What's an easy way to build mutual respect, teamwork and self-esteem within your service staff? Implement a weekly ``idea luncheon,'' a savvy service manager suggested. A 30-year veteran of the automotive repair business, this manager oversees 15 technicians at a large BMW dealership in the South. I'm convinced that if his approach succeeds in the demanding, high-tech atmosphere of a BMW store, it will benefit any service shop.
This fellow is adamant about building teamwork. Experience has taught him that teamwork—not the individual efforts of several prima donna technicians—is the key to long-term customer satisfaction. Instead, everyone in the service department shares what they learn, improving the aggregate knowledge of the entire staff.
Not only is this a practical, inexpensive and informal form of cross-training, it also improves mutual respect among technicians by demonstrating that everyone from the greenest trainee to a senior tech has something to offer to the group's collective know-how.
Over the years, this manager fought to improve overall productivity by minimizing the emotional highs and lows techs experience due to the vagaries of the repair business. Namely, techs' output and work quality fluctuated too much according to the difficulty and profitability of the work they were assigned.
This meant too many needless comebacks due to mistakes made during a week when a tech happened to catch more unpopular tasks than expected.
The inevitable results were that techs saddled with ``dog'' work dragged down the shop's overall productivity and hampered the service department's customer satisfaction scores (CSI). The manager also saw a pattern develop where both he and a struggling worker learned about a simpler, smarter way to handle a tough task from a senior tech after the fact.
He realized he had to devise a way for 15 different techs with various degrees of knowledge and ability to share tips they learned daily at that prestigious university, ``The School of Hard Knocks.''
This manager knew that all aggressive techs loved to eat. He thought of a traditional Irish or Italian family debating the day's issues around a big table. If that was an effective open forum for millions of families, it could serve the same purpose for his department's 15 technicians.
Thus the weekly idea luncheon was born. It was an immediate hit and has served the dealership well ever since. The manager told me that the idea luncheon works well for several reasons.
First, it's only human to like a free meal. This manager, who was used to coercing workers to attend staff meetings, saw them flocking to the lunch table with no prodding whatsoever. Plus, free chow made everyone both relaxed and upbeat—just the mood needed to drop the defenses, meet new neighbors and swap information.
Second, the luncheon fostered a neighborly, team atmosphere by allowing techs to get to know each other better both personally and professionally. After all, 15 techs is a large crew by anyone's standards. The shop was so busy that most of the men only knew each other by names on uniforms.
Because they had little time to fraternize, they didn't realize how much they all had in common. The more they found they had in common, the easier it became to bond them together and lead them toward a common goal of greater overall productivity.
The better acquainted the crew became, the warmer and livelier the luncheon discussions became.
Third, familiarity fosters trust. And trust is essential for mutual cooperation within any staff—especially a bunch of headstrong technicians. The more the men got to know each other, the easier the advice and tech tips flowed at every idea luncheon.
Fourth, tactfully forcing a large group of techs to share information gives everyone a broader, healthier perspective. On one hand, it tacitly humbles the brightest techs by reminding them they haven't seen everything and even they can stand to learn something new. It serves notice to high-strung, egotistical techs that many of their jealously guarded ``trade secrets'' really aren't so secret after all.
On the other hand, the tactic boosts the confidence and self-esteem of younger techs by showing everyone that even a young Turk brings valuable tips to the table. The idea luncheon quietly and regularly reminds the crew that in this business a truly smart tech is never finished learning.
Fifth, the idea exchanges reinforce the importance of drawing on the group's collective experience before time is wasted on side-tracked or dead-end diagnoses.