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Sunday, 31 March 2002 17:00

Internal information vital to problem solving

Written by Tom Franklin

How's this for a wild claim -- a consultant with whom I'm acquainted would guarantee to solve any company's problems if they would allow him unlimited access to question every employee without revealing or reporting to management who said what during his interviews. Well, maybe it isn't such a wild claim. 

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When he asked the employees what the company should do to solve the problems, he found many knew the answers immediately but wouldn't communicate them to management for several reasons:

In some professions, the information in a Rolodex is the key to professional power. 
1. Managers would ignore their suggestions, thinking them too stupid to know anything.
2. Managers would steal their ideas and take credit for them without rewarding or acknowledging the employee in any way.


3. If the suggestion was to stop some dishonest or questionable practice, management might be offended by the suggestion (Enron?).

4. If the suggestion revealed the fact that the employee knew sensitive information about the company, he or she might be fired.

5. If the suggestion required an investment by the company in additional equipment or people, employees felt they would be penalized for making the suggestion and so chose not to reveal their opinion.

When the consultant completed his interviews and provided the answers to management (keeping the sources anonymous), many times management still refused to make the changes necessary to solve their problem. But at other times the suggestions were taken seriously and did solve the problem being addressed.

Employees often know more about a business than the owner or manager, but getting that information isn't always simple. Creating a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere is a good start. Asking the right questions is the next step, never assuming an employee is "too stupid to know the answer." Obtaining vital information often comes down to just being in the right place at the right time. You may find your employees have done that more often than you think.

Management information must be complete

Another requirement from "Minimum Requirements for a Class A Collision Center" issued by the Collision Industry Conference (C.I.C.), calls for " . . .training in current management subjects, followed by ongoing attendance of at least one course per year in related management subjects."

Fortunately for body shop owners and managers, software companies have finally realized the importance of going beyond parts tracking and parts and labor job costing in their body shop management software packages. Summit Software Solutions, for example, provides a way to build complete job descriptions for each user, complete with the reports and instant information that user will need.

• Estimators have instant access to shop workload data, so they can schedule a job completion date that is realistic and doable.

• Managers have instant access to employee workload data, so they can assign labor time realistically and meet their scheduled completion dates.

• Marketing personnel have instant access to seasonal ups and downs and statistics on what business sources and types of jobs have been profitable. They can therefore realistically plan promotional campaigns to offset expected down periods.

• Owners have instant access to business volume, complete job costs and profit margins on every job, and anticipated capital needs to fund business growth or compensate for a down cycle.

• Instant information, inter- organizational messaging, and e-mail takes the place of the wasted time shop personnel spend calling one another or running around trying to find out the status of a job, a part, a parts order, or a shop operation.

Without such controls, even growth can kill as shop. And without instant information controls like these, the shop owner is much like a ship's captain with no rudders or wheel to steer his or her boat.

Information, the basis of all communication

Why do we communicate? Most of the time it's simply to share or exchange information. Even silly newspaper, radio and TV stories provide a basis for entertaining conversation during the day. And real news can have an impact on our daily business. From morning to night we're receiving thousands of bit s of information by communicating. Some of that information can determine our success or failure.

Advance information can make corporate insider traders very rich, or enable them to bail out before a corporation like Enron fails. Advance information on an insurance company looking for a new DRP shop may open up an entirely new avenue of opportunity for a shop owner. Advance warning of a government inspection may save a shop owner a lot of wasted time and money. The wise shop owner keeps all avenues of communication and information wide open and stays alert for small bits that may signal a pending disaster or possible opportunity.

In today's "Information Economy," being well-informed is no longer a luxury. It's now a necessity.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," and "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops." His marketing company now provides on-line consulting and integrated marketing solutions for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E- Mail:


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