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Should you listen to your employees?

You want your customers to listen to your people, so why aren’t you?
Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 11:55
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Should you listen to your service advisor? Should you listen to part-timers who help you keep the shop looking great? How often should you talk with them?

Working with shop owners for more than four decades has taught me a lot about running a business. In the past 10 years, I have seen more change in our industry than in the previous 30 years. We have been forced to learn many new skills, and believe me when I tell you I hate change. I was listening to a shop owner from Nebraska, Rick Johnson, explain how to keep your business growing. He also is a coach at ATI and has taught this successfully to hundreds of shop owners.

Rick said he has a good friend whose son is an airline pilot. One day she was telling him about something her son talked to her about. He had told her about “situational awareness.” It is simply the ability to see objects in time and space through multiple perspectives and interpretations. Simple, huh? He put it to her like this: “Mom, even though we have all these wonderful instruments that tell us how fast we are going, how high we are flying, how much fuel we have and how well things are running, it is still important to look out the window once in a while and see for ourselves just how things are looking.”

Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity in order to understand how information, events and one’s own actions will affect goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future. One with an adept sense of situational awareness generally has a high degree of knowledge about the inputs and outputs of a system, i.e., an instinctive “feel” for people and events — for the situations that play out due to variables the subject can control. Another definition is “the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future.” And probably my most favorite, “Knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do.”

Increasing Productivity
So how does all this apply to your shop? After all, we are not flying high-tech airplanes here — or are we? I have always been told that a service writer is much like an air traffic controller. The advisor handles all the traffic coming into the shop and all the traffic leaving the shop, watches for collisions of time constraints, promised delivery times and parts ordering, and keeps track of the techs’ needs as well. The techs keep this well-oiled machine cranking out all the production, and the owner (pilot) needs to fly this ship and watch for any hazards and fly around them as they come up. When the shop has good communication from the control tower to the techs and the owner, things can fly along pretty smoothly. However, when something breaks down, it is amazing and scary how fast we can crash and burn.

We, like the airplane pilot, definitely have a lot of “wonderful instruments” to monitor our business. At ATI we call them Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We can see average repair order, parts margins, labor margins, car count, gross profit and many other indicators of how fast we are going, how high we are flying and how much fuel we have. So, like the pilot, do we need to just watch the gauges, or do we need to “look out the window” and practice situational awareness as well?

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