Three Principles of Management
When I was asked to write for this space in the magazine, I was honored and humbled—then quickly worried. Like many of you, I’m very proud of my background, as well as my current role, company and all our team is able to accomplish. That said, I don’t think of myself as much of a writer.
So, even though I’ll write in this space each month, I’m going to stick to who I am: the parts and service director for Zeck Ford in Leavenworth, Kan., and a 28-year military veteran. And my focus of these columns will be to share my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned, both from running fixed operations departments over the last few decades, but also from serving our country.
There are many things about myself and the way I manage that I attribute to my time in the Army. I retired from the Kansas National Guard on April 15, 2016. It’d been a long run (I first enlisted in the Army straight out of high school, looking for direction and cash), and just in my 15 years at Zeck Ford, I was activated for a total of five years, overseas and stateside. My military career is important because the structure of the Army has helped develop my management philosophies and several of my administrative policies.
For this first column, I want to talk about a few of those—three actually. These are the three core tenants of my leadership approach, and three items at the core of everything we do in our operation.
As hard as the military seems to many people, one of the most important things about being a leader is the willingness and ability to take care of your people. I tell all of my managers that their main job is to do whatever it takes to take care of people: Make sure our customer experience is the best possible; ensure that all employees have the training, ability and equipment to make as much money as they want; empower every employee to grow with the company.
I meet with my managers three times per week and each one goes over key department indicators that we believe are important to our continued success (e.g., customer issues, employee issues, floor space utilization, employee efficiency, any bottlenecks or issues that they have identified that may prevent us from completing our repairs as promised). We never discuss total sales or gross profit during these meetings. I believe that as long as my managers concentrate on the people involved in our day-to-day operations, the numbers will always be there. Don’t get me wrong: All my managers keep an eye on their departments’ total sales, gross profit, expenses, etc., but none of those are what I use as a key indicator of how well their departments perform. It’s my job to track all of the numbers for each department and look for opportunities to help each manager develop and grow their departments.
Everything starts with that passion for putting people first. From there comes the next step: Holding everyone, including myself, accountable. When I was first promoted to my role, our fixed operations growth had stalled. I believe it was because most of our policies and procedures had been around for as long as anyone could remember, and our employees had become complacent. I started by watching every department's daily operations. It looked like every employee was here doing his or her job—but we were not working for a common goal of pleasing the customer. After a month of watching our processes, I started making changes. I updated or wrote new job descriptions for my managers, breaking down their duties and responsibilities so they had a clear understanding of what was expected from them. This was very important since I moved managers to different roles, promoted some of our younger talent, and hired people from off the street. Basically, doubling my management staff. Then we started writing new job descriptions for all our employees. Doing this, we identified several opportunities that required us to hire additional people.
As we were getting staffed, we started to write processes. We started with the simple everyday duties like “how to greet a customer” and “how to write a repair order.” I know these seem simple, but we needed to get everyone working together and make sure that our customers’ experiences were consistent every time, no matter what department they visited. Before we published the procedures and changes, we invited the employees to read them, ask questions, and we addressed any concerns they had. Together we agreed on the changes and started implementing them. All of our employees have done a great job making the necessary changes, and some of the procedures have been adjusted to work better. But, everyone knows what is expected of them and that our number one goal will always be customer satisfaction.
Since our employees know not only what is expected from themselves but what is expected from the rest of the team, a lot of times they correct or help each other during the process. But there are the few occasions when management needs to reinforce the procedure with an employee. When it gets to this point, all discussions are documented and copies are retained to be used during the employee’s semi-annual performance review.
My military training and experience has contributed greatly to all of this. Each of those items are core tenants to military life. I have focused on three fundamentals: take care of people, create processes and procedures for everything, and hold people accountable with a coaching system and consistent disciplinary process. Over the coming months, we’ll dive much deeper into some of these specific issues.