Making a Contingency Plan

Jan. 17, 2018
As long as you’ve planned accordingly, there’s no need to stress out when your parts staff is shorthanded.

Bill Gonthier, like so many parts department employees, can multitask with the best of them. At this point, the industry veteran is essentially capable of carrying on two conversations at once during a workday.

At many points over the last 30-plus years, his job has required it.

In parts departments, Gonthier notes, “There’s not many extra people around—it’s like the bare minimum. … You can’t find any help; nobody’s coming into this line of work.”

The prevalence of small staff sizes means it’s as important as ever that parts managers put contingency plans in place, so that their departments won’t unravel into chaos if an employee is out sick for a few days, or takes vacation.

Gonthier was a parts manager for almost 40 years earlier in his career, and now works as a parts counterman at DiPrizio GMC Trucks Inc. in Middleton, N.H. Over the years, the well-respected industry veteran has noted several key elements of a quality contingency plan. That list includes the following measures:

Use Written Job Descriptions.

When he was leading parts departments, Gonthier, who has been in the industry 38 years, ensured that each department staffer had a documented job description. In fact, he let the employees write the job descriptions (which he helped clarify), to make sure each staffer knew what was expected of him or her in all scenarios.

Include Employees in Decision Making.

In the same vein, Gonthier believes it’s beneficial to have meetings and allow employees to provide feedback on departmental contingency plans. That way, staff usually buys into the plan rather quickly.

“Make them be the ones that come up with the idea,” he says. “Because once it becomes their idea, now they take ownership of it.”

Update Other Departments.

When you have a parts staffer out sick, it helps to notify other dealership departments, like service and collision. That can help avoid unrealistic deadlines for parts deliveries. And the other departments may even be able to provide you with a “floater” employee, like a porter, at least for a few hours here and there.

“That’s where most things fall apart, is the lack of communication,” Gonthier says.

Prioritize Tasks.

If you get clarification from customers on just how quickly they need parts delivered, you can often ease deadline pressure while your staff is shorthanded.

“The biggest thing is having a good, working relationship with your customer,” Gonthier explains. “If you’re in a pickle, don’t be afraid to ask them, ‘How soon do you need this?’

“You may find that you were panicking when you didn’t need to.”

Step Away on Occasion.

Though the thought of stepping away from their department for a lengthy vacation—not to mention for a sick day—seems to give many parts managers anxiety, there is undeniable value in making employees fend for themselves on occasion. Think of it as a fire drill—practice for a less-than-ideal scenario.

Parts managers should be able to step away from work on occasion, Gonthier says. And, if they can’t, then maybe they “didn’t hire the right people.”

Appear Unflappable.

If a parts manager can typically maintain a calm demeanor, employees tend to take cues from that. Then, those employees tend to react with confidence, even if they’re thrust into a leadership role unexpectedly.

“Don’t snap and freak out over something. Take a second, review, and think about it,” Gonthier advises. “You have to be professional, all day, every day.”

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