Most of us let life happen to us. Like the saying goes, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
In our culture and society today we are told that we have freedom of choice. We can choose our friends, our jobs and we can choose where to live, whom we marry and we can choose to go into business. Yet with all this freedom of choice, many times our lives do not end up as we planned. We wake up one day thinking, “What happened?”
Before you think that this is an article on existential philosophy, I am going to connect these thoughts to being an automotive service provider. What is actually happening with this “freedom of choice” concept is that because there is such a range of choices, we have a difficult time making a decision.
In addition, because we perceive that there is a limitless range of options we are always waiting for a better option to come along. Two other things happen as well. One is that because we have freedom of choice, we think that we are masters of our own destiny, and no one can tell us what to do. Or because there are so many choices we freeze and don’t make any decision at all.
Are we afraid to make decisions? Does so much freedom cause indecision?
As owner or manager of an automotive service facility, you have to make decisions all day long. Some are obvious and easy, others are difficult; and we avoid them, in many cases we let other make the decisions for us.
If you really took a hard look at your business you would realize that you have allowed your customers, employees, and suppliers make a lot of decisions for you. Don’t get me wrong, many of these decisions are good; the point is someone had to make them, and if the leader does not, others will. That is how you wake up one morning wondering, “What happened?”
In addition, there are decisions that need to be made that you are not even aware of. It is common for us to get caught up in the day-to-day activity of repairing vehicles, putting out fires and just keep the lid on so the kettle does not boil over. Again, if you were to look back, you would see that many of the fires you were fighting could have been avoided if you had made a different or better decision, or just made a decision at all.
This series of articles has covered how to take responsibility as an owner, how to create a vision of what your business will look like and lead that vision, and how to use your mind and thought to manage your business well.
Decision-making is another one of the building blocks of good management skills. Obviously, a book could be written on this topic, and many already have, however I am going to home in on four decisions that every shop owner needs to make.
Decision Number One
– Am I going to keep operating my business the way I always have or am I going to do things differently. This presumes of course that you realize that there is the possibility of doing things differently.
Many shop owners think that their way is the only way, and that it has always been that way. You may know the story of how if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will scramble to get out; but if you put it into a pot of cool water and then put it on the stove and heat the water slowly the frog will actually be boiled alive.
How many shops today in Canada are about to be boiled alive? A positive characteristic that many humans have is the ability to think about their situation and say, “There has to be a better way!” Hence the discovery of how to create and use fire, electricity, air conditioning and so on. There are many shop owners in Canada that do say, “There has to be a better way” and create better ways of doing things.
One challenge is that they are doing this alone, when these improvements could be shared with others and when they could learn from other shops as well.
Decision Number Two
– Where can I find out what the best practices are for operating an automotive service facility? And along with that, who can help me implement these best practices in my shop?
The place to start is to join the national and provincial automotive service providers listed in this magazine. The Canadian Independent Automotive Association and The Automotive Industries Association of Canada are two of the prominent groups. Many provinces have their own provincial or regional associations as well. Talk to you parts and equipment providers, they have a lot of resources that you may not even be aware of.
And lastly there are several management training and coaching companies and organizations available as well. Join an existing automotive shop performance group, or if there is none in your area, form your own. If your first thought or reply to this paragraph is that you don’t have time, you have just allowed the heat on the stove to be turned up a notch. If you wait till you have time, it will be too late.
Make time, the shops that are surviving and thriving in these current turbulent times are those who have taken the time to learn, to change, and to implement.
Decision Number Three
– Make a decision that no matter how well-run your shop may be, you can always improve. This decision needs to happen in order for the following decision to be made.
When you are presented with a new process or idea to implement in your shop, decide to accept it, learn how to do it, and then put it into practice. Many of us are presented with a better to way to do something and we think that we have to add it to what we currently do. When it does not work, we get discouraged and fall back on old habits.
We need to realize that many times the new way of doing things needs to replace the old way. In most cases the new method or approach is more efficient or productive than the old way. In fact, you actually have a doubling in effectiveness of implementation.
Let me give you an example. Many of us in this business think that good customer service is being able to say yes to any request that a customer makes of us. “Yes I can do that job for you today, just drop it off and I will fit it in.” Then at the end of a very activity based day, we have not finished several vehicles, and we have angered some customers.
The new approach would be to understand that good customer service is having the vehicle completed when promised, and figuring out how to meet that promise, as well as have our technicians busy all day. The solution is proper scheduling. Scheduling by technician available time is the only way to keep our commitments and stay productive.
Decision Number Four
– After you have decided that there has to be a better way, and have joined an association and signed up for training, and are willing to learn and change, the next decision you need to make is that everything is your fault.
My Fault Management has two parts. The first is that when something goes wrong, or is not going well and we have a part in that, we need to admit that it is our fault. By doing that, you can fix the problem. There is too much blaming in the world and not enough taking responsibility for our own actions.
The second part of My Fault Management has to do with facing a challenge, even one that really is not your fault, and saying, “What can I do about this?” When you take on a problem or a challenge and m ake it your fault, your desire and creativity rise to the surface and your focus completely changes.
You don’t wake up in the morning with a mind filled with dread about all the things you can’t control, you wake up excited to take on the day. You can hardly wait to get to the shop to figure out a way to come up with a solution.
We have the privilege of working with several hundred shops across Canada, bringing information and training on best practices for shop management. Our passion is to reduce stress and improve profitability by coaching implementation of these best practices. A significant number of these shops are working hard at the changes and reaping the rewards, but there are some that will not try, and some that have given up.
What saddens me even more is the number of shops that have never taken any management training, and blatantly say, “You cannot teach me anything that I don’t already know!” The heat just got turned up another notch. As I tell our clients, I am not asking you to jump off of a cliff or climb Mount Everest, I am just asking you to take the first step, and then take it one step at a time.
Make that decision today to take the first step! You will actually have more freedom now than you ever did before.