Protect against complicated loss and liability issues with nine simple policies and procedures.
By Cassie Paton
If you’re thinking it’s about time you had an employee handbook, chances are it’s because you’re currently dealing with a problem in your business. And, making matters worse, you probably don’t have a formal rule in place that outlines how to deal with the issue. (It’s okay, we’re not here to judge.)
Establishing and enforcing proper practices is a commonly cited challenge among heavy duty shop owners, but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your operation. Official guidelines help improve work performance, reduce risk of mistakes or injuries, ensure jobs are performed consistently and allow you to focus on growing your facility instead of hovering over your staff at all times. Plus, creating a culture of compliance reduces absenteeism by 37 percent and quality defects by 41 percent, according to Gallup’s report on employee engagement.
But where do you start? “You get burned and you learn,” says Nicole Ledford, co-owner of Aaron’s Semi Repair in Rock Springs, Wyoming. “That’s when it’s time to write the policy.”
The following suggestions outline practices and procedures designed to protect your business and empower your team to succeed.
1. Repair order checklists.
If you want a job done right, make a list. (And check it twice.) Otherwise, if you leave room for improvisation, your crew is likely to do one project a number of different ways—making the task vulnerable to mistakes.
Therefore, no vehicle at Quality Truck & Tire Service leaves without a final inspection, which follows specific guidelines for each assignment. The shop has employees verify and sign off on one another’s work to keep everything running smoothly.
“No one wants to tattle on each other if a job’s not done right,” says Jon Schuberg, service advisor at the Clare, Michigan-based operation. “They work together to make sure [the level of] quality [is maintained] and keep each other accountable.”
Checklists also ensure assignments move faster. “Clutch jobs can get held up when we’re waiting for certain parts on a transmission,” says Todd Scheffer, co-owner of Scheffer Truck Service in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. By following the proper procedure for each project, “[his team] gets the [components] ordered as quickly as possible.”
Happy customer? Check. Happy business owner? Check.
How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye to a bad apple at your shop? Scheffer has a three-strike rule that allows for a case-by-case judgment call.
“New hires aren’t going to remember everything they read in the employee manual, and sometimes they just need to be reminded about the rules,” he says. But if an individual shows blatant disregard for a policy, Scheffer says he or she gets written up. Three times, and the worker is out.
At Pinkelman Truck & Trailer in Norfolk, Nebraska, the policy is one verbal and two written warnings for the same offense equals termination. Crew members must sign off on a form that explains the problem, what steps need to be taken to address it and if the offender needs to be placed on probation, according to co-owner Amber Pinkelman.
“Having clear guidelines makes it easy for management to follow the same process every time and for staff to understand it, which is what we learned from our consultant,” she says. Pinkelman adds that it’s important to treat your team equally to avoid trouble with the labor board.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why proper instructions can make or break your business.
Dan Klepper drives home the importance of safety to his team by enforcing no-nonsense policies. The co-owner of Sawaya Fleet Services in Denver gives workers who fail to wear earplugs or protective glasses a verbal warning for the first offense and a write-up for a second one. He effectively eliminates the problem with this tactic.
A close call during the elevation of a big rig in Pinkelman’s shop led her to create a safety protocol regarding proper equipment use. When one tech failed to correctly position a floor jack underneath a truck, it caused the vehicle to slip and come crashing down on its tires. The individual, whose foot was resting on the jack’s pedal, shot upward with the device as the change in air pressure caused them both to recoil. Luckily, the worst thing that happened to the worker was having the air knocked out of him, but the incident was caught on tape. It served as a training tool of what not to do during lift procedures.
Sometimes, when you’ve been doing this for a while, you assume people know what they’re doing, but [that’s not always the case].
“Sometimes, when you’ve been doing this for a while, you assume people know what they’re doing, but that’s [not always the case],” Pinkelman says. After she wrote up a practice for the task, she reviewed it with her staff members at their next meeting and had them each sign off on it.
