Creating a coherent team

In business, a digit defines everything and everyone. To ignore individual technician efficiency, which many believe is essential to a well-run service department, kind of flies in the face of success it would seem. But that’s what we do, and we have been successful.

Individual technician efficiency can be determined in a variety of ways. One being comparison of actual time spent on a job in relation to a flat rate manual. A second could be hours on the clock in comparison to billed hours during that same time frame. We have used both and in either case, everyone becomes a number. My experience has shown me that defining everyone with a number becomes detrimental to providing good customer service.

Ten years ago we were tracking individual technician efficiency, and part of the techs’ compensation was based on billed hours. We developed what resembled an atmosphere of staunch competition among our techs. There was constant talk of who was getting the gravy jobs. There was always general dissent on calculating billed hours. We did not have a cohesive group of men looking out for the good of the company or our customers – just themselves.

In short, what we have found by trial and error is that by putting a number on each individual, and by making decisions that hinge on that number, we create a department of individuals, not a coherent team. In every shop, there has to be a share of information for long-term success. But by micro-measuring individuals, you nurture a system that has experienced technicians slow to assist in training their coworkers and therefore creating a wide division, not in skill but in knowledge.

I believed that, in order to gain some semblance of unification, we had to change the way we compensated them.

While we still have a few technicians on billed-hour compensation, our focus has evolved into more of an incentive for group performance. Change has been slow, and we have lost good technicians because of it. On the flip side, though, we have developed a group of people that work as a community. We have more depth and width of knowledge, and we now resemble a collection of folks I feel confident that I can plan long term with.

These days, I never hear such complaints as, “If I hadn’t helped Harry, my efficiency rating wouldn’t be so low”; or “My numbers would be as good as Bob’s if I had all the gravy jobs he gets.” Nor do I have to deal with the animosity that those comments – those beliefs – develop.

By not tracking everyone as a number, we do not have the “Big brother is watching effect” going on. How successful can someone be when he knows “The Man” is looking down his back at all times?

We do, however, measure the entire department’s efficiency. Just not by the individual. We have found that this promotes teamwork. It promotes the sharing of knowledge, and casts the burden of success over the entire crew, not just the top two or three. We know that what one of us does reflects upon all of us. It is a responsibility no one at Clark Marine takes lightly. One unexpected bonus is the amount of pride that has developed.

Now it should be noted that not everyone is successful under our system. If you are not a self-starter or a consistent contributor, you are not going to do well here. What has developed is an atmosphere of teamwork where any one at any time will jump in to complete a task in order to meet schedule. This underscores how likely it is that my service department would not be as efficient if we had continued with a culture of individualism.

I’ll be the first to admit that my form of managing may not work with every dealership. We are a smaller company with two sites, two service departments. In season, we have only 27 employees or so, and I am an in-the-store, hands-on owner, making it relatively easy to see what is going on at all times. And while a company with five or six shops and 100-plus employees might believe that an individual numbering system may be necessary, I know my system could be successful in a company of 1,000-plus.

By no means would I say my way is the best way for all, but what we do now works well for us. My service departments are profitable, our morale is good, our turnover is low, and surveys reflect that our customers feel well served.

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