Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Implementing a process - or multiple processes - in your automotive business doesn't have to be hard or unclear. These five steps to creating processes for your auto shop will help turn your business into the well-oiled machine of your dreams!
Many owners make the mistake of not having processes within their business. Actually, that’s not entirely true - most businesses do have processes, or a way that they do things. It’s routine and known, maybe by the entire team or only a few key employees…. But it’s there. And therein lies the problem. You’ve no clue who knows, or how much they know in any given process, or how many processes you need to run your company, let alone whether each one is being executed to your level of quality.
I know, systems and processes are a dull topic. They’re tedious and absolutely boring, but you know what’s not boring? The growth and success of your business when everything runs smoothly. When you have a less stressed team, fewer roadblocks, more profit, and the added benefit of more time. Automation is a beautiful thing.
So, how do we get to that point? We could painstakingly scour online social groups, Google articles hoping to find one remotely related to the auto industry, ask as many other shop owners as we know for help, or pull them out of the number of old process manuals you found under an inch of dust - all in the hope of taking those processes, gutting them, and adapting them into your current operation’s structure.
The problem you run into is that they weren’t developed for the culture, structure, goals, mission, or vision you have for your company. They were made for someone else. They will never get the result you ultimately want from them, not completely.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of operators out there who have taken this approach, sifted through all the dust and web searches, and ground them down to fit their business. Most shop owners however start, get a few written, maybe a few more partially adopted, and after a brief period… fall back into old habits. Lack of employee buy-in will do that and it’s disheartening to put in all that effort only to come up empty handed.
There’s a better way to implement processes for your auto shop. A way that gets processes identified, created, and enthusiastically adopted by your team… for good. I’ll illustrate them here in this article for anyone who’s interested. You don’t have to use this method - it’s ultimately your choice, but if you do you’ll create a process for process. A machine that churns out effective and useful systems without much input from you - other than your approval, of course.
So, let’s get into how to implement a process for your business.
Step 1: Decide if it needs a process and what the outcome should be.
Oftentimes we’re so concerned about having a process that we don’t stop to ask if we even need it. Every process should be intentional and have a designed and desired outcome that it produces…an outcome that serves the mission and vision we hope to achieve with our businesses.
So, two things: Does this need a process? What is the outcome?
Take your time deciding, and even more time illustrating the desired outcome in detail. If you’re not focused and deliberate at this stage - there’s no point in moving forward as you’ll waste time, energy, and resources. What needs a process? Process is good for any area where you want a consistent outcome or want to keep the quality at a certain level across employees or locations. If you can’t come to a good reason for creating a process, it likely doesn’t need one. (Yeah, that’s super helpful Kent.)
I realize this makes it somewhat subjective to your unique situation, so here are 5 areas that should have processes.
Workflow (Any pivotal part of the customer journey)
Your Company Structure (Position Specific, or HR Policy Related)
Marketing (Acquisition or Retention, Customer or Employee)
Training (Internal Employee Training or Aftermarket Education)
Performance (Data, Analytics, Financial or Performance Reporting)
If you’d like more information on these items or anything else I cover in this article, don’t hesitate to reach out for a complimentary business assessment.
Once you’ve decided there’s a need for a process, and the intended outcome, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Create the Process
This step is actually one of the easier steps in this pipeline, and the step that most automotive shop owners focus on. Creating the actual process. It’s simpler than you might think, you just need to provide the following things with every step you add to your process.
A brief description of a physical and visible action that can be taken.
The context of importance on either a practical, ethical, or logical level.
The due date, recurrence, or the initiation of when this action should be taken.
The individual position or department responsible for engaging the action.
Illustration of the minimum performance standard and further detailed description of the action required.
Each step of your process should contain at least What, Who and When, for an effective process. I prefer being thorough and usually include all five. Determine the steps necessary to reach your desired outcome, and then add these in as you go down each step. It sounds like a lot, but it goes by quickly when you know what you’re doing.
The last thing you need to do to create a process for your auto shop is to either document existing undocumented processes - which is accomplished by doing it and documenting each step as you perform it (a simple notepad will suffice) - or by having your team come together to fill out a Process Development Worksheet.
If you’d like a pre-made process development sheet, just email me at email@example.com.
The last thing needed is for someone to test the process to ensure they’ll get the outcome we designed it for. I recommend handing it to someone who hasn’t seen it yet and observe them carefully as they execute each step. Note the mistakes, revise, and retest.
This section alone should give you what you need, but there’s a few more steps to making successful SOPs for your automotive business.