A little incentive goes a long way, too. Henry Uribe takes his crew on a fishing trip to destinations such as Catalina Island, California, for every six months that go by without an incident at his shop. “To keep costs down and everyone safe, you need to have troops rallying behind [your policies],” says the owner of Onsite Truck & Equipment Repair in Ontario, California. “It might cost me a few thousand dollars to take my team out, but it’s a lot cheaper than paying a claim and having my workman’s compensation go up. And, I know my employees are happy and safe.”
4. Staff and customer theft.
Lynnetta Rogers found herself studying up on credit card company legalese when customers claimed work was never performed on their vehicles and reversed their charges. She lost thousands of dollars in billable hours. “We deal with a lot of over-the-phone payments on credit cards, which can easily be reversed if you don’t follow certain documentation procedures,” says the co-owner of 2nd-to-None Fleet Service in Moriarty and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Now her policies on phone collections coincide with the practices of the credit card companies, and service advisors follow them by the book. Customers must sign a document acknowledging the work to be performed and the amount owed. “Now I know I have my legal evidence if someone tries to reverse payment,” Rogers says.
Having proof in place helped Judy Lindenmuth when tools started disappearing at her facility. After she created a rule that requires employees to provide a list and photos of their gear, it kept everyone accountable. “If they don’t do inventory and the business gets vandalized, I’m not responsible,” says the co-owner of The Truck Shoppe in Sacramento, California.
With so many people coming in and out of your shop, it’s all too easy to become a victim of property theft. Klepper experienced it first-hand when a safe containing blank checks and petty cash was stolen from his location.
“Don’t entice people by having something that looks valuable nearby,” he says.
Maintaining an orderly work space not only promotes shop safety, it also leaves a good impression with your customers. Every night after closing time at Ledford’s location, her team spends 30 minutes tidying up, so it can get off to a fresh, productive start the next morning.
Buck Monson’s crew at Monson Truck & Trailer Repair straightens up each Friday. But he says it’s become such a part of the culture that people do it on a daily basis to lessen the load later in the week. “After talking with my management consultant and fellow shop owners, I discovered if you have the right people and good morale, they naturally start cleaning up when they need to,” says the co-owner of the Davenport, Iowa- and East Moline, Illinois-based locations.
And, let’s not forget why sanitation remains top priority: “You want to make sure the business [doesn’t have] any oil spills, so employees don’t slip and get injured,” Uribe says. A well maintained facility also guarantees your location is represented favorably when you receive unexpected visits from customers, he adds.
Tips for Creating and Enforcing Proper Practices
You might have lots of great ideas about how to improve the way your shop runs, but none of them will come to light if you don’t outline guidelines for your staff. Develop and execute policies and procedures that foster profitable operations with these tried-and-true tips from top industry leaders.
1. Start where the need presents itself. “If you see somebody doing something detrimental to your business, address the issue immediately,” says Dan Klepper, co-owner of Sawaya Fleet Services in Denver. “Create a policy right then and there and speak to the employee directly about it.”
2. Use resources available to you. Refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and credit card laws, suggests Lynnetta Rogers. “This allows you to find out your legal rights,” says the co-owner of 2nd-to-None Fleet Service in Moriarty and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jon Schuberg found plenty of free advice and ideas by searching the internet. The service writer at Quality Truck & Tire Service in Clare, Michigan, essentially copied some policies and procedures word for word. “Talk to friends in the industry,” adds Evan Lang, co-owner of E.L.M. Repair & Refrigeration in Edgar, Wisconsin. “They’re usually willing to help.”
3. Make it required reading. “When we have a new hire, we go through the policy book with them and hit on the most important points,” Lang says. “It’s their responsibility to review and sign off on each one to show that they’ve read and understood them.”
4. Make it accessible. Give team members access to your employee manual and make it readily available. “Our handbook is on every computer in the shop, so employees can always find the particular policy they need to reference back to,” Rogers says.
