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From the VP: When Is It Time to Seek Outside Help?

You just can’t take any more. Things are falling apart, employees aren’t responding, work quality suffers, money gets tight…so thinking of bringing someone in to help fix things is the last thing on your mind right now. Who can afford it?

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Lou Berman is vice president of sales for Collision Care Auto Body Centers. He also consults (out of market) nationwide. He can be reached at [email protected]

You just can’t take any more. Things are falling apart, employees aren’t responding, work quality suffers, money gets tight…thinking of bringing someone in to help fix things is the last thing on your mind right now. Who can afford it? “I’ll wait till things get better.” But then, if things get better, why would you need to talk to someone to help you?

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The truth is that even large MSOs rely on external sources for experience, guidance and wisdom. They don’t all know everything, nor do they rely upon themselves for answers they seek. I would even argue that large MSOs rely upon third-party information, or analytics of in-house consultants, at a rate of probably three to five times more than the average body shop owner ever would.

Mystery Shopping

At Collision Care, we hired a company called Contact Point to mystery shop for us on the phone and review, improve and implement proper telephone techniques for a variety of situations our employees would run across daily. The goal was to reinforce simple techniques on the job, such as capturing customers’ information and phone numbers and expressing empathy toward their situation to encourage a buying decision. And we were surprised when we heard how our employees responded to the simplest requests. We realized that the old adage, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect,” still rings true.

Front Office

What truly amazes me is that we won’t hesitate to send our employees to an I-CAR class or have a jobber come in and teach our painter about the new paint line, but we won’t invest in the front office – the estimators and customer service people. Every body shop owner invests in equipment and product training, yet ignores the front line.

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I can’t tell you how many estimate reviews I’ve done as a consultant in which $200 to $500 has been legitimately left on the table. I see this over and over again, yet even though there are 35,000-plus body shops in the U.S., consultants remain woefully underemployed.

Why is this? I think we’ve become too programmed to think for ourselves and don’t believe that things could be done better, more profitably, and – the most humbling part of all this – by someone else!

Listen, gang, it’s no reflection upon your business acumen if someone can come in and teach you how to do things better, faster and cheaper. In fact, you should want to take advantage of such a great learning opportunity! Look at your business and ask yourself honestly how much you’ve invested to improve the employees who are most responsible for bringing dollars to your door. I guarantee if you haven’t brought anyone in to look at something like that, it’s long overdue.

No Leadership

When shop problems get gnarly, it’s because someone in leadership didn’t lead. The foreman was increasingly ineffective, the manager didn’t intervene and the owner didn’t listen.

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Panic drives the manager to look for a quick fix because he wants the problem to go away, the noise to stop, the complaints to cease and the fallout to disappear…fast.

Many managers believe that by hiring an outside consultant to address the problem, they’ll come across as take-charge, decisive leaders. The truth is that many owners and managers often resent someone else coming in to take an honest look at their business because it’s never easy to hear about all the things you haven’t done right.

The leaders often overlook (even deny) the fact that they:

  • Made a poor supervisory hire or promotion
  • Weren’t engaged enough with employees to recognize discontent
  • Didn’t intervene soon enough when there were signs of a problem
  • Failed to communicate their concerns and expectations for improvement clearly
  • Obtained no formal commitment from the supervisor for change
  • Didn’t provide essential training in skill areas needing improvement
  • Failed to establish consequences for not turning the situation around

If the owner had addressed the manager’s deficiencies early on, the situation wouldn’t have escalated. We can’t forget that managers want to do a good job. They don’t intentionally make a mess of things. Situations get gummed up one misstep at a time. You don’t completely fix situations like these with outside consultants, but you can make things better.

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The Consultant Trap

I feel like I can say these things because I’m both a performance management consultant and coach. Consultants take an aerial view of workplace/business conditions, while coaches most often provide individual support. There’s a place for both, but managers need to fully understand what service they’re buying and how it will be perceived and received.

When you bring in a consultant to “fix” a supervisor, you’re announcing to the workforce, directly or indirectly, that:

  • Your supervisor’s performance problems are excessive
  • You’re incapable of addressing them
  • Employees were right to believe that they’ve been subject to ineptitude
  • The consultant will try to fix your supervisor and you’ll all get to watch, albeit by peeping behind the curtain
  • If the consultant can’t fix him/her, then something serious will happen

What are the chances that the supervisor will survive this gauntlet? Or even the manager?

Coach or Consultant?

I believe strongly that struggling supervisors (managers, executives and team leaders) deserve legitimate help and support. It’s good business and fair. When managers don’t know how to help a supervisor overcome performance issues, hiring a coach/consultant can be a  great idea – just keep them out of sight. A coach/consultant is a tutor, someone who helps the supervisor and the manager figure out together what went wrong and how to remedy it. Once a manager knows the breadth of the issues, they’ll know what kind of coach/consultant they need. If it’s just about supervisory skills, a coach might do. If it’s about how to deal with and navigate internal politics, a consultant may be the choice. If it’s both, then a coach/consultant is ideal.

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You shouldn’t use outside resources in ways that demean or humiliate your supervisor…or anyone. It’s hard enough for anyone to turn a personal performance issue around, so you don’t make someone’s efforts into a sideshow.

The Best Gift

Being a manager or a supervisor is a hard job. It takes a long time to become a really good one. Everyone stumbles along the way. Over time, we learn that early intervention is the gift that helps us get better. Outside help is a plus when it’s carefully and effectively done.

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