AKRON (March 14, 2005) — A good service manager is part boss, leader, instructor and overseer. Here's why Tire Business readers must never underestimate the importance of the overseer's role in a successful service department.
Anyone with substantial shop experience knows that one of the most impressive things about a good technician is his or her resourcefulness. This trait enables better techs to leap a variety of daily obstacles as they repair a wide range of vehicles that usually aren't designed with serviceability in mind.
However, experience also teaches us that this often-rambunctious resourcefulness needs to be supervised. Sometimes, it simply needs to be reined in before someone or something gets hurt. All too often, service managers don't oversee well enough or oversee at all until some sort of calamity occurs.
For instance, some techs use a hammer instead of the appropriate puller or component-removal tool. Other techs use a driver, slide hammer or puller without supporting or steadying adjacent parts or components to prevent them from being damaged. Of course, there are workers who have no qualms about wielding a cutting torch in any situation.
Sooner or later, however, a vehicle is badly damaged with a hammer, slide hammer or cutting torch. Worse yet, a car may catch fire. Worst of all, a worker is seriously injured.
Assessing the catastrophe, the service manager appears stunned and amazed that risky, over-zealous procedures were occurring right under his or her nose.
Meanwhile, it's common knowledge among all the workers that the service manager has never recognized nor challenged various kinds of risky “resourcefulness” practiced in those bays.
Now the business may be facing a lawsuit, stout medical bills and likely, increased insurance premiums. There's also the issue of a tarnished reputation and the cost of making restitution on a damaged vehicle.
Don't get me wrong, readers. Accidents can and do happen to good employees who are typically careful and thoughtful in their work. I'm arguing that inadequate supervision is too common for my liking. I've also had my fill of managers who whine about these mistakes and/or accidents but have done nothing to prevent them.
Successful supervision or oversight begins with a physical presence in the bays. If the service manager is too busy to oversee in some way, shape or form, then hire a shop foreman or empower and pay a senior technician to do it. Hold a staff meeting and explain in detail the foreman's or senior tech's duties and authority in the bays.
Basically, this person's job is to ensure that well-intentioned resourcefulness doesn't degrade into outright carelessness and disrespect for a customer's vehicle.
Remind techs that the objective of supervision is to ensure their safety first, the safety and well-being of the vehicle second. Safety results from the use of proper tools, equipment and procedures. Over the long haul, that means more money in everyone's pockets because it reduces mistakes and accidents. This means fewer comebacks and/or do-overs—not to mention less time lost from the workplace.
Another step toward successful supervision or oversight is to spell out everyone's duties and obligations in an employee manual. For instance, the manual should clarify that it's the tech's obligation to work safely and to use the right tools and equipment for the task at hand. If the tech is unsure what those are, he or she is obligated to ask a manager or senior worker what the task requires.
I prefer having this obligation spelled out in writing, such as in an employee manual. It's much more difficult for cantankerous employees to argue with obligations that are right there in writing. That makes it much easier to cite (in writing) a careless or uncooperative worker for infractions.
Last but not least, judging a worker's behavior against written rules makes it easier to justify disciplinary action when he or she breaks those rules. Try the technique—you'll like it.