Do you hate meetings as much as most people do? I really don’t blame you! I used to hate them too. I don’t know anyone that likes to sit in a time-wasting meeting where one person talks on and on without a speck of constructive dialogue, going from one tangent to the next. However, once I learned how powerful a good meeting could be, I wanted to learn all I could to become great at conducting them.
If there is one thing that is worse than bad meetings, I would say it is the level of communication in the collision repair industry. Most involved in this business have never received any formal training on how to be a good communicator, leader, or how to conduct an effective meeting. Communication could likely be the number one problem I see in the shops I visit. It causes issues with every aspect of the business including quality, culture, process defects and customer satisfaction. If we are going to run a successful collision business, folks I hate to tell you this, you are going to have to get good at running meetings!
Two types of meetings that are prevalent at successful body shops are the morning production meeting, and in many high-performance shops, the periodic continuous improvement meeting. I will cover these two with you today and give you a few pointers to make them not suck!
The morning production meeting.
America’s greatest body shops hold a morning production meeting, sometimes referred to as a “release meeting.” These shops have successfully figured out how to make these meetings both quick and effective. For many of these shops, quick and effective were not words used to describe the meetings at first; trial-and-error plus a good dose of persistence was needed to get the meeting results they were after.
Many leaders who have attempted to implement a production meeting at their shops have either quickly abandoned the idea or they continue to run lengthy meetings with little or no benefit to the shop or the people attending. We’ll discuss some of the factors that can make you successful at utilizing the morning production meeting, but first we’ll talk about who should attend them.
Who should attend the production meetings?
Personally, I like to see the entire crew invited whenever possible. As much as I like keeping technicians working on cars, some of the best teams I have worked with invite all the techs and admin people together for either all or certain portions of the meeting. It’s a great way for an estimator or customer service rep to gather accurate information they can use to update customers. Estimators will have confidence in a vehicle’s repair status when he is talking directly to the technician that is assigned to the job. Some shops prefer to hold morning production meetings with only the administrative staff, using information someone previously gathered during one-on-one conversations with the technicians. This method is good, but does not capture the opportunity for team fellowship and the highest possible level of interactive communication. I believe that the valuable time taken by pulling techs out of their stalls, is wisely invested if greater communication and a solid daily game-plan can be achieved in return.
Here are 4 tips for great production meetings:
1. Be prepared/Make it quick
Great meetings are held with a definite purpose in mind. Don’t have meetings just to have meetings. Make sure the entire staff arrives on time and everyone is prepared to give their share of the input. For example, if your business has a parts manager, the parts manager needs to be prepared to answer any questions relative to the arrival status of any missing parts.
For a smaller shop, the morning production meeting should require about ten minutes of time to complete with larger shops requiring about 15 minutes. If you are new to holding meetings, they may take a little longer at first but don’t despair — you will get better and more efficient as you get more skilled facilitating the meetings.
2. Keep the meeting on track
Facilitating a meeting does take practice and skill. One reason so many shops fail with meetings is because they allow participants to take the meeting on a tangent. Nobody wants to hear about Bill’s weekend at fish camp; let’s keep it on track by only talking about what needs to happen to get the cars to go home on time.
There are a couple trains of thought about which ROs to discuss during the meeting. Some shops only talk about the cars on the list to go home today and tomorrow, while some shops will hold discussions about all the vehicles in the production system. I am okay with either method as long as it is done efficiently.
Some shops just go through the motions. Don’t just stand there in front of the staff and read your delivery list to them. You have to facilitate, not just bark out orders. Ask good questions of your technicians like, “John, the Audi Q7 is on the schedule to go home tomorrow, is there anything you are aware of that could keep The Audi Q7 from going home tomorrow?” By asking questions like this, you are engaging them in a problem solving manner that will get the results you want. John may respond with something like. “Yeah, Dave, don’t forget we still have to send the Q7 over to the dealer to get the adaptive cruise control system calibrated.” Take advantage of this valuable time to solve problems together as a team. The minds of many can be much more powerful than one.
3. Share the numbers (Make it a game!)
A great way to keep people engaged in their jobs is by sharing numbers and making it a game. If you share the company’s sales, customer satisfaction scores, and cycle time numbers with your team each morning, they will feel like an important part of the company. Get your people involved by making the mundane day-to-day business into a game where if everyone performs well, everyone gets rewarded. Use the morning meeting to quickly share the successes and opportunities for improvement in how the team is performing. Set realistic goals and then get everybody on-board playing the game and winning.
4. Agree to actionable items
Possibly the most over-looked contributor to successful meetings is ACTION. Don’t ever finish a meeting without ensuring accountability toward the actions needed to execute the plan. I like to use a dry-erase board to write down critical tasks required to make cars go home on time and identify who is responsible for carrying out the tasks and by what deadline.
Continuous Improvement Meetings
One of the best ways I know for shop owners and managers to become respected leaders is through conducting periodic continuous improvement meetings. I recommend most businesses hold them at least once a month. For shops that are in the middle of major process implementations, more often would be better. A continuous improvement meeting (C.I. meeting) is an open forum for the shop’s entire team to make suggestions, discuss problems and communicate in a safe and respectful manner. These meetings contain many benefits besides the obvious, which is to continuously improve the business’ operational level. Some of these benefits include a greater sense of belonging to its members; a feeling of contribution to the success of the company; and, as I mentioned, enhanced respect for the shop’s leaders.
Shops can choose an appropriate time that best suits the needs of the business, but I typically see these meetings held as a lunch or after-hours affair which last for about 60 – 90 minutes. Don’t forget to supply lunch or dinner!
During the first few C.I. meetings you host (morning meetings too), don’t be too discouraged if the team doesn’t all want to contribute with helpful input. You will get a few people that have been conditioned over the years to keep their mouth shut, and may not trust management with open, honest communication. These people will usually come around after a few meetings when they are convinced it is both safe and productive to talk. Others will use this opportunity to create a “gripe session.” Leaders, be careful you don’t allow the meetings to get too negative. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss problems and find solutions. Problems must be discussed; however, keep the team’s focus on finding solutions in an objective, non-threatening way.
Similar to what I wrote about morning meetings, C.I. meetings also need to follow the same 5 rules to be effective.
- Be prepared
- Keep the meeting on track
- Encourage everyone to contribute
- Share the numbers (and progress being made)
- Agree to actionable items
Integrity from leadership is really the key ingredient to making your meetings truly powerful. Leaders absolutely MUST ACT on the agreed-to items from the meetings. They must also be able to hold others accountable to perform the tasks they have agreed to and follow up regularly. So, you see, great meetings involve shop leaders to become…well, great leaders!
Elite Body Shop Solutions helps shops overcome challenges by providing a powerful combination of modern leadership skills and process development. For more information about body shop consulting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.