In my last column in the August 2012 issue of Dealer magazine “So Ya Wanna be a Technician,” I provided a dose of technician reality for the unwashed. “Technicianing,” fortunately for you Mr./Ms. Manager, is a type of physical and mental addiction, even if the consequences for the doer aren’t always favorable. As I noted previously, technicians don’t receive much management or appreciation for that matter, and as a result, the rotten apples fit right in with the good ones – something that obviously antagonizes the P out of me.
I have been asking this poignant question in many of my management workshops of late, “What is the number one motivator of people?” Of course, “money” is espoused with regularity, I guess to no one’s surprise. The answer, which deep down you know cause you are likely people too, is “Recognition” – negative or positive. Psychologists tell us that juveniles with so much metal in their faces that they can’t get near a magnet for fear of being stuck that way for life, are a result of attention. Yep, but the negative kind, not the positive kind. The bottom line is that these minions didn’t receive attention for committing positive behavior, so they reverted to metal fragment facial inserts (MFFI) and viola everyone recognizes. Job well done I must say.
I had the wonderful opportunity to begin my technician apprenticeship under a European service manager who understood the concept of attention. Every day, without fail, he visited every tech first thing in the AM to take our pulses. “How ya doing? Sleep good? Ready to turn 12 hours today? Good breakfast? Great day yesterday – thanks. Oh, the Jag in your stall is missing at about 110 miles per hour – needs a road test.” See the addiction part now?
Later I discovered that he understood our business model well: a piece of cement. Whatever activity occurred on each piece of cement each day determined how profitable or not the shop would be. Consequently he made sure a vehicle and a repair order were available when we arrived so that we could honor his hard and fast rule when clocking – RO in one hand, attendance card in the other. No lost time – he treated lost time like a mortal sin; unlike the venial sin for not washing your hands ten times a day (tech gloves weren’t invented and only sissies back then would wear them anyway).
Management communication with techs is available in two distinct practices, informal and formal. The informal ones are the daily temperature readings at the stalls (at least twice), and the formal communication in full shop or team meetings. The informal conversations are more random, personal, and individualized, while effective group meetings are agenda-driven and focused on a specific result. BTW, suddenly calling your commission-based gang together to nitpick about Fred’s stupid actions isn’t constructive for you, them or Fred. Stop that waste of time.
On the formal side, the need here is extraordinary. First let me opine about policy and procedures. Unfortunately, today’s run-of-the-mill service manager isn’t technical, and usually doesn’t bother to study up on any facets of that trade either. Consequently, way too many technicians are running their own gigs, not always in the best interest of the customer or the business. As a result, clueless executives have crap work going on right under their noses, which is negatively influencing all the virtuous techs. My least favorite instance of abject neglect is watching unworthy specialists utilizing overly powerful air/electric guns to over-torque wheels in a freakin’ circle – too much NASCAR. Besides warping the hubs, and stressing the lugs to snap pressure, it sets the customer up for the inability to get the wheel off if a flat tire occurred. In my own shop recently, I personally had to put a pipe on a breaker bar to remove a wheel which had been mounted in a local Toyota dealership utilizing “factory trained technicians” only days before. Grrr.
What to do?
If you don’t have tech teams with quality foremen supervising the show, at minimum assign an overall shop foreman/trainer at least part time. Give this champion $.25 an hour or so for all the hours produced and ask him/her to supervise “quality” performance, including reporting missteps to management. I realize many shops can’t afford a full-time foreman, but make your go-to tech a performance monitor at least. The quality techs will appreciate it – they are sick of duds continuing to be allowed to desecrate customer vehicles.
Set individual production objectives (flat rate hours and percent of output) and celebrate accomplishments. Especially put emphasis on a low comeback ratio and post those results, along with production results and CSI scores, on a predominately displayed Shop Information Board for all to see. Ensure your customer service managers (advisors for those who don’t understand who the customer really wants to speak to) “thank” technicians regularly, especially the ones who go the extra mile when requested.
Learn how to plan work and dispatch so that every tech has a good day every day. When handing out a tough job, have a gravy one to follow-up and excite the tech with that tidbit. Remember, the better (more skilled) tech you are, the worse jobs (lots of clock time, low flat rate time) that get shoveled at you.
Psychologists also tell us that active listening is a skill to be developed. Well, we need more training in our industry. I am amazed by the amount of significant information competent techs share with me, which will create a more productive and profitable department. My take is that customer and employee whiners ultimately create deaf service managers, who get sick and tired of negative input – can happen to the best person. The sad part is that it takes a toll on the shop when employees with constructive input get shut down because of incessant crybabies.
The bottom line is actually simple. 1. Don’t keep loser techs. 2. Place a high-standard technician in charge of technical methods and procedures. 3. Invigorate each tech with a management visit -every tech every day at least twice. 4. Conduct short, formal and weekly technical training / communication sessions – ask about needs every time. 5. Set, monitor and celebrate objectives accomplished. 6. Control workflow so that every worker bee wins every day. 7. Say thanks often and mean it.
Need a written foreman job function? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put on the subject line: “I Need A Pit Bull Job Function.” I’ll send it along smartly – Excel format.
Ok, you can stop laughing now.