Current Issue
Material Handling Wholesaler Cover
November 2018
Brian Neuwirth explains how the warehouse of the future may look different from today.

Industry News

View Material Handling Wholesaler's profile on LinkedIn

Dissention in the ranks

“If you don't make a total commitment to whatever you're doing, then you start looking to bail out the first time the boat starts leaking. It's tough enough getting that boat to shore with everybody rowing, let alone when a guy stands up and starts putting his life jacket on.”

Lou Holtz – Legendary College Football Coach

Let me first start by saying that your “boat” will ALWAYS be leaking in some form or fashion.  Expecting otherwise is unreasonable. Aftermarket departments by their nature are constantly challenged by customer expectations, internal pressures, deadlines, lack of resources and personnel issues. The question of the day may not be “Are we leaking?” The question very well could be “Are we sinking?”

Boat repair is a full-time occupation, and running a sustainably profitable operation will require you to not only “plug the holes” but also “prevent” the leak by reinforcing your hull.  

It’s also important to note that during those difficult moments when the leak goes from a trickle to a full-on stream, it’s not enough to just tell everyone that “everything will be OK”.  Your team is not stupid. They see the water rising, and fear starts to fuel desperation. In these circumstances leaders cannot afford to placate their team. They must lead them. If your boat is sinking, the team needs to know:

  1. That you see the leak and recognize its importance.
  2. That you have a plan to seal the hull and drain the water
  3. That every member of the team has a role to play getting things dried up.

Then don’t delay. Formulate and complete both a short-term plan, followed by a longer-term plan, and delegate at least some of the tasks to the team. If you don’t even understand the reasons for the leak, then use all your energy and team focus to research where the trouble is coming from. Locating the source must be accomplished before any plan can be implemented. When we don’t focus all of the team’s energy and resources on first discovering what is causing the leak, the team will naturally start only focusing on addressing the symptoms. Bailing water never stops the flow.

Once the source of the trouble is located, split the work into pieces that can be distributed so that as many people as possible are involved in solving at least part of the problem. This is a key to your success. If you don’t have everyone working on the problem, or at least knowing what portion of the load they are carrying, then you effectively have observers on board that can think of nothing better than fitting themselves for a life jacket.

It is important to understand that there are times when team members can adopt a “herd” mentality. If a few start running, they all start moving toward the door. This only underscores the importance of remaining in control of your emotions, and your responses in times of trouble. 

During our busy season, we had a situation develop in our southern territory. We had three technicians that normally cover that area extremely well, and have always worked well as a team.

As the season grew busier, we started hearing regularly from two of the three techs, complaining that the third was not carrying his weight. At first, we dismissed it as a bad day and hoped that the situation would be resolved between them. After a day or two however the complaints resurfaced, and became more intense. We then realized that we might be looking at a potential problem or leak. 

Employee infighting can be the worst kind of leak to repair. The very people you would want to call on to solve the problem, are actually part of the problem. Following the model of focusing on the facts first, we immediately looked into the productivity of the tech in question, and found that he was indeed being as productive, (if not more productive) as he had ever been. From a factual standpoint, these complaints could not be substantiated.

During the time that we spent reviewing the data, we found that the techs doing the complaining were starting to recruit other techs into their cause. This was only serving to make the leak bigger by spreading division, and sacrificing productivity from every employee being approached.

We had to take action.

Short term plan:  Get the facts on the table.

We first notified the territory CSS representative about the problem, and informed him that we would like for him to be involved in resolving the situation. We then contacted each technician, and informed them that we would like to have a word with them.

During the first hour of the working day, we had all three techs and the CSS rep in the office. We laid all the performance metrics out on the table for all three to hear at once.

  • Billing efficiency
  • Labor utilization
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Gratis

In every category the three techs had similar and acceptable scores. There was less than a 4% variance between all three techs for every category of performance and productivity.

Of course, the technician that was being questioned had no idea of the unfair criticism he was receiving from his peers, and was stunned to hear about it. I then allowed that particular tech to explain to the other two what his daily work load consisted of. This technician was routinely sent to remote locations to repair equipment for which he had special training and tools. The schedule for his day was different than the others, but by no means was it less productive. 

We then allowed the CSS rep to address all three of them in a positive, motivational way. At that point the techs that were complaining realized and admitted that they were a bit too quick to judge.  

After everything was cleared up, and everyone in the room had a chance to communicate, we made it clear to the three techs that they were veteran technicians. They all played an important role in setting a good example for our rookies.  We were counting on them to sow seeds of unity within the group instead of division. We asked them to commit themselves to that mission. They agreed.

Long term plan: Monitor and report

We then excused the techs, and instructed the CSS rep to continue to monitor the situation, and be continuously involved in the communication process. For the next 6 weeks, he was to act as a conduit for the flow of communication between the techs, the customers, the dispatcher, the shop managers and the management.

The reports that followed were exemplary, and this team still operates effectively to this day. It seems as if the leak was sealed, and everyone involved maintained their productivity.

Although this was a real-time example, I want to stress that our tactics to resolve this situation were largely influenced by the fact that we had a very good understanding of the personalities involved. I am not suggesting that using the same tactic as a generalized means of resolving peer to peer complaints is the right solution for everyone. 

It did illustrate however the process of recognizing an issue, assessing factual data, constructing short and long-term plans to solve the problem and delegating some of the duties to team members that have a stake in the process.

Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC.  He has spent 33 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal.  Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance.  E-mail to contact Dave.