AKRON (Dec. 23, 2002)—The kind of leadership needed to improve a service department requires strict controls in some instances and hearty encouragement in other areas.
A service department without a combination of control and encouragement is a department on the road to nowhere. Here´s why.
I´ve discussed the topic of leadership in several previous columns. The art of leadership requires a balance between, among other things, cracking the whip one time and giving accolades another time. Understandably, bosses whom I meet at tire dealerships and service shops love to hear concrete examples of leadership.
One solid example of admirable leadership is cracking the whip on workers by exercising reasonable control on what they do in the bays. Someone-preferably the service manager or shop foreman-has to impress upon the technicians that they really are accountable for everything they do to a vehicle. In particular, techs are accountable for all the parts they install. This means that whenever a tech claims a vehicle needs this part or that, he or she had better have a solid reason for replacing that part.
Too many service personnel I encounter take the attitude that if replacing a part doesn´t fix the vehicle, you´re justified in returning the part to your supplier and making a slightly used, good part the supplier´s problem.
Recently I saw a prime example of poor leadership due to a lack of control. I received a telephone call about a no-start condition that supposedly had stymied the techs at a service shop. By the time someone at the shop called me, the vehicle had already been tied up for two days. The tech assigned to it had already tried two high-quality remanufactured starters.
When those parts didn´t solve the no-start, he had a local auto-electrical specialist overhaul the vehicle´s original starter. But refurbishing that starter still didn´t fix the vehicle.
Via phone, I learned that the job has been reassigned to the shop´s most electrically savvy tech. No surprise, I also learned that the other tech had not performed the most fundamental but essential voltage checks on the vehicle´s starting system.
Here, exercising leadership should have meant controlling the situation by assigning the job to the worker best suited for it-the one with the electrical know-how. At this point, readers may protest that sometimes the tech best suited to doing a particular job is already busy.
Well this is America, and that customer needs the vehicle now!
Unfortunately, the fallacy of this thinking is that in their rush to repair the vehicle as quickly as possible, the foreman or manager forfeited control of the job. The result was that the customer had to do without his vehicle for three full days. Realistically, that´s two days too many for what the job really required.
Consider another example of leadership via control. Regardless of which tech tackled this no-start diagnosis, who allowed him to go so far as to needlessly install three different starters? I´ll be gracious and say that by the time the first replacement starter didn´t fix the vehicle, a real leader would have said, ``Stop now! Recheck your work and cover the basics.´´
Obviously, that control wasn´t exercised or the fiasco wouldn´t have progressed as far as it did.
Yet another example of prudent control is the leader who dictates that parts simply aren´t replaced until techs have performed thorough and logical diagnostic tests. Unfortunately for the time-harried manager, proper diagnosis always takes a certain amount of time. But years of experience prove that you either spend the time up front on proper diagnosis or pay for it dearly later on with an unhappy customer and a vehicle that´s down for three days instead of half a day!
Last but not least, leadership entails ongoing encouragement at the right time. In this instance, a good leader would have encouraged rather than discouraged spending the time on thorough diagnosis up front, when it counts the most. Good leaders in our business always promote the concept that a thorough diagnosis is always the shortest path to profits and a repair done correctly the first time.
True leaders in any service department communicate that a thorough diagnosis isn´t just a neat-sounding idea-it´s proper shop policy and procedure. Proper procedure works first time, every time out in the bays.
Is it time to evaluate the ``leadership´´ messages your managers project to your workforce?