A team of great employees is a lot like a well-oiled army platoon. In order to succeed, everyone needs to know their role, needs to support one another, and needs to share a common objective. The team also needs to understand and respect the chain of command.
The lessons I learned in the military have been invaluable in my business career, helped me become a better leader and to understand how to turn a quality group of individuals into a team that can collectively deliver results.
I tell business owners from all walks of life to have a proper chain of command and proper set of guidelines in place. Without these things, your shop will simply not function properly — you’ll have more operational breakdowns and customer comebacks than you should. As a result, your profits will shrink until you find yourself in the red wondering just what went wrong.
So, how do you go about establishing and maintaining a proper chain of command in your shop?
The first step is to outline precisely who reports to whom: do techs report to service writers, or do they report to a foreman? Do your writers report to a general manager, or directly to the owner? The exact layout isn’t important; the key is to establish that chain of communication and command.
If techs start going straight to the owner with every little problem, your manager will be cut out of the loop. When the chain of command is broken like this, the manager isn’t aware of problems and can’t create the procedures and processes to fix them, leading to more chaos and problems.
Which is why this rule goes both ways.
A shop owner shouldn’t break the chain of command either. If a car needs to be dispatched or a procedure is being broken, the owner should report back to the supervisor, not the employee.
A few years ago (years into managing the shop remotely), I stopped into visit the shop and immediately spotted a technician doing something he should not have been doing.
I didn’t confront him directly.
I went to the shop manager, told him what I’d seen and asked him to handle it — which he did in an appropriate manner that enhanced my respect for him.
Not only does doing things this way emphasize your chain of command, it gives your leaders an opportunity to show you what they’re made of. That’s critical for their long-term growth.
The chain of command must be as rigid as your other rules, processes and procedures. If you break command, or allow it to be broken, it leads to a breakdown of authority and can produce disastrous results for your shop. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen firsthand.
The bigger picture here is that rules need to be carefully developed, written out and explicitly expressed to everyone on staff. Once rules are outlined, they need to be adhered to — on all levels.
Which is why insubordination cannot be tolerated. Anyone ignoring your policies needs to be dealt with in a swift and decisive manner. I’m not talking about firing somebody on the spot when they answer a cell phone call from a loved one — that kind of Patton-style zero-tolerance approach will create resentment from your team. But, if you catch a tech scrolling through Twitter when they’re supposed to be performing an oil change? That definitely warrants disciplinary action.
Your team needs to be empowered and committed to doing their job, and having a set of guidelines and expectations helps to ensure this.
In addition to having everyone’s responsibilities outlined, you need to make sure that individuals’ authority levels match up with their responsibilities.
A major source of stress in this industry is when the responsibility given to an employee and the authority to achieve their goals aren’t aligned. If you task your service writer with hitting a gross profit target, and then undercut them with a marketing campaign that gives away deep discounts, you create resentment and disincentives. They cannot control their own ability to hit that goal, so they’ll be even less likely to try to hit it next month.
When you do notice a breakdown in your shop’s discipline or in the chain of command, you need to call a staff meeting as soon as possible.
At this meeting, first make sure everyone is willing and able to abide by the set of guidelines you’ve established. If they won’t or can’t — let them go. Dissidents or bad apples are poison to a shop’s culture, so the headaches you’ll encounter trying to replace them will be nothing compared to the headache of keeping them on staff.
One thing I’ve learned in my career is that quality people thrive when given direction and guidelines. Give your people these tools, and they’ll do great things more often than not.
Stick to your guns, practice what you preach, stay committed to your rulebook, and adhere to your chain of command. Do these things and your shop will develop a culture that produces consistent success!
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