Tuesday, 27 May 2014 22:15

The Process of Winning

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In my first article for Autobody News, I’m going to write about winning. That sounds simple, you might think, but there’s a problem: Everything you know about winning is wrong. The moment of triumph, the congratulations, and the final score—those are the basic components of winning. Right? Wrong! If this surprises you, you are not alone. Until I learned the true secret to winning, I thought I knew all about the subject. I was totally wrong. I had a lot to learn. Now I’ve discovered the real sources of success, in both business and sports.

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Have you ever repaired a picky relative’s vehicle? Let’s say Aunt Patty’s new SUV. If you have, you know that no matter how hard you try to make everything perfect, she’s going to find fault with something. Either the color won’t precisely match, or a taillight will fail to work, and with your very particular Aunt Patty, no job is ever done on time. I’ve never liked working for people I’m close to—relatives, neighbors, or friends. No matter how good the work is, they always seem to want something more, often something that’s indefinable. It’s one of those situations where no one wins. So why is it that the jobs we fuss over the most give us the biggest headaches? Why can’t we win when it counts?

Maybe we care too much.

Outcome Thoughts Versus Process Thoughts

I know a little about tennis and a lot about body shops. Sometimes what works in one works in the other. One day my tennis coach told me the chief obstacle to improving my game was that I care too much.

“Care too much?” I asked. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” he said, “I am. You care too much about winning. When you start to play, you get so emotional that you can’t look at what you’re doing objectively.”

It turned out I was having “outcome thoughts.” As I competed against my opponent on the other side of the net, my mind was on my hoped-for victory. I saw my last shot hitting just out of my opponent’s reach, and imagined him congratulating me at the net with a handshake. My thoughts weren’t focused on what it would take to get there.

Scoreboards

Scoreboards aren’t just for fans. They help players too, especially after complicated actions. Once the confusion is over, the scoreboard tells them where things stand. However, if we allow our minds to get too wrapped up in the scoreboard data, we lose sight of the game right in front of us. If we always focus on the results posted on the scoreboard, we’re ignoring what we need to do to win. At Nick Saban’s University of Alabama football program, throughout the season the coaching staff and players don’t talk about the National Championship, but they’ve won it three times in the last five years. How? Each Crimson Tide player and coach asks: What do I need to accomplish right now to dominate the competition? They know that you don’t earn the championship on the day of the championship game. You win it through a process of preparation that takes years.

When we fail to prepare and execute at the body shop, we invite all those hectic Fridays, when everything goes wrong. Why? Because we didn’t properly prepare on Monday and Tuesday. If we had, those Fridays would be easy.

In the collision repair business, we hold ourselves accountable using a system of key performance indicators (KPIs). These include profitability, CSI, cycle time, alternative parts usage, and many others. A good shop manager understands these metrics. A great manager always executes the tasks required to consistently reach the metrics. This isn’t something you do once in a while. In the collision repair business, winning comes from the same basic principles as those found in tennis or football: constant attention to disciplined preparation and following the right process.

Scoreboard-based Compensation

Companies that rely on results-based compensation systems need to examine these carefully. Results-based compensation is popular because it seems fair: workers get paid on the basis of the results they produce. However, some companies don’t, won’t, or can’t measure results accurately, and sometimes they measure the wrong things, or fail to measure the right ones. This can lead results-based systems that create motivational “silos” that can damage your business globally. For instance, if your company’s “scoreboard” holds people accountable for alternative parts usage, pressure to perform well on that could have a negative impact on quality, cycle time, or CSI. It’s something you must watch out for. What might work better would be a program that rewards consistent quality in employees’ performance as they follow processes designed to ensure that work is done to a high standard. If their work follows a good process and measures up to the best standards, results will usually take care of themselves.

Three Elements of Winning

Big MSO consolidators, like ABRA, Caliber, and Gerber, know that fast, profitable growth comes from consistent, predictable, positive results, one job after another. This is the only way to create secure relationships with insurers and customers. These companies also understand the staffing and training requirements for rapid and sustained growth. What winning principles do these industry giants follow? PROCESS, TRAINING and INSPECT WHAT YOU EXPECT. Their winning ways are based on a written process that produces consistent, predictable results. They train their people to follow the process, then they constantly check to make sure this discipline is followed day after day. Process, alone, isn’t enough. It must be accompanied by periodic testing. Shops that don’t implement PROCESS, TRAINING and INSPECT will struggle; most will fail.

Process

If you’ve ever watched the best golfers, you’ve seen them go through their “routines” just before hitting the ball. This routine is settling and helps the golfer build confidence. Doing it every time also encourages a player’s consistency. Most start behind the ball, lining up the shot. Many golfers take a few practice swings. This is followed by visualization and finally execution without tension or hesitation. One thing this does is to keep the golfer from allowing emotions to rule. The golfer has a strategy and a proven process. The golfer who does this every time will avoid choking and live up to his or her potential.

