The top-3 things killing your productivity… and the ways top operators solve them

Jan. 24, 2023
The goal in every decision you make as an owner should be to make sure the outcome is equally beneficial for the customer, the shop, and the employees.
We’ve all had those customers. They hold onto an old vehicle long past when it it’s time to replace it. Whether it’s nostalgia, stubbornness, or something else keeping them from trading in their clunker, you know it would make more financial sense to upgrade. But they’re unwilling to budge.
That customer can certainly see the warning signs – flashing alerts on the dashboard, new sounds and smells, unexpected clunks and shimmies – but they choose to continue to live with the problem.
Of course, shop owners do the same thing to their operations, where the warning signs are every bit as obvious, and the solution just as straightforward.
With one big difference, of course.
On his or her vehicle, your customer has a dashboard arrayed with flashing lights and audible alarms to call attention to ongoing problems. He or she cannot help but know that systems are breaking down and urgent problems are imminent.
But when it comes to the shop, operators are at two disadvantages. First and most obviously, many shops do not have an array of lights, warnings and systems to detect problems and alert them.
But some do, is the thing, and yet these shops often suffer from the same production problems that plague shops without advanced warning systems. This is because the much bigger problem is that our industry chooses to live in the shadows.
Productivity is about so much more than benchmarks or systems or tools, which is why my goal in this article is simple: I want to pull back the curtain and let in the light. Even great operations can suffer from several problems, and you can’t begin to truly excel as an operation unless you’re willing to address them.
So first, let’s take a moment and talk about some of the most common causes of productivity problems in shops, and then look at the larger picture, and how our industry can find real, sustainable productivity that enriches our communities and fulfills our employees.
Productivity killer #1: broken communication
Communication is everything. In day-to-day operations, communication breakdowns can lead to incorrect parts being ordered, vehicle comebacks, or even bays sitting idle longer than they should. It’s the difference between advising the customer at 11:00 a.m. versus 1:00 p.m., which in turn is the difference between work being approved and completed today versus tomorrow.
But communication breakdowns also hurt morale, destroy relationships with loyal customers, and let employees drift out of our shops and even out of our industry because they don’t feel heard.
The goal in every decision you make as an owner should be to make sure the outcome is equally beneficial for the customer, the shop, and the employees. If any side of this “management triangle” is shorter, then the triangle is out of balance and unstable.
Have you communicated this way of thinking to your team? The more they understand that everything that goes on in your organization is seeking to protect and grow everyone involved – their community, their coworkers, their career – the better they can live out this mission in everything they do. It’s the first step in fixing broken communication in every facet of your business.
Productivity killer number 2: The owner (or manager, or any ONE person) as the secret ingredient
The owner or manager often feels this most acutely in their lack of time. Maybe it’s because the team needs their work checked, needs constant judgment calls to be made and directives given, or the owner/manager needs to constantly retrain the team on processes and systems.
No matter the specific problems draining your time and passion, the root is the same: one person becomes the secret sauce, and without their direct involvement day to day, things will go off the rails.
Repair shops need clearly documented processes and procedures. The larger your operation, the more critical of a problem.
It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers, though! Every shop struggles with getting the right policies and procedures that adhere to the management triangle. Even when you establish the right ones, it usually leads to growth that renders your old policies and procedures outdated and useless. It’s a constant struggle, and successful shops are never done.
Is there one person who has become the secret to your organization’s success? When your operation can only grow as far as the owner or manager personally can take it, not only is the team deprived of the chance to help grow something they believe in, that “secret sauce” owner or manager is deprived of the success and freedom they want and need!
Productivity killer number 3: settling for mediocre
There is a theme through the first two points: the most successful operations are never comfortable with how things are. Fixing communication breakdowns means constantly improving how our teams work together and serve our customers. Getting the owner out of the role of “secret sauce” means finding resources that lead to far more growth than one person can do on their own.
Top operators never settle. They never look around their operations with a sense of contentment and say, “We’re pretty good…we don’t need to change anything right now.”
This is the opposite of what our industry encourages.
The constant message from industry voices is, “You’re fine!” It’s on display in every 20 Group meeting where a shop owner pretends he or she is doing better than he or she is to impress the other group members. It’s evident in every coaching session where the focus is on cheerleading instead of hard choices. It’s highlighted every time an owner convinces himself or herself that copying everyone else is doing is well enough.
The end results of this industry trend are a crippling technician shortage, a tarnished reputation in popular culture, and dwindling trust in the community.
Will you choose to be comfortable and pretend everything is perfect? Or will you choose the path that enables everyone and every location in your organization to grow and prosper?
Think about what productivity means: getting more done during a time period than you used to be able to. So often, that number gets distorted in our industry. Truly! It does not matter how quickly your technicians can clock in and out of jobs in search of some infinitesimal gains to some productivity benchmark if everything else in the shop is slowing down the team, making everyone miserable, and keeping your organization mired in mediocrity.
That’s because productivity isn’t just about more money in the bank or more free time for the owner. It’s also about creating a team who truly feels valued and who wants you to win because it helps them win, too!
Here’s what I mean.
Tools are important. Systems are important. Processes are absolutely important. But behind tools and systems and processes is a living, breathing person who deeply needs to understand their purpose, who needs to believe in something, and who needs somebody to reinforce their confidence in their skills and their workplace.
If you want your team to produce well beyond the minimum – if you want the very definition of increased productivity, in other words, – then stop managing at the wrong end. They don’t need better tools or more micromanagement of their work, they need to understand how and why what they’re doing matters. Give them a purpose, a way to see the direct results of their hard work. Create an environment where the lives of everyone are enriched and emboldened!
Yes, at some point, tools and systems and software can increase productivity. But nothing can have so great an impact on an organization as pay plans that reward your team for growing your shop ethically and sustainably, and a culture that stands for protecting and lifting up the people in the shop and the neighbors in the community.
But it really does start with you. You have to stop accepting the comforting lie that everything is okay the way it is. You have to want to make things better for your team and your customers and your business more than you want things to be easy for you.
When you do, you give everyone on your team the motivation to win. You create a more ethical business, and you strengthen your whole community because you value your customer, your employees, and your business equally instead of giving first priority to your comfort.
There’s no easy button to what I’ve discussed here today. The solution to productivity problems is about so much more than a software subscription or training class. Because the truth is you can’t do it yourself. You need systems and processes that are replicable and duplicable in every location. If it’s up to you to go location to location, desk to desk, bay to bay… you’re the secret sauce. You will never grow beyond your own herculean efforts.
That’s not necessary, though. Sacrificing everything isn’t a required part of success.
Instead, you need only decide today to stop accepting things as they are. Will you build a team and culture that rewards productivity and excellence? Will you resolve to build a business that outlasts you and enriches your community? Are you ready to finally build the business and the team you’ve always wanted?
You know how much your customer’s life will improve when they stop living with their problems. Even if their next steps involve test drives and financing and other hurdles, they are actively working now to improve their situation.
So, in shop ownership: the biggest and most important step is the very first one, once you resolve to stop making your shop and your family and your team and your community live with the same old problems. The light is shining into dark corners. Now…what will you do?

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!