Step 3: Approve the Process
Shop owners, you are not the best person to write process. Yeah, you heard me right. The owner is typically the worst person for the job!
First off, you bottleneck it. You cannot be the sole author/architect for your business, it’ll never get done. It’s probably why it’s never gotten done in the past for a lot of you reading this.
Secondly, the people who are doing the work are the ones who know how to do it best (in most cases). They do it every day. They should already have intimate knowledge of how the process works (if it’s an undocumented one) or how it should work if they’re the ones to employ a new process.
And lastly, you have more important things to be doing with your time. Like, planning the future of your company, developing new strategic marketing campaigns, or inspiring the next generation of technicians by working with local tech schools.
You’re not giving up any level of control when you have your team develop SOPs. You still have the final say on what process makes it to implementation. Just have an approval process. It should have every position create their own process (Steps 1-2) for their areas of accountability. Then have them submit to their immediate supervisor for approval.
This frees up your time as an owner with the added benefit of creating ownership and leadership among your team. If they had a hand in the writing and implementation of a process, they’ll care more about it being followed - especially when it was likely agreed upon by the entire team. A good team with a good culture will hold the standard.
So, we’ve decided on a process and its outcome, we’ve created and tested its efficacy, and had a manager/superior approve it. Now, the follow-through.
Step 4: Archive Somewhere Safe and Accessible
Once a process for your shop has reached this stage, it needs a distribution channel. A way for it to be disseminated across your organization and easily accessible to existing and future employees should a review be needed.
Storage: The written process, and all its required materials, needs a place to live. No, a three-ring binder stuffed in a backroom locker won’t do. I recommend using a cloud-based software like Google Drive or a Learning Management System (LMS) like Trainual to house these important files. The benefit here is that you can control permissions across your organization and have a digital back-up in case there’s a literal fire.
Accessibility: Using these platforms allows your team to access them on tablets, computers, cellphones whenever they need and wherever they’re at. Again, you can restrict certain access using permission settings. This lends itself to easy revisions and team collaboration on new processes. You don’t have to print out dozens of copies and you’ll always have the newest version.
Distribution: Imagine being able to write a process, click a button, and have that process be sent out to every employee. Now take it a step further. Add in training, testing, and written acknowledgment from your team to the mix. Using an LMS allows you to distribute new SOPs, have your employees learn them and start implementing them, while keeping everything on record. Hold employees accountable, train them faster and more effectively, and potentially add incentives for employees to keep up to date on processes.
Now that it’s been stored somewhere safe and accessible, let’s move onto the final piece in this process puzzle. Implementation.
Step 5: Implement the Process in Your Automotive Business
This is the final step in our process and the most difficult part. It’s a part where most managers and owners fail; the part of actually implementing the process in your auto shop.
If you’ve followed through on the previous four steps, you’ve already laid most of the groundwork and there are only three things left.
Conduct training with your staff on the new process. Most of them will have participated in its creation and should already be aware of the steps. But, have a training anyways. Have them ask questions and try it out themselves. Make sure you can verify they know each step and mark them off as they perform them. (The Process Development Worksheet also works well as a checklist).
Get a written agreement from your staff. Have them sign a copy of the process stating they know, understand, and accept their role in performing that SOP. This helps them understand what’s expected and allows for management to hold accountability. They learned it, passed it off, and accepted the responsibility… If they are underperforming you can ask them why, retrain, and go from there.
Define a period in which the process will be implemented. I recommend having a Due Date for the process to be “in operation” and give your organization a Trial Period to learn the new process, make mistakes, and hone their capabilities with supervision.
After the final due date… you’re done. That’s it, you created a new process for your automotive business.
Other than revising and reissuing the processes, you’ve now got a process that’s been tested and is easily accessible. You’ve made sure employees are trained and have agreed to perform it, and you have a way to train any new employees that come onboard. Every step is outlined clearly with all the necessary pieces to effectively execute it. And it just so happens that it produces the outcome you want, without you having to do all the work.
I know that if you use these five steps and teach them to your team, you can have every process you’d ever need completed within a year. You’ll improve efficiency, see better performance, and increase profit while reducing stress. You could even use this to grow your organization across multiple locations, that path is up to you. But don’t copy and paste, inspire it within your culture and your mission. Lead a team of leaders who know how important it is and can competently execute its use.
Every business needs process, every good business has it, and every great business fosters it from within.
If you have any questions about this article, or for anything else pertaining to running a successful shop, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email me or schedule a complimentary business assessment here, where we’ll take a diagnostic approach to helping you fix your business.
COO // The Institute for Automotive Business Excellence