The boss should take immediate, explicit action whenever company property is mistreated or neglected in any manner.
This is vitally important when the service department's tools and equipment are concerned.
Make no mistake, an owner or manager who fails to address abuse and neglect digs his or her own grave. This is akin to other areas of leadership and management: Employees need to know that there are sanctions for mistreating company property—and that includes tools and equipment.
Some workers are naturally respectful of other people's property. But there are always employees who sense a boss' perceived weaknesses like sharks smell blood. They may be very capable, reliable workers, but they're also opportunists who'll take advantage of the boss and the company in various—usually subtle—ways. My experience has been that neglect or mistreatment of equipment is one of those ways.
For example, time is precious to technicians. Good techs are very conscious of how a few minutes spent here and a few minutes wasted there add up to hours of unproductive time. Time-consciousness, of course, benefits both the tech and the boss because wasted time makes neither of them any money.
The challenge may be dealing with successful technicians who happen to be very selfish, not to mention cagey. They save themselves time at the expense of fellow techs and the business at large. These guys get away with it because they've learned they can. Here's how:
Imagine a costly and extensive set of pullers or bushing/bearing drivers that you bought for the benefit of the entire service department. Now imagine that selfish tech who wants to maximize his time. He uses one of your specialty tools but doesn't return it—or return it in its entirety—to the tool crib or storage area. He's too busy cranking out the work to be bothered behaving professionally and politely.
Next, suppose another tech needs that special tool and/or pieces of that tool. Since the items aren't where they belong, he wastes time combing the entire service department for those pieces. He might spend 30 minutes or more hunting for items that, by now, are perhaps buried on or under another tech's work bench.
Sometimes specialty tools or parts often get lost because selfish people didn't put them back where they belong. Now another tech needs that tool and can't find it. In another selfish move, the tech modifies or simply butchers a different, company-owned tool in order to crank out a repair job that day. Now the shop's stuck with one missing tool as well as a ruined one—all due to selfish behavior.
It's also not uncommon for some techs to slip and damage a piece of shop equipment. Or they lose a valuable adapter from it. Sometimes they irreversibly modify something on the equipment instead of asking you to buy the proper piece.
Eventually, this selfish behavior backfires by costing the company time and money. The point is to recognize that some techs will try to evade responsibility for your stuff as long as they can. You may need to hold a team meeting at which you clarify everyone's responsibilities to the company. Emphasize that responsibility by establishing penalties for neglect, carelessness and abuse. Then enforce those rules.
What's more, it may be time to set up a periodic inventory of tool kits, test equipment and the like. Create checklists for this purpose. That means rotating the inventory chores among the workers so that a different tech checks a different area of the service department each time. Experience shows that giving workers more responsibility for their workplace yields much better results than taking a hands-off approach.
Let's face it, there's no crime in honest mistakes. Tools do break and techs do leave items in customers' cars. But they still need to alert managers so those items are replaced promptly—for the benefit of everyone in the service department. Plus, the manager needs to address chronic mistakes or neglect—and that means right now.