“I have all these great ideas, but I can’t get my people at the shop to help implement them.”

I don’t know if that’s something you’ve found yourself thinking or saying, but I know as a trainer, consultant and 20 Group facilitator, it’s a comment I hear from auto body shop owners frequently.

The problem, often, is shop owners may be great entrepreneurs, but not always great leaders. But it’s a skill that can be learned, through practice. Following the same steps over and over again will help you become a leader who can put great ideas into practice.

Here’s my seven-step system for implementing something new at your shop.

1. Choose a goal.

Odds are, you have multiple ideas you want to try. Don’t get bogged down trying to do it all: Choose one or two to start; you can come back to the others later.

2. Assign specific tasks.

Let’s say you want to “5S” (clean and organize) your paint mixing room to make it more efficient. Choose the person or people who can best help you achieve that, and assign them three to five specific tasks: clean the scale, wash and paint the walls, discard unneeded items, standardize where specific items are to be kept. Don’t overwhelm them by giving them too many items on the action list. You can give them more tasks when they finish the first ones.

But remember that your definition of clean and organized may differ from theirs, so either work with them the first time, or give clear, detailed instructions about your expectations.

3. Determine and gather the needed tools, equipment and materials.

Are you asking them to stay late or meet you on a Saturday to work on a special project? Then absolutely don’t kill morale by waiting until then before you run to the hardware store for needed supplies. Be prepared.

4. Determine a timeline and set a deadline.

Ask your team if they think the timeline you’ve set seems appropriate. An action plan in writing with the steps or tasks involved and deadlines ensures their buy-in.

5. Check in at the midway point.

Those who abdicate rather than delegate forget about an assigned task until weeks later when they notice it’s not done. At that point it’s as much your fault as theirs that it didn’t get done.

One shop I work with agreed they would close out a stack of old repair orders within two weeks. The great thing about electronic calendars are the reminders we can schedule in them. I didn’t wait until two weeks went by to check in with that shop. I called one week later and said, “We’re halfway to the deadline. Are you still on task for finishing up in another week?”

6. Document accomplishments.

Keeping lists of successes and “victories”---almost a “yearbook”---will give everyone involved a sense of accomplishment. Any time you’re feeling discouraged, you can look back and see that you’ve worked through challenges and made improvements.

Documentation might include checklists and photos as well; once the paint mixing room looks how you want it kept, post some photos that will remind employees of your expectations for how it is to be maintained.

7. To sustain a change, choose someone to audit compliance.

Studies have shown a person has to do something 30 days in a row in order for it to become habit. A frequent audit at first is crucial until something becomes habit, allowing for less frequent auditing later.

Part of the challenge of getting employees to help implement change is that we all tend to view change in terms of “What is it going to cost me?” or “What am I going to have to give up?”

Your job as a leader is to promote your vision, to help your team see what they gain from the change, to help them view it as improvement rather than just change. That’s making a change with your team rather than to your team.

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