Almost everything in life is a process. Most of us have a morning routine: getting up, eating breakfast, going out the door. It gets us to work on time. Fixing cars is no different. Every shop has a process, whether they know it or not—but some have very poor processes. Many processes are outmoded, while others were flawed from the start. Many shops have good processes, but don’t consistently follow them. I’ve worked with organizations that had stale, old policies created for situations that no longer existed—yet the policies went on and on. Such “sacred cows” must be slaughtered!

In lean thinking circles, many of us have been involved in value stream mapping. This is a detailed analysis and “mapping out” of a shop’s current processes. It looks at what goes into a process, how it works, and the value of the result. It forces the shop leaders to examine each task and method to see if these provide customers with the value they are willing to pay for. Value stream mapping should help the shop’s staff identify those tasks and methods necessary for a good process.

Most shops I’ve worked with had fragmented processes, each for a different area. These betray a lack of unity and direction. They often conflict with one another. This creates a disconnect between the administrative processes of the business and the work processes used on the shop floor. This leads to poor communication, unnecessary delays, poor quality, and upset customers. Any good administrative workflow process begins with the proper flow of dependent events in the system. Quality control must be built into the process, so, at each stage, the recipients get a product that meets all quality standards.

A good process should:

  • Produce consistent, predictable results every time.
  • Have simple, clear instructions that are written out and accessible to everyone.
  • Flow well from resource to resource without unnecessary delays.
  • Identify who does what.
  • Be visual—both in the operating manual and on the shop floor.
  • Be comprehensive, well-planned, and free of waste and inefficiency—and no sacred cows!
  • Be based on proven methods or best practices.
  • Be created with the customer’s and the employee’s happiness in mind.
  • Be created with the input and buy-in of the entire organization.

Training

In business and in sports, you may know the process, without knowing how to use it. Great athletes spend endless hours practicing and perfecting their craft. These athletes know that without the right preparation, they won’t be able to win. But they also know that they must execute. If they can’t apply all that preparation to the game itself, then what good is it? This is also true when dealing with collision repair customers. Though you may know how to prepare an estimate, can you sell the job to the customer? Do the people on the floor know how to apply the process to the work? Have they been trained to do this? Remember, just because you give someone an SOP manual, doesn’t mean he or she will be able to do every job in it. They might need a few lessons!

These lessons come in various forms: I-CAR and other outside training services, in-house or on-the-job training, videos, workshops, etc. Make sure your people have a deep understanding of how the processes work and give them all the tools they need to execute successfully.

Inspect What You Expect

Testing and auditing are the “secret sauce” that brings it all together. I’ve seen many improvement initiatives fail, even in some organizations that had great people. Despite the dedication and effort that went into them, in most cases these initiatives failed, partially or fully, within a few months. Most often they fail because they neglect proper testing and inspection procedures.

Testing and auditing isn’t a complicated task. It requires leadership, discipline, and a written test. It only takes an hour or two to type out a test. I prefer about twenty questions, some true-or-false, and some multiple-choice. Of the various auditing methods, I prefer this:

  1. Identify the process’ most important elements.
  2. Write an auditing form asking: “Is this critical task or process being followed consistently? Yes or no?”

Your form may have as few as ten items, or it might have over a hundred, but all should be noted and answered in the course of an audit. I recommend frequent auditing, especially whenever new processes are being implemented. In a more stable system, this should still be done at least every quarter. Those who are engaged in the auditing process should see it as an ongoing coaching opportunity.

Summary

Finally, the process of winning is this:

  • Create good processes that are aligned with the entire organization.
  • Slaughter the “sacred cows.”
  • Focus on process, not outcomes.
  • Be careful how you measure people and how you define success.
  • While it’s okay to look at the scoreboard once in awhile, don’t focus on it!
  • Don’t get emotional. When the pressure is on, stick to the process.
  • Training, training, training.
  • Testing, testing, testing.
  • Inspect what you expect.
  • Most importantly, be disciplined…and don’t ever give up!

Body shop people are some of the smartest, hardest-working folks on the planet. They shouldn’t suffer from the diminishing returns so typical in today’s ultra-competitive and ever-challenging marketplace. It’s not so much that they “care too much,” but they often work in hurried environments where they aren’t given time to direct their passions sensibly.

Care about the task at hand, and don’t worry about Aunt Patty’s smile. You might improve your repair process as much as I improved my tennis game. Once I learned to love the rewards of each step in the journey, I found my first trophy at the end. You can too!

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