Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

May 16, 2024
Learning to be proactive can help you stay relevant when times, people, and technology change.

The world is rapidly evolving. Times change, people change, feelings change and processes change. And that change continues as days, months and years go by.  

That’s particularly true within the automotive industry. New technologies as well as other factors have made it evolve quite rapidly.  

Matt Oldenburg, the director of operations at Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers, which have several locations across Wisconsin, is regularly tasked with implementing changes. And it often reminds him of something their owner, Dan Garlock, has told him multiple times.  

“If the rate of change outside of your organization is faster than the rate of change inside your organization, you’re dying,” he says.  

Implementing changes isn’t about responding to the factors outside your control, it’s being proactive in finding ways to develop and improve before you’re forced to or it’s too late. 

The rapid development of technology and what people are looking for in a workplace are some of the biggest changes the industry is addressing currently.  

 

Industry Changes and Strategies for Implementation 

First and foremost, it’s important to build relationships with your employees, get feedback from them, ask for input, and do something with it.  

“I think the biggest thing is just to be open to change, be open to feedback, and be able to shift gears and be fluid with your approach,” he says.  

That’s a concept that’s guided his approach to implementing changes. One of the biggest differences Oldenburg has noticed since he entered the industry is just how different vehicles are from one another than they were when he started his career.  

There used to be more of a one-size-fits-all approach with vehicles. There were a lot of things that were pretty universal from car to car. And package pricing was the standard for a lot of different vehicles. For example, a transmission flush for a Ford F150 would cost the same as a transmission flush for a Toyota Camry.  

That’s no longer the case, and that’s something that has prompted changes at Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers. Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach, each vehicle must be worked on with more of an individual approach. That’s led to the elimination of the majority of Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers’ package pricing. 

For a while now, Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers has also stopped giving out estimates over the phone, a big shift that required additional training for service advisors. But because of how different vehicles have become, there was no longer an accurate way to give estimates without getting under the hood of the car.   

“A big change was equipping our employees with the tools to not give out prices over the phone but ... to get them to come in so that we can actually put our hands and our eyes on that vehicle to give them an accurate estimate,” Oldenburg says.  

That’s one of the keys to implementing change: making sure employees are given the tools to effectively take on the new process.  

Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers also must prepare for changes as a scaling business. It is not only adding additional locations, but their current locations are also growing, which has made consolidation and simplification crucial to the business.  

“As your organization gets bigger and bigger, there’s a ton of value to simplicity because simplicity scales,” Oldenburg says.  

Of course, that often presents changes and challenges for employees. And not every change is widely embraced and accepted. It can be difficult for people to change and adjust, particularly if they’ve been doing something one way for a long time.  

So how do you approach implementing those changes when there’s pushback?  

“I ask them for a little bit of grace and, I say, ‘Hey, just do me a favor. Can you really commit to this for 30 days? And in 30 days, we’ll revisit it, and I want to hear your feedback.’ And I can’t remember a time where that didn’t work and at the end of the 30 days, they weren’t bought in,” Oldenburg says.  

If a change doesn’t work out? Well, there’s nothing forcing you to stick with it.  

"You can always go back, right? You can always go back to the way it was. But I think you got to give it a shot. And if you’re gonna do that, really commit to it, and try to make it work,” Oldenburg says.  

 

Workplace Changes 

In addition to industry changes, there’s also been a shift in what people are looking for out of the workplace in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Much like how every vehicle needs to be approached differently, Oldenburg says figuring out how to accommodate employees is an individual approach, too. But it can be a bit of a balancing act between what employees are looking for a running a functional business.  

Since the pandemic, there’s been a major shift towards remote and hybrid work. It’s something they tried at Silver Lake Auto & Tire Centers with their non-customer-facing employees for a while, but they found that it wasn’t working effectively for them. Not every change is going to work.  

On the other hand, Oldenburg is working to figure out how to accommodate employees on an individual basis, something he says he hasn’t quite figured out yet, but is determined to.  

“Technicians are hard to hire right now, and one of the ways that we’ve been and can be successful with that is having creative solutions for whatever the schedule is that fits their needs,” Oldenburg says.  

If he has a tech who wants to work 80 hours per week, Oldenburg would like to be able to accommodate that. The time that someone has the time, drive, and ability to work those types of hours is limited, so if they’re looking to take on a heavy load for that short period, that’s something the shop should be willing to work with.  

On the flip side, another tech might have a family, personal challenges, or something else going on in their life that might lead them to look for a lighter schedule, maybe 35 or 40 hours per week. That’s another situation Oldenburg would like to accommodate.  

There is no shortage of changes in rapidly evolving industries like automotive, and there are  challenges that come with those changes, but being proactive in implementing changes and being open to unique solutions will help your shop develop and improve. And your business will be better off for it.  

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