Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2008   by Richard Dansereau, general manager of L. A. D's Auto Repair and Implementation Coach with TACT

Taking the “Kaizen” approach to success and leadership, team relationships

When I started, cars fascinated me. I was amazed how that little puff of fuel vapor, combined with a little spark and the compression of air could push down that piston and propel a vehicle forward. T...

When I started, cars fascinated me. I was amazed how that little puff of fuel vapor, combined with a little spark and the compression of air could push down that piston and propel a vehicle forward. That fascination made me want to become a mechanic and worked hard to get my license. I got into an apprenticeship program and took technical training courses at our local post-secondary institution. Four years of training got me where I wanted to be -a licensed technician.

After working in the bays for a few years, I thought to myself: “I now have the knowledge to run a shop.” So I asked to be a shareholder in the business and I got involved on the business side in the mid-90s. It was very exciting at first, but as the years went on it became very stressful and the work became overwhelming. Money became difficult to come by. This is where I realized that we needed some changes in our shop. How are we going to organize ourselves to make it in the future?

Information & Technology

Information and technology has grown at a fast pace. Today, all of us buy scan tools to diagnose vehicles and personal computers to help manage our businesses. Only the question that needs to be asked is how are we keeping up with the latest forms of technology that indirectly affects our business? Text messaging and email have exploded as the main forms of communication for many entering the next decade. GPS technology has been out for years and it is at the point where it will be necessary for the shop owner to understand its impact on how customers will find your facility in the future. Bluetooth, iPods, PDAs, satellite radio, e-steering, collision avoidance systems are all either here or are on the way to becoming mainstream car technologies. Many of your customers today are tech-savvy and understand this technology; their private and work lives revolve around it. They are able to multitask: talk, walk, listen and type all at the same time which can be very disconcerting for some of us. When you encounter this generation of people, they will demand more from you as a potential employer, and will expect more from your business as a potential client. And understanding this type of person will be essential to the success of your shop in the next 10 years. The shops that can be forward thinking and able embrace these individuals will be highly successful. So how do we do it?

The Team

The key to a successful business relies on the relationship and philosophy of the people within. Henry Ford once said, “Why is it that when I want to hire a pair of hands, a brain comes attached to them?” This quote demonstrates an older philosophy, that people were simply a tool to achieve an end; and an unfortunate result was that people often left the job because they were treated as end, and not as people who had intelligent ideas that they could contribute to the business. If the current business philosophy you are operating under has you scrambling for staff in a “revolving door” system, try this -Kaizen, a philosophy many have adopted in the automotive industry instead.

After World War II, the Japanese came up with a theory that included two words “Kai” meaning change and “Zen” meaning good. When these two words are put together, they create a foundation for the theory of Kaizen. Toyota adopted this philosophy in their vehicle production system with unrivaled results. In the Western world, we call it the “Continuous Improvement” philosophy. It means that all people within a business adopt a personal philosophy of self improvement and allows anyone to make improvements to the business without waiting for an owner or manager to decide for them. If applied in an automotive shop setting, technicians are teachers, service advisors are teachers, and managers are teachers. This self-improvement philosophy opens doors to a new ways of thinking for shops. Everyone now has a stake in the success of the business because everyone has input into improving and making the shop run more smoothly and profitably. Instead of the constant finger pointing that we have endured for years, of everyone looking for someone to blame when something goes wrong, people are instead encouraged to make their opinions known and to take the initiative to make improvements to business processes. This happens everywhere in the business, from the technicians working in the bays to the front-end service writers interacting with the customers. But there is one more piece in this new philosophy that also has to be in place to make it all work. And that is a strong manager/owner who can lead the team to making it all work.


Leadership is the key to running a successful business. You don’t have to be a charismatic leader like Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy or William Aberhart, as much as you might be stirred by their speeches and examples. All you need to do is have a clear vision of the processes within your business. The decisions of a lot of shops are based on the money we have right now, which produces short-term visions of where the company will be because you are only trying to

make that same amount of money each time. Instead, as the leader of your team, you need to have a long-term vision and make decisions on based on that long-term vision; then motivating your staff with the Kaizen approach to work towards that same goal. When you employees are empowered to take an active roll in that long-term vision, to be proactive in taking initiatives to bring it about, you will soon discover that they will want to stay with you. Soon after, with the right leadership and team, the increasing profits will happen.

I do believe there is a bright future for a team of professional automotive shop owners, service advisors, and technicians that collaborate together (even with their parts suppliers) in this kaizen approach. Strategizing and discussing long-term decisions will be commonplace as the shop grows.


Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know!