Change can happen slowly or all at once, but as the operator of a collision repair shop, it’s vital to keep evolving. “If you’re not changing daily to get yourself aligned with what’s coming out, you’re going to fall behind,” says Phil O’Connor, owner of POC Collision, a multiple shop operator (MSO) based in Maine. “Or you are behind on things because technology is definitely moving forward.” However, implementing changes and making them stick can often be difficult in an industry ruled by habit.
Helping businesses evolve to their full potential is what Jill Meeuwsen does for a living at her management consulting firm, Synergy, which provides guidance to body shops, automotive manufacturers, skilled trade workers, and more. Meeuwsen says that she’s seen companies that are the most advanced, with the latest technologies in their industry that still fail because they don’t have the right people to cultivate a healthy culture. Both O’Connor and Meeuwsen say people are the greatest asset to your shop when it comes to implementing change, which happens through proper strategies of communication and motivation.
“You have to have good ingredients to make a soup,” O’Connor says, “if you put one bad ingredient in the soup it can make the whole soup terrible.” According to O’Connor, the soup metaphor relates to how a bad attitude from one employee can ruin the entire culture at a shop, killing any chance for change. He says that having the best equipment, tools, and processes can mean nothing if attitudes are poorly cultivated.
“Our vehicle to get you there is through people,” says Meeuwsen, explaining that the right employees are the way to make changes to attain success. She says a client’s business will not succeed without the help of its employees, because without a healthy culture of excitement for the work, there’s no infrastructure to support the uptake of new technology or advancement in the industry. Enthusiasm can be a driving force behind the implementation of change. “Look for that cheerleader person, or that person who is really enthusiastic about the project, because those are the people that will get other people excited about the project,” O’Connor says, “then you start making the road map with the technicians or office staff.”
Invest in employees
Continuous training can help employees keep up in the evolving collision repair industry. Meeuwsen says it’s helpful to look internally at the potential of your employees’ personal skill sets and assess what professional training they have or could need. Leadership should understand the personal strengths and weaknesses of their teams, she says. O’Connor maintains I-CAR certifications at his four locations and says he sees the value of providing training to his employees. He has provided welding training and teaches his employees about the quickly advancing autonomous vehicle industry. He says he provides training for his employees because he wants to ensure that they are up to speed and continuously evolving with the industry.
Creating a road map of strategies and an outline of how your shop can achieve its goals is beneficial. O’Connor did so in his attempt to establish a multi-shop operation. However, it’s a process that starts with establishing trust with employees. When O’Connor started his company in 2007, he took time to build that trust with his employees by learning about them. He knows their birthdays and details about their personal lives. Any time he is at one of his locations, he takes the time to talk with his employees – such small things can make big impacts. O’Connor says he’s faced challenges with his employees, but since he established trust with them, they became an asset for him to implement the changes he needed to reach his goal of becoming a multiple shop operator.
O’Connor describes the implementation of change as a long-term process. It won’t happen overnight, he says, and requires a critical self-analysis of how well the shop is doing, where there’s room for improvement, and what goals are planned to be reached. Meeuwsen says she and her Synergy team run a two-day analysis of a new client’s business operations, ranging from financial liabilities to operations, people, and process. She uses the analysis to create a “prescription,” or action plan for change, for each client.
One MSO’s prescription to change leadership was for every manager to take a leadership survey to better understand their leadership styles. Everyone, except one manager, she says, had the same leadership style. The ability to understand and adapt to how leaders manage is crucial to reaching end goals. O’Connor plans similarly when working to implement changes at his shops. He says he will try a new process at one location first, to test its efficacy. If it addresses the problem he aimed to fix, then he implements it at his other locations.
“Communication to me is also direction. If people are without communication or direction, there’s a pretty good chance it’ll go south,” says O’Connor. He points out he’s a stickler for good reporting from management. He receives daily reports of how each of his locations are doing from a bookkeeper and then communicates with the shop’s general manager, which helps him address any problems quickly.
O’Connor utilises open lines of communication with employees to allow them to have a say in the processes aimed at increasing his company’s efficiency. He says it reinforces their trust in the shop’s culture. At the core of many of Meeuwsen’s prescriptions is a focus on better communication practises. She has everyone at her client’s companies take personality tests to see how people communicate, learn, and process information. Such simple surveys can reduce workspace ambiguity and cultivate a culture that is reliant on beneficial communication among employees and leadership.
“If we want to do something, we find the motivation to do it. If we don’t, then we don’t,” says Meeuswen. Providing tools to motivate a team of employees is a common theme throughout the way Meeuwsen helps her clients implement change. She highlights how motivation can be a driving force behind employee engagement or willingness to do their work efficiently. A lack of employee motivation can come from a lack of training, or frustration with new ways of doing things.
Meeuwsen says to ask yourself if employees know how to do their jobs correctly. If not, provide them with the training to feel confident and motivated in their work. She says cultivating a culture through understanding and communication where every employee is held accountable and cares about the outcome of their work will increase motivation, profit, and efficiency, as well as the ability to implement changes for the better.
By Natalie Ryder, Heekyong Yang and Hyunjoo Jin