Probably the best thing that happened to me as a controller was change. I worked for one dealer that liked to buy dealerships, so I learned about buy/sells. I worked for a dealership group that liked to move general managers around (and sometimes out), so I learned how that position either succeeds or fails. I worked for a few that liked to save money by changing computer systems – and that change was the best learning process for me. By changing computer systems you learn a lot more than you probably want, like how to handle emergencies, where data is stored, and how your computer system processes data.
The best computer conversions that I have seen have been where the controller and other managers are completely prepared. Having a great install team from the DMS provider or easy to use software helps, but I find that success is in the hands of your key management.
How? One of my favorite stories is about a wise man who is famous for being able to tell what others are thinking. Someone who wants to prove him wrong carries a live bird hidden in his hands behind his back. The person goes to the wise man and asks, “I have a bird in my hand, is the bird alive or dead?”
If wise man says “dead”, the person can open hands to let it fly away. If he says “alive,” the person squeezes the bird dead behind his back. The wise man answers, “The answer to that question lies in your hands.”
Making a change go easily is in your hands. There are five keys to handling change:
- Get the other humans involved. If your key management was involved in the decision, then they have a vested interest in making sure the change goes well. If you’re changing computer systems or buying new software – make sure they are involved in the selection. As a computer consultant, I always recommended assembling a technology committee of a parts manager, controller, service advisor or warranty clerk, Internet manager, and the dealer/GM. They should see the new options and vote on the one they like the best.
- Schedule the change for the best time of the year or month. If you’re converting computer systems, the best time of the year is after a quarter ends and the best time of the month is between the 10th and 20th.
- Make a plan for everything that can go wrong. Let’s say that you’re changing computer systems. What if you can’t open up a repair order on the morning of “go live?” Do you have a plan to still get the work completed? Remember that we used to fix cars all the time without a computer. How can you calculate payments? Can you hand-write contracts?
- Have a backup plan for #3 items. Your backup plan for not being able to write service on the new or old computer would be to have a download of your parts inventory – so you can charge out parts and your customer’s history and vehicle file downloaded so you can figure out what they have had done (if you’ve gone away from hard copies.) Do you have some blank repair orders? Great. Otherwise, what can you use to create a repair order? Excel? Quickbooks?
- Clear your schedule and everyone else’s. During change it is important that you focus on this one change and not have meetings planned, vacations schedules and even ask employees to delay doctor’s appointments. Have each key manager prepare a staffing plan of how they are going to get through this change with the current staff and if you might need some temporary help while your staff goes through training. During a computer conversion, employees are only 25% productive. Are you okay with only 25% of the bank deposit getting to the bank? How about only 25% of your sales?
If you use these five steps for every change – especially a computer conversion or new software installation – you might end up with a live bird when it is all over, but the answer is in your hands!