Staffing a Service Department Wisely

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Staffing Service Departments with Addition By Subtraction
A Montana service manager used a unique staffing approach to inspire a surge in productivity

No one gets hired at Bozeman Audi until the tribe has spoken.

In the fixed operations department of that Montana dealership, job candidates are interviewed three times, by three different managers. Then, the managers meet, discuss, and eventually determine their final verdict.

“We either vote you on or off the island [depending on] if you fit—if we all get along,” explains service manager Christian Pederson. “There are lots of qualified people in their jobs, but their personalities may not mesh well with the group. So, we do a personality evaluation; if we feel they’re a good fit, we vote them on the island.”

While that hiring strategy may seem bold, it’s one reason why Pederson is a longtime auto industry survivor. He says he doesn’t have a single staff member who has a personality conflict with a co-worker, and his facility boasts one of the best CSI scores in its district.

As recently as two years ago, though, Pederson took over a service department that was in disarray. Employees largely had an uninspired attitude, productivity waned, and the average monthly car count was paltry.

“To the general population, it would seem that Bozeman Audi never had enough staff, but that was not the case,” Pederson says. “There was zero motivation from within.”

The Issue

Pederson has compiled a rather accomplished resume as a professional, a nearly quarter-century long run of success that included a stint working with Nissan North America. And, as it turned out, he needed to call on all that experience to survive the initial stages in Bozeman.

Because, at Bozeman Audi, he inherited a group of six technicians that had become painfully inefficient.

“The productivity of the shop was abysmal,” Pederson recalls of late 2016. “Literally, cars were sitting here for months on end, not getting touched.”

He isn’t certain how the dealership’s previous management group had attempted to motivate the technicians, but he knew one thing: it didn’t work.

The previous fixed operations leaders, Pederson says, “weren’t effectively able to

communicate and articulate what they expected. And, they had the wrong people here. There was zero motivation for them to do anything; they were getting a paycheck whether cars left this dealership or not.”

The Answer

One thing Pederson has learned in his 23 years in the industry is that “panic hiring” rarely works.

“Early on in my career [hiring] was always panic driven—‘Oh my gosh, the service drive is overloaded; we just have to hire bodies,’” he recalls. “But that was never the answer, looking back.

“It was always a disaster hiring that way.”

With that in the back of his mind, Pederson decided to make a rather unique decision to

jumpstart his new service department in Montana.

“I actually cut back on staff,” he recalls of late 2016.  “Because I don’t micromanage, we hand

picked a lot of individuals and kept individuals that were self-managing and understood our ultimate goal.

“And we actually operate far more efficiently, with fewer people.”

Lo and behold, Bozeman Audi is more efficient now despite the fact its number of full-time

technicians was slashed in half, to three. In addition to those flat-rate techs, the Audi dealership also now utilizes one part-time, hourly tech.

“We have more than tripled the productivity of the shop,” Pederson notes, “and our CSI now

is almost number one in the area, [whereas, in 2016] we were absolutely dead last.”

How, exactly, did Pederson defy conventional wisdom to boost productivity in Bozeman? He simply tweaked the hiring process. Instead of hiring the first able-bodied technician they could, Bozeman Audi began examining job prospects’ motivation for working at the dealership.

“We do run a background check, obviously, but we also look at the motivating factors,” he says. “We might have a single mother with three or four kids who’s trying to buy a home or something like that—there’s a huge motivating factor. She has got to have a job.

“They have to have a goal outside of work in order to be a good performer in work.

“If you can be picky with who you hire, you can actually get by with fewer people … so long as you’re clear in what your expectations are of them.”

The Outcome

Pederson’s plan for addition by subtraction has paid off in his service department.

Bozeman Audi’s CSI, which languished in the low 800s just a couple years ago, is now 971 on a 1,000-point scale. And, while service employees used to “freak out” when checking in just 6–8 vehicles per day in 2016, Bozeman Audi now boasts an average monthly car count of nearly 600.

And, technicians now average anywhere from 180–230 hours per two-week pay period.

In order to compile a productive staff, Pederson simply uses thorough hiring methods, and then attempts to display confidence in his new employees.

“You have to entrust your employees,” he says. “You have to explain to them, clearly and effectively, what you expect out of them, and then walk away and let them do their job.

“And it’s amazing, when you don’t micromanage people, how they rise to the occasion.”


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