service employees are updated on the status of each job.
“They are working together with the same goal of selling and repairing as many cars as possible,” Clements Drake says.
Another way to foster good communication is to hold regular all-staff meetings to go over any recurring mistakes or problems.
These meetings are an opportunity for every employee to participate and talk together in a productive discussion. Any large issues that they feel are being overlooked can be worked through and overcome as a team. These meetings can stop a recurring problem from continuing to fester.
“In a shop there’s lots of elephants. An elephant is a conversation that really needs to be had, but we all tend to pretend it’s not there and hope it goes away. The problem is, those kinds of elephants feed on time and neglect. The more time you give it, the bigger it gets,” White says.
C & C Automotive has full team meetings every week, and not only does it start great communication between the front of house and the back, it can also be a time for everyone to bond and get to know each other better.
“They are bonding experiences because we all talk together and try to get on the same page,” Clements Drake says.
Have Great Leadership
Every shop has some sort of manager, whether that’s a lead technician and a shop foreman, or one manager who oversees everyone, and it’s important that these leaders inspire a good relationship between the service providers and the back of house.
With good leadership, your shop can solve problems easily between employees and maintain a healthy work culture. Your shop manager should check in with each employee to solve any issues they might have, and they should work hard to keep the front and back on the same page.
“They kind of unite the front and the back,” Clements Drake says of her own shop managers.
It’s also important that you, as the owner, step up and bring your employees together under one goal or shared value. Use everyone’s unique skill to achieve that shared goal.
“It’s my job as an owner to orchestrate the moves of each person’s strength to get to the end result,” White says.