One of the biggest challenges facing shop management personnel in their daily routine is maximizing the productivity and efficiency of their vehicle technicians. And one of the biggest hurdles to this challenge has to do with distractions and interruptions. Fleet supervisors and foremen must work to eliminate distractions and disruptions in order to increase workplace operational success — while being aware that employees have their personal lives to attend to as well. Here are a few ways to do this.
More Than an Efficiency Problem
The problem with distractions of any type is that they completely disengage a technician from his or her total focus on the job at hand, and it takes time for the technician to remember where he “left off” and regain his focus on the job he was working on at the time of the interruption. Repair mistakes, such as forgetting to tighten a fastener, or safety mistakes, such as failing to ensure a vehicle hoist’s safety lock is engaged, can and do happen as a result of this — sometimes with disastrous and deadly consequences.
Necessary vs. Unnecessary Distractions
Distractions and interruptions come in two types: necessary and unnecessary. The necessary distractions and interruptions can happen throughout out the day and may involve, for example, a quick question from a service advisor about a job just completed, in progress, or possibly upcoming. These kinds of distractions rarely take much of the technician’s attention away from his work for any significant length of time (because they are almost always extremely brief), and, as long as they don’t become out of control, have minimal effect on the production and efficiency of the technician. They require minimal (or in some cases no) management control because they are usually so brief that no one gives them a second thought. Oftentimes you won’t even know they have occurred.
Unnecessary distractions and interruptions come in two types: work related and non-work related. Either one of these can severely hamper an organization’s success. They require more attention and control from management personnel because they can quickly escalate out of control if not contained or eliminated right away. In a perfect world, there is an employee policy manual in place with guidelines about these issues; in the real world, things happen. But even the unnecessary ones can be successfully managed.
Let’s talk about the work-related distractions first. These are the type that, for example, usually entail a technician being taken away from a job to “just have a quick look” at a vehicle to render some type of opinion on the situation at hand. Most of the time, this not necessary. But when it is, it can get out of control when, for example, a service advisor continually interrupts the same technician who is so easygoing that he always tries to be accommodating. To combat this, make sure your technicians know and understand that constant, repeated interruptions are not acceptable, and that they should come to you if there is an issue.
Another example of this is an instance where service dispatch has assigned a vehicle needing a certain type of work (diagnostics, repair, or both) to a technician who isn’t qualified or trained to make that repair; hence another technician must be diverted and interrupted from his own job to assist the first technician. This will be a back breaker for a fleet maintenance department if it occurs repeatedly. This is to be avoided at all costs, and dispatch needs to be reminded of this. Your responsibility as manager is to make certain you have enough competently trained personnel (in the appropriate disciplines) on staff to handle the various vehicle diagnostics and/or repair situations that arise. The role of the dispatcher is to make certain the proper technician is assigned the correct work assignments — no exceptions.
Non-work-related distractions and interruptions also can cause serious safety, efficiency, and productivity issues, and there are many of them. There seems to be a common denominator in this type of distraction or interruption: coffee, cell phones, cigarettes, and/or socializing.
You know the scenarios all too well, and they all occur during non-break periods: the employee who walks around the corner, or hides behind a vehicle to avoid detection, in order to smoke a cigarette. The employee who is repeatedly interrupted by phone calls. The constant coffee breaks. The endless “visiting,” under the guise of “helping out” or “lending assistance.”
Cigarette smoking on average will burn at least five minutes per hour of shop time. Since most workplaces usually have a break in the middle of a four-hour shift (giving the smoker time to smoke), this means that each day, approximately 20 minutes of production time is lost during an eight-hour shift. That’s an hour per week, minimum. Many smokers cannot (and/or will not) go more than an hour, if that, between cigarettes. It is an addiction, and there is a craving component involved with the addiction. Attempts made at putting a stop to smoking by employees during a non-break period will prove pointless. They will find a way to do it, even if it’s only two or three puffs on a cigarette, or done during a “restroom” visit.
The production lost in the remaining 55 minutes per hour by a smoker who is miserable and can’t smoke will cost you much more than the five minutes lost by allowing this. This is controversial, but is it really worth losing 55 minutes for five? Talk it over with them and reach a happy medium. And if you don’t have a designated area for smoking, get one.
Some shops have a ban on cell phones while employees are “on the clock.” I don’t agree with this policy because, let’s face it, we all have lives, and our lives happen. In an emergency, having a cell phone is an asset, so let employees use it as long as the privilege isn’t being abused. For those who have children, it gives them peace of mind knowing they can be reached in an emergency. This peace of mind will definitely increase employee productivity and efficiency.
Enforcement is a Team Effort
Enforcement of the “rules” will require assistance from the shop foreman, if you have one, as well as dispatch and service advisors, because you can’t be everywhere at once. And that’s hoping these individuals aren’t the ones in violation of the rules.
Common sense without being overbearing will allow you to manage and run a very efficient and productive fleet maintenance facility.
About the Author: Mike Cleary is the owner and trainer at ATSS Training/Cleary Automotive. He can be reached at MClearyATSS@yahoo.com.