Sunday, 21 December 2014 16:00

Successful Change Using Modern Leadership

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I have presented and written several articles recently where I have expressed my views on the new age of leadership. I have been openly critical about the outdated, Industrial Age leadership methods being used by leaders in many collision repair businesses. The reason I am so passionate about this subject is because it is at the very core of our continued success as a collision industry. The business leaders that first embrace modern leadership concepts will dominate the industry!

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Shop leaders continue to struggle implementing new systems for producing repair jobs faster and better. Lean systems are beginning to get a bad name. Technicians think that each new attempt at process change is just another “flavor of the month” and rarely if ever do they embrace the change initiatives. Why?

I will give you my scaled down version of “why” containing two eye opening thoughts.

* Why are you in business?
* Why should the staff care?

Why are you in business?

This seemingly simple question completely stumps a vast majority of my clients. Why do you do what you do? Is the reason you get out of bed every day just to keep the bills paid or is there a grander more noble purpose to why you are managing or owning a collision repair business? The sad fact is that many of my clients forgot why they started their business to begin with. The harsh realities of daily business has changed the original why from what was once a why of great joy and passion to what is now mere survival. Have we forgotten how to dream? I have nothing against consolidators, but in many cases, MSO consolidation feeds on the lost dreams of independent owners. Can you see the connection? I can see it, because I have lived it, and seen it firsthand.

What does this have to do with influence and getting people to do what you want? How does this affect your attempts at lasting change? It has everything to do with it! Values and vision are at the very foundation of every great organization. If you don’t know the “WHY” how are you going to have a guiding vision in the first place?

First you must deeply think about your why. Think about the dreams you had when you first opened your body shop or when you first became the manager of a shop. Find that passionate person inside of you and bring him back! What does your business model look and feel like in your dreams? In your dreams, is your shop the one everyone wants to come to work at? Are DRPs lining up at your door because your reputation is so amazing? Are your customers raving fans because you and your employees treat them with a level of excellence rarely seen in the industry? Are you and your staff enjoying your time at work?

Thoughts like those I have mentioned are a distant dream for many, but it is also a pleasant reality for business owners that are willing to continue fighting when slapped in the face by reality, doubt, and fear!
Once you have figured out and written down your why, it is time to shout it out to the world! It becomes the fabric of your business, the culture, and then you can begin to share the vision of the why with your employees. Only after you understand this can the next step be addressed.

Why should the staff care?

Industrial aged thinking views employee satisfaction and motivation primarily as a product of the almighty dollar. In Daniel Pink’s book, DRIVE, he states “The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.” Daniel then goes on to say, “But once we’ve cleared the table, carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.”
So to paraphrase Pink’s thoughts, paying people what they are worth is critical to fulfill their basic needs of living, but beyond that, throwing money at problems in an attempt to solve them usually doesn’t work. I believe that many of us still use this technique mainly because we don’t understand modern leadership skills. In my recent article “The Wrong Bonus Plan Can be Worse than None at All” (see Auto Body News August 2014) I go into depth on why this is so. “There will never be an incentive program that can make up for the lack of proper management and leadership!”
3 fundamental leadership steps

I believe there are 3 fundamental leadership steps to getting your people to follow you and your change initiatives. Obviously there is a lot more to leadership and influence skills than what I am giving you today, but if you can get these 3 right, you are well on your way!

1. Learn how to communicate with people

In order to get people to openly communicate with you, you need to learn how to talk to people correctly. Modern leadership involves creating a safe environment for people to speak freely with each other and leaders. Time wisely spent just listening to your staff with your ego removed is huge to the development of a healthy change culture. Every shop has employees that mouth off and complain a lot, it is your job to find out what lies beneath the griping. Communication skills are paramount to all other leadership skills in my opinion and simply by being a better listener and making it safe for people to open up to you will make a huge difference over time.

2. Tie intrinsic values to key behaviors

If you want to get your staff on board with your change initiatives, you must learn to tie your employees intrinsic values to key behaviors that will make your vision come to life! In other words, you have to know your people, what they value and think is important. Intrinsic value is another word for “what are you passionate about?”
Once you get to know your people at a deeper level, you can have conversations with them about why such and such change initiative is important not only to the company, but also to them. To illustrate this, imagine speaking to your body tech about the importance of thorough disassembly and why it is critical to the success of blueprinting. This body tech is often negatively vocal about the quality of the estimates that are being produced at your shop, and commonly complains about all the delays it causes for him. This problem does create a financial impact for him, but what really ticks him off is that every time he gets started on a vehicle, he runs into a supplement or parts issue, and has to stop again. Too many leaders would write him off as a chronic complainer and not act further on the matter. He values smooth continuous production and it is your job as a modern day leader to connect the dots for him as to specifically why the thorough disassembly will help eliminate his pain. You have then connected his intrinsic values (smooth continuous production) to key behaviors (thorough disassembly.)

3. Share the vision

If you closely follow steps one and two and act with integrity while doing so, you will have built a foundation of trust and respect. This foundation may take months or maybe years to create, but it is this foundation that allows you to successfully share your why with your team. Your why, when connected to the intrinsic values of your people becomes a powerful culture. The vision of your why becomes the vision that your entire organization “lives.” You must paint this vision every day, so don’t be afraid to yell it from the roof tops, talk about your vision in your morning meetings, live it! Just don’t make the mistake of acting contrary to your vision. If your vision is to produce the highest quality collision repair work in your city, you better not turn a blind eye to even one poor quality repair job. Every time you turn a blind eye on your why or your vision, you quickly lose respect, and your integrity suffers.

Having created a culture where everyone understands the vision, change initiatives such as those used in lean methods become much easier to pull off. If for example you want to implement a new Blueprint program, you gather your people, you explain why Blueprinting is important to the company’s vision. You connect the behaviors necessary for successful Blueprinting (such as thorough disassembly) to their intrinsic values (smooth continuous production, or whatever) and then you ask for their input on the best way to implement Blueprinting at your shop. (Buy-in)


Clearly there is much more to becoming an Influence Master than what is written in this article, but as I have stated, if you can just master the techniques I have described in this article you will seriously be miles ahead of the vast majority of shops in this country. Go get 'em!