Successful bosses recognize that they must inspect what they expect from their workers.
That means prudent owners and managers periodically have to inspect their operations personally to keep themselves connected to their people and procedures.
I've found that employees at all levels ultimately respect and, yes, fear surprise visits from a big boss—especially the owner or president of the company. It tends to keep most managers and workers on their toes—no slacking, no foolish shortcuts, etc.
But surprise visits may earn bosses more respect more often for this simple reason: Personal inspections help project personal integrity and pride of ownership. Meeting and greeting the crew shows concern for and recognition of employees—a commonly overlooked element of leadership today.
Yes, personal visits certainly have drawbacks. First and foremost may be the pressure of time and existing obligations. Sometimes the emails, telephone calls and meetings seem relentless.
Some bosses are reluctant to admit this, but they believe that by now, revisiting “ground zero” of their careers is beneath them. Today, they think of themselves as the big shots calling the shots. After years of dedication and countless hours of hard work, they don't miss the challenges of working the front counter or being knee-deep in a service bay. Likewise, they don't miss the service department's commotion.
Prima donna managers and unreliable technicians are someone else's problem these days.
Those at the top may also resist surprise visits because they believe the managers they've hired to handle daily operations are up to the task. So the boss may conclude that it's counterproductive to inspect an operation assigned to one of his or her lieutenants.
Bosses also may be self-conscious about creating a false impression of distrust or suspicion. They may believe that personal inspections suggest an insecure leader. They don't want employees thinking they're trying to intimidate them—looking over people's shoulders and needlessly questioning procedures and activities.
However, there are enormous, practical positives to inspecting the facility and its staff from time to time. First, schedule a team meeting for all personnel so that managers and workers alike hear the same message at the same time. Namely, it's your prerogative to inspect your business whenever you choose.
You're proud of your staff and the facility. That said, you should intend to inspect what you expect: Everyone from tire busters to general managers is accountable to the big boss—no exceptions and no excuses.
Remind everyone that surprise visits are no threat to those who work hard but surely have consequences for those who are hardly working. Emphasize that although you're in an office, you're still curious to know what's happening at the service counter and out in the bays.
When you do visit your dealerships or shops, extend a hand and ask each worker's name. Do this repeatedly because you're likely to forget names. No employee will likely fault you for trying to get their name a second or third time. Handshakes and chats are powerful forms of personal recognition.
My field experience suggests that many bosses just don't try to connect with the crew, even in this most fundamental way. Keep in mind that employee surveys—not to mention leadership classes—emphasize that personal recognition is one of the single most important elements of job satisfaction.
Of course, satisfied workers are much more likely to become loyal, long-term employees.
Personal visits and inspections don't solve every problem facing your automotive service business. But the visits help build the personal and professional foundation on which problem solving becomes easier and more effective.
By all means, let me know about your experiences with personal visits of your facilities.