5. Create a living, breathing document. Write five policies each week. “By the end of the year, you’ll have a comprehensive policy and procedure handbook,” Rogers says.
6. Green practices.
Make your operation a clean, green, eco-friendly machine. A few simple policies will help the environment and save your facility money.
Oil disposal can be expensive—especially if you get fined when doing it improperly. Thus, Evan Lang purchased a boiler to recycle used oil and generate heat for his location. “I figured I might as well get more use out of [the oil],” says the co-owner of E.L.M. Repair & Refrigeration in Edgar, Wisconsin. Lang, who’s been doing it for 10 years, estimates he saves $16,000 to $18,000 annually in natural gas costs. He pockets around another $6,000 each month through recycling water used in horsepower performance tests by draining it into a cistern.
It’s also important to correctly dispose of batteries, filters and scrap metal. “Everything goes into the right channels, so we’re not creating oil spills and big disasters that could cost us later on,” Rogers says. “No one wants to deal with [fines from] the Environmental Protection Agency, so we go through the proper procedures.”
7. Request forms.
For shops with small teams, multiple techs taking a vacation—or last-minute days off—can spell trouble.
That’s why Lindenmuth requires her crew to submit time-off request forms at least two weeks in advance. They must be signed off by the employee’s immediate supervisor and the manager or owner, and then the time gets posted on the calendar if approved.
“Everyone knows when somebody’s out,” Lindenmuth says. “[It helps] avoid having multiple people absent at the same time.”
8. Basic standard operating procedures—punctuality, dress code and personal matters.
Common sense dictates that your staff should show up on time and ready to start the job. However, after grabbing a bite to eat and catching up with colleagues, team members may drag their feet before tackling the workday.
This is why even the simplest rules need to be backed by enforceable policies. Thanks to the guidance she received from her training at Management Success (a company in Glendale, California, that provides instruction and consulting for shop owners and service advisors), Lindenmuth implemented procedures regarding punctuality, dress code and personal matters when she noticed these things becoming problems at her shop. “Employees were bringing food into our morning meetings and clocking in before getting dressed in their work clothes,” Lindenmuth says. She realized she couldn’t write workers up for these offenses until she had her terms on paper.
Lindenmuth drafted her new guidelines, posted them on her bulletin board and reviewed through them with her crew. To ensure everyone was in agreement, she also had each person sign an updated employee handbook, verifying the new changes were read and understood.
Now Lindenmuth’s team is expected to be well rested, on time, in uniform and have personal needs (such as eating breakfast) met when it arrives for work. Scheffer also makes it a rule that staff members must show up each morning dressed appropriately (shirts tucked in) and ready to start the day.
As many shop owners know, it’s not just about looking good—uniforms keep employees safer, too. Workers in Pinkelman’s location would sometimes show up in shorts and flip flops during warmer weather months. But, when one detailer cut his leg while operating a buffer, she nixed the lax policy. Now, her location requires crew members to dress in outfits made of thick material designed to prevent minor injuries.
“We pay for the shirts, pants and safety glasses, and they’re responsible for wearing closed-toe shoes,” Pinkelman says. Best of all, the policy has helped reduce accidents at her shop.
Your business flourishes when your crew thrives. So, set new hires up for success and toss the book at them—literally. “If you have every policy and procedure in writing, it’s 10 times easier to train a person to do their job,” Rogers says.
Klepper agrees, which is why he provides new, entry-level workers with a roadmap for basic repairs and career advancement. “We insist on employees being successful,” he says.
In Lindenmuth’s facility, techs learn standardized procedures. Trainees and apprentices are shown the ropes on everything from simple fixes to oil changes. “That way, if a team member has to leave in the middle of a job, [another one] can jump back in where the previous one left off. It saves time, confusion and money,” she says.
“Sometimes, as owners, we forget we have to give back to the employee,” Uribe adds. It’s an investment, he says, but a crucial one if you want to expand your business.