In the past, training your management was a rare luxury item in the operational budget. And it would often suffer severe cuts after the purchase of new equipment – when it should’ve been considered a required fixed expense before the shop doors ever opened. Today, however, successful shop owners realize the importance of continuous management training and understand it’s critical to their success. Not sold on continuous training? Let’s examine why it’s important and what needs done to make it a reality in your shop.
Proceduralizing Your Business
If everyone in your shop continued to learn to do their jobs better every day, your business would become more profitable and successful, your employees would become successful and teamwork would improve. And all this is part of becoming truly “customer focused.” Customers’ expectations continue to increase and change based on what other industries promise, i.e., 24-7 service, knowledgeable sales staff, one-stop shopping, delivery dates met, jobs done in a reasonable time frame (two to four days, not weeks), etc.
Because of such expectations, most customers won’t accept poorly trained administrative or production staff with their vehicles, so we must learn to change how we conduct business.
How do you begin such change? First, you need to “proceduralize” your business. To do this, you must document your business model so your expectations are clearly identified. What can you proceduralize? Just about everything:
How to answer the phone; how to handle questions; how to introduce estimators; how to resolve conflict; how to set up a file (the same way each time); how to process files; where to put files; where to put keys and how to mark them; how and where vehicles are stored and parked; how parts are stored; how the shop is opened and closed down; how to deliver the vehicle back to the customer; how to close the sale; how to upsell; how to maintain the spraybooth, prep station and mixing room; how to comply with safety regulations; how to handle different insurers; how to distribute jobs, etc. Any operation in your business can be proceduralized.
Identifying Staffing and Training Needs
Next, you need to identify the staffing needs and training requirements for your processes. To start, look at ISO 9001-2000 requirements for process documenting or hire a consulting company if you need outside assistance.
Problem is, you can only improve when you know where you are now. And this means documenting your processes, training your staff and holding them accountable. It also often means bringing in an unbiased observer to make sure you’re accomplishing what you want to accomplish. I’ve found that most of the time, what the owner thinks is happening isn’t what’s really happening.
Once the truth of what’s really happening is identified, additional staff or implementation of technology is often required to make what needs to happen actually happen, i.e. the management system you need will require people to use it, and this may require the staff to learn Windows first and then the management system.
Many times we get requests for detailed job descriptions, since many shop owners believe job descriptions are the solution to their troubles. This is far from the truth. Keep in mind that you should never implement job descriptions until you’ve identified your shop’s processes, the staff members required to perform these processes and the educational requirements.
Documenting Internal Processes When documenting your processes, you need to identify the ones that may be universal or are already provided by manufacturers of the products and equipment you currently use. Examples include plastic repair systems, masking systems, paint systems and structural equipment. Most of the manufacturers of equipment and materials have training programs, video tapes and other support materials readily available. Just ask.
Now that you’ve gathered all the available video, DVD and other media training materials your shop has implemented in its processes, you’ll find critical areas of need not addressed in this library. So what do you do now? First check with your association, since they have libraries of educational materials. Then look at national events (or expositions) and their training tapes, which may cover very specialized processes such as customer care, conflict resolution, performing employee evaluations, etc. And, of course, always check with trade publications – like this one.
But the real challenge comes after you’ve exhausted all of these sources. There will be training processes that may be unavailable or are unique to your business. In these instances, what should you do? One option: Make a movie.
Today, a digital video camera and a medium-quality editing station aren’t that expensive. This type of station has plenty of available options – and for a fraction of the size and cost of what similar equipment would have cost 10 years ago. And today, operating these systems is so simple that my 10-year-old daughter can do it. In fact, if you have kids, they may become your video editing/production department!
I’m not saying you’ll produce a full-length feature movie that’s going to win an Oscar – or even be suitable for local TV broadcasting (although there’s a good chance it’ll be better than some of the local cable access stuff). And it can easily exceed minimum quality standards for training.
