AKRON (April 26, 2004) — Smart bosses should create and enforce a system of accountability for all the tools and equipment in their service department.
Why? Because accountability improves profits and builds morale.
I'm almost embarrassed to explain the inspiration for this column. For the second time in as many years, a manager has broken into a toolbox owned by a trusted source of mine. In each instance, the boss wrongly believed the technician was hiding and/or stealing some of the shop's specialty tools. To add insult to injury, no verbal or written warnings had been given, and the break-ins occurred while these workers were away.
To me, breaking into an employee's toolbox when he's not at work is the desperate act of a desperate boss.
What's more, it shows a total lack of leadership and managerial skills on the part of these bosses. I'll return to those aspects of the topic in my next column. For now, I need to explain how these situations occur and why they're cautionary tales for concerned owners and managers of any automotive service facility.
While my work forces me to travel a great deal, it also affords the opportunity to visit tire dealerships and service shops across the country. In my experience, it's not uncommon to meet honest and competent technicians who routinely squirrel away certain tools and pieces of test equipment in order to protect and preserve these items.
The bitter truth: If they don't protect these tools and pieces of equipment, no one else in the shop will!
One dirty little secret at many service shops is that one or two employees are more concerned about the welfare of the equipment and specialty tools than the boss or manager is. They worry about the condition and availability of tools and equipment because they know it directly affects both their income and the overall stress level of their jobs.
Therefore, they make it their business to account for all the pieces in a critical tool kit as well as in-spect invaluable items such as test leads, interface adapters, etc.
So their motivation is both altruistic as well as downright selfish—but they get it done.
Another little secret is that these concerned techs find various ways to hide various valuable items until they or a co-worker needs them. As you might suspect, the worker's own toolbox is a practical hiding place. In some shops where I've done on-car “homework,” it's an inside joke that you always seek this item or that one from Joe's toolbox because he's the de facto caretaker of those tools.
Make no mistake, hiding or harboring tools is wrong. But my first-hand observation is that many techs are very content with this informal arrangement because they're too lazy and/or unprofessional to take responsibility for their workplace, including special tools and equipment. As long as the stuff's available and functioning when they need it, what do they care?
Unfortunately, sometimes things aren't available because the caretaker's earned a day off and forgot to leave his toolbox unlocked. This can be a great opportunity for spiteful or vengeful co-workers to settle some old score with another tech. They “rat him out” on condition of anonymity. Rather than telephone the “caretaker” and ask him to retrieve the tools, a spineless manager tries to set an example by breaking open his toolbox.
The third little secret here is that some owners and managers haven't the vaguest idea how to organize and manage a service department. They haven't any idea how to store tools and equipment in any logical, practical way. And they certainly don't have the brains or backbone to implement and enforce rules.
Specifically, they won't hold all technicians equally accountable for cleaning stuff and putting it back where it belongs.
The captain always sets the tone for the crew of his ship. When he or she promotes apathetic, irresponsible behavior, the crew reacts accordingly.
Accountability for tools and equipment should be spelled out in an employee manual and emphasized during hiring interviews as well as regular staff meetings. It's the only way to run a tight ship.