Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2011   by Murray Voth, TACT (Total Automotive Consulting and Training)

Committed to Change

There are certain activities like skydiving or bobsledding where once you are committed there is no turning back. Once you have jumped out of the airplane or pushed off down the first drop of the bobsleigh course you are committed. You can't...

There are certain activities like skydiving or bobsledding where once you are committed there is no turning back. Once you have jumped out of the airplane or pushed off down the first drop of the bobsleigh course you are committed. You can’t flap your arms fast enough to get you back into the plane. In business as well, there are times when changes are put in motion and you are committed. I believe that this is one of the greatest challenges facing people in business, especially the automotive service business.
The challenge is not change; the challenge is lack of commitment. Shop owners today are either too afraid to take the plunge, or when they do, spend most of their energy flapping their wings trying to get back to the way things were. There is a saying that states, “The only constant is change.” I thought it was a modern saying; however, it is attributed to Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived in 500 BC. Even though we have known this for centuries, some of us fight change like it was death. Little do we know, but our industry as we know it, will die if it does not change.
I would like to split this lack of commitment challenge into two parts. Part one looks like this: A shop owner begins to see several years in a row of profits slipping, margins slipping, volume slipping, lines of credit growing and thinks, “Something has got to change.” They wait for business to pick up, they waste money on mediocre advertising and they blame their staff and the economy, anything but themselves. Many of them take management training from various sources, looking for that silver bullet that will solve all their problems. They read management books, go to self-help seminars or phone around to find out how their friends and/or competitors are doing things, especially if one of them seems to be succeeding. The thing these shop owners miss is that there is no silver bullet. What is needed is an educated decision to make changes and then a commitment to follow through.
Part two looks like this. A shop owner learns of a change they would like to make in their business, like charging for diagnostics properly. They believe it will solve some, if not all, of their problems. They make the decision and jump. Part way into the process they experience turbulence; the going is not as easy as they thought it was going to be. They may get push back from employees or customers, or they may have doubts put in their heads by their peers. At that point they try to back track. In the process they begin to fight the change that has started and this causes them to flounder.
Let’s use an example you can relate to in order to find some solutions to part one. Think back to the first time you removed a complete dash assembly from a vehicle and disassembled it to repair an electrical problem. You had to remember all the sequences and pieces to put it back in place and have it work better than before. Did you make mistakes, did it take several tries and did you have one or two screws left over? The thing to remember is that you studied the diagrams and sequences ahead of time, you made the decision to start the disassembly and at a certain point you had to say to yourself, there is no going back now, I am committed. You probably got stuck a few times and had to review your resources or find new ones, or you may have even had to call someone to give you a hand. But in the end you conquered it.
It is the same on the management side of the business. But because you have limited training and experience in managing you are afraid. Much of the fear we experience is fear of the unknown. When you find training and educate yourself in managing an automotive shop you will have the knowledge you need to tackle the changes that have to be made.
There are other obstacles to making that leap or jump into change. One is what I call black and white thinking, or either/or thinking. Managing a business is not always black and white. By this I do not mean that there are grey questionable areas of behavior. What I mean is managing a business takes creativity; it takes different approaches at different times. As technicians, you will agree that there is only one way to change a particular component on a vehicle: it comes off one way and only goes on one way. On the other hand, diagnosis can be approached in more that one way and not all technicians diagnose in the same fashion, but the good ones all get the same answer. It is because they use the same principles. Managing a business is similar to diagnosis, it is complex and varied, but has strict principles that need to be applied. The creativity comes in how to apply the principles and when.
Another obstacle is perfectionism. Perfectionism is that misguided idea that something can actually be done perfectly, or that a perfect result can be achieved. One of the challenges for some perfectionists is that they will not tackle a project or a change if they don’t think that the outcome will be perfect. This prevents people from even getting started in making a change. They would rather stay in their comfort zone trying to micromanage things to perfection than take a risk and move their business and their life forward.
Here is another example to illustrate lack of commitment. Think back to a time you said yes to a diagnostic problem on a vehicle that you were not that familiar with. You wanted to help the customer out and needed to feel like a hero. Rather than do your research ahead of time you started the diagnostic process anyways. Several hours later you come out from under the hood without having made any progress at all. In your frustration and feeling the pressure of time and the customer you start phoning around for help or you go to your online resources only to find the data would take too long to get. In the end you give up, send the customer and the vehicle to the new car dealer just to get it out of your hair. This is an example of jumping into a change but not being fully prepared. You have not done your research and you were not sure you had the resources you needed. In the end you wished you would have said no in the first place.
In the training work I do, we have a module on the service advisor to technician ratio. We recommend one service advisor for every one and a half technicians. By having someone to organize the day, order all the parts, do all the estimates and talk to all the customers, a technician can be far more effective and productive. The average technician in our industry only performs customer paid work 54 per cent of the time. Our benchmark is 90 per cent. The rest of the time that technician is doing all the things a service advisor would do. We have a formula to calculate how to afford a service advisor. (Stay tuned for next article). Some shops that take our training are too afraid to hire a service advisor; they feel they cannot afford it, so they stay stuck at 54 per cent productivity. Others like the idea and hire someone right away. However, they do not train the person properly or provide them with the tools they need for the job, and it does not work out as we say. I am then told that it was a dumb idea.
A skydiver takes hours and hours of training, and takes great care in packing their chute. When the time comes they are prepared to jump. In business the only constant is change. What are you doing to be prepared and, more importantly, are you committed?

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