Start your film by showing simple tasks, such as how to properly wash a vehicle, perform a final quality check, greet a customer, answer the telephone, clean the spraybooth, secure the facility at night, etc. The list may be long, but it doesn’t take that much time to record them individually. Like a friend of mine says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Making Training a Reality
When it comes to training, everyone has an excuse for why they don’t have time for it. It’s like the health clubs we’ve joined over the years. We all know we’ll achieve great results if we follow the proper regimen. But we often sacrifice our health for extra hours of work or time to “relax” at home, which translates into watching television. Training has always taken a back seat to most, if not all, of our other daily activities.
The only way to change this lackluster desire to learn within our industry is to make training a consistent part of the daily function. Regular performance reviews (not just when you’re about to fire someone or when employees want a raise) must include training requirements on a continuous basis. One area often missed by programs is the recognition and yearly requirements of continuous training – from all sources. Our industry must begin to see that continuous training leads to continuous improvements.
To begin, training must be part of each day. Having people learn to appreciate the roles of other departments in the total process is also critical to enhancing their desire for improvement. And it’s up to you – as the owner or manager – to provide the value associated with training. Training won’t work if it’s just a small line item on your staff’s job requirements and not really part of their performance review, which is what carries serious weight. (Remember, your employees know what’s really important to their performance evaluation and what’s secondary.)
Next, make the commitment to provide the opportunity for learning with regard to time. Why pay the staff overtime or additional wages to attend out-of-house programs when you can break the same program down into small learning segments of 30 to 45 minutes each day or week?
Putting It All Together
Think about this: If only 5 percent of the 60,000 shops in this country would develop just three processes to share with the rest of the industry, that would total more than 9,000 documented learning programs. What a start! The association libraries would be overflowing, and everybody would benefit.
Where do we start? Maybe with the basics. One needed basic in the collision industry is how to properly use a computer (specifically Windows). Did you know that most of our children have 10 times the computer skills that we have? Computer training programs are available on video, online, and at community colleges and high schools nationwide. Look into them.
Someone told me years ago that 99 percent of computer problems are simply a PEBMAC – the Problem Exists Between Monitor And Chair. In other words, we’re the problem because we lack understanding and the proper skills.
No matter what size your shop was yesterday, is today or is going to be tomorrow, providing the necessary training to adjust to changes must be a higher priority than it was in the past. It may very well be that the PEBMAC in your shop isn’t your employees, but you and your management – for failing to provide that training.
Contributing editor Tony Passwater is president of AEII, a consulting, training and system-development company. He’s been in the industry for more than 27 years; has been a collision repair facility owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international Instructor; and has taught seminars across North America, Korea and China. He can be contacted at (317) 290-0611, ext. 101, or at [email protected]. Or visit his Web site at www.aeii.net.
Your Very Own Multimedia Learning Center
Many Happy Returns
There are many ways to validate training returns. Successful organizations in other industries have shown this numerous times, and many target up to 8 percent of sales for training. Our industry, on the other hand, seldom invests more than 1 percent. This simple example illustrates the return that can be achieved from training:
A specific 30-minute in-house online learning segment – on how to properly enter administrative information into the estimating system before the estimate is written – costs you $10 to $20 for an employee to complete (based on gross wages of one half hour) and is designed to improve his daily performance by 10 minutes. So, if your estimator has a salary of $40,000 per year, this translates into a time savings equal to more than $3 per day, forever. In other words, after a maximum of six days, the training becomes profitable.
Here’s the math: Convert 10 minutes into dollars for a $40,000 per year employee by dividing $40,000 by 50 weeks per year worked. This comes to $800 a week. Now divide this by 40 hours a week to get $20 per hour. Divide this by 10 minutes, or one-sixth of an hour to get $3.34. After six days (6 x $3.34 = $20.00), you match the cost for the employee to do the training.
To really see value, consider that training your person at the front desk on the estimating system (training him how to enter the administrative information properly and quickly) reduces the time it takes to write each estimate by 10 minutes. Now the profit can be realized on the first day after writing the sixth estimate. And believe me, this is a very conservative calculation – I’ve seen how poorly most estimators type and use Windows-based programs!
On the other hand, if in-house training isn’t an option – for whatever reason – you can pay wages or overtime for your employees to train off-site during or after normal work hours. You’ll still recover those costs and eventually profit, but it may take longer. The key is being able to quantify your returns with specific outcomes that translate to productivity gains.