Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2012   by Murray Voth, TACT

ROARing to Success!

Every once in a while I experience a convergence of ideas that is striking. I will hear someone speak, will read a book or read an interesting article which, on their own, are interesting and useful, but together they hit me between the eyes...


Every once in a while I experience a convergence of ideas that is striking. I will hear someone speak, will read a book or read an interesting article which, on their own, are interesting and useful, but together they hit me between the eyes and create an urgency to learn, discuss and share that convergence with others. The concept I want to share with you is planning: the mundane, boring concept of planning. So what am I so excited about?

About a month ago, it was my privilege to hear Thomas Deans PhD speak at the AIA Ontario convention in Toronto. He is the author of a groundbreaking book called “Every Family’s Business.” This needs to be read by any one who is in business, whether you work with family or not. He made a statement that really struck me: “Start with the end in mind.” You need to know how you are going to exit your business, before you begin. I have heard of short term, medium term and long term planning, but not planning for the end before you begin. I think this is a profound concept.

A couple of weeks later, a group of clients were telling me how sometimes the monthly financial measurement we perform seemed so irrelevant or redundant. I love measuring business performance and diagnosing the opportunities and challenges, but their comment stuck with me. What I realized was that for many people there was no context to the monthly numbers when there was no long-term plan or end game. I developed a series of questions and took them to other groups of clients to find out how much planning was actually happening.

The result of this research, a small sample I will admit, is that roughly 80 per cent of the automotive service providers I spoke with have never created a formal business plan. This is what hit me between the eyes, how can we operate a business without a plan, what is the big picture, what is the end game? “I hope next month will be busier?” What does busy mean? What do I want to have accomplished by the time my business career is over? What do I do with what I have created? Some of you may be saying, what’s so great about this? Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, I have always thought of planning as a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly activity, I have never thought of it as a beginning to end concept. Maybe I have been subconsciously avoiding the thought since I have entered into the over 50 gang.

The questions I have been asking shop owners are as follows: what is the next step for your business, what is the next decision you have you make, what is the next obstacle to over come, and what is your plan? There have been a very wide range of answers, but one of the common themes that has emerged is they are too busy with their nose to the grindstone to come up for air and make a plan. They say they are too busy trying to make money to manage their business. When I ask if they are making money, they say, “Not enough.” The image of a hamster on a tread wheel comes to mind.

Before this imagery offends anyone, I want you to know that this has hit me between the eyes because it applies to me as much as anyone else. This has caused me to think about and research some of the reasons that we as humans avoid planning. There are many reasons, but four themes have surfaced. The first is “what if the plan fails?” The second is, “Now I have to be accountable for the plan.” Number three is, “I don’t know what the future holds.” And the fourth is that the person is disengaged, in other words, given up.

Fear of failure is a very common human emotion, but just because it is common does not mean we need to be stuck there. Many times fear is caused by what we don’t know, so we don’t plan, because even if we did, there are too many unknowns. But good planning thinks about the possibilities, good and bad, and prepares for the unexpected. Control the things over which you have control, that way you can deal with the things over which you don’t have control.

The idea that I won’t make a plan because I will now be held accountable is a backwards way of looking at planning. Yes, once you create a plan you will be held accountable, but by whom, no one else but yourself. However, the flip side of that idea is that if you create a plan, you have control of the process, and most likely the outcome. The other feature of a plan is that it creates clarity regarding all lines of accountability, not just yours. It is how you hold others accountable, suppliers, employees, and yes, even your customers.

No one knows what the future holds. But there are principles, patterns, and processes that create consistent results. The sun comes up every morning, you breathe without thinking, what goes up, must come down, if there is either no spark or fuel or air, it won’t run. We are all planning all the time; we are just not necessarily planning well. Good planning means we have the correct mixture of fuel, spark, and air for the plan to work out well. When the plan is not working well, we diagnose what is out of range and make adjustments.

In many cases when I question a group of people as to why we as humans don’t do more planning, a common response is that we are too lazy. Although I believe that there are lazy people in the world, I think that many people are not lazy, they are disengaged, out of gear, running in neutral. The reasons for this could range from being burnt out, to confused, to discouraged, or overwhelmed. If any of you find yourself in this situation, and for some of us, we have already been there a couple of times in our lives, I believe that understanding planning from a different perspective will help alleviate confusion, reduce discouragement, create calm, and once you have rested up, give you motivation to move forward again.

Many current shop owners went into business without a plan, or if they had a plan they did not formalize it, and if they formalized it, they have not gone back to it. It is never too late to start planning and I would like to propose a slightly different approach to creating a plan. Let’s begin by Researching our industry. There is enough relevant current and historical data and existing business models to choose what a realistic outcome from an automotive shop would be. Choose a realistic but aggressive Outcome based on this research. Of course the primary outcome would be profits, the creation of wealth. The third part is to plan your Actions. This is where the difference comes. Most of us plan results, but don’t know the actions that will take us there. Planning actions lays the groundwork and the path to our outcome. The last step is to measure Results. Along the way to our final outcome there will be milestones that we will set out to see how close we are to the outcome. We will compare the Results to the milestones to see how we are progressing with our plan. I am going to call this process

ROAR

RESEARCH

– Properly research what you are getting yourself into.

OUTCOME

– Choose the outcome you want based on your research; include milestones or markers along the way that will show your progress.

ACTIONS

– Plan your actions. What are the steps required to reach the milestones and ultimately your final outcome?

RESULTS

– Measure the results of your actions. Do these results mesh with the milestones along the way to your outcome?

There is an expression I heard years ago about what it was like to own and manage an automotive shop, “You come to work in the morning, put the key in the door, turn the key and the bomb goes off.” The rest of the day is picking up the pieces. For those of you that feel like this, or feel like you are just too busy to think about your business because you are too busy working, there is hope. We need to start small. What is one thing you could do that would get you a half hour a day to work on your business rather than in it? Think about all the things you do in a day and give some thought to if you have to do all of it yourself. Begin to give away some of the basic tasks that others can perform and start to take control. Even though the ROAR method of planning has an order to it, there is no reason you can’t skip to Plan Your Actions and start getting control of your time, your business, your wealth, and your life.


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