Operational Training Policy

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Happy Birthday to the grand ol’ United States of America! Can you believe it? Two hundred and thirty-nine years old and still looking good! Now, before you start to chatter about all that is wrong with our country, consider the hot topic on Capitol Hill this year — the immigration mess.

Why is it such a mess?  Because the U.S. is still the most desired country on earth for people to live. Even with all of our problems, people are trying by whatever means possible to get here. Regardless of how you feel about the immigration problem, the reason it is a problem and thousands of people every day are trying to enter this country is because we still are the land of opportunity!

Every day, you and I get to participate in one those opportunities. Did you know the quick oil and lube industry is mostly a U.S. concept? The great nation to the north of us, Canada, has embraced the idea, and the quick oil and lube concept has grown by leaps and bounds in that country.  In several ways, Canadians have improved on the concept. Even some of the eastern countries have been opening quick oil establishments. In fact, there are several members of our quick oil industry that have opened shops in China and India.

Last summer, around this time, I was in Kenya, East Africa. One day, I came in to Malindi, Kenya. Low on gas, I stopped to fill up the car. While pumping fuel, I looked across the parking lot and there it was:  an open-air quick lube — one bay, one pit and 20 feet tall with a covered ceiling. The walls were about six feet high and the rest was open. My curiosity got the best of me, so I went over to “talk shop” with the employees. What I found out was the same thing I already knew, people are in a hurry. People want convenience. People around the world need service. What I also found out was even in developing countries, companies must have policies to operate.

Just like the laws of our land define us as a people, our company policy defines us as a shop. Last month we talked about what we do. (Read that column here: http://bit.ly/1Gv2xu5) Policy defines who we are. In this era of new normal, our policy guide, or the “who we are” guide, needs to be re-examined. How long has it been since you looked at your policies? How long has it been since the monthly shop meeting discussed the policies? Today more than ever, your policies are crucial to establishing who you are. Your policies will define how you are different from the competition. So what does this “new normal” policy look like?

Your policies should be both a reflection of who you have been — your history — and who you are going to be — your future. As we have discussed many times, we are in a new era of expectations, so the policies should reflect how you would respond to these new expectations. Your expectations as the owner/manager are an important aspect that needs to be addressed. Your employees certainly have new expectations, and these concerns should be clearly outlined in your policy. But the biggie of all the new normal era is the customer’s expectations, and the majority of the policy should be dedicated to the customer. If your employees are insightful enough to see the clues, even your policy guide is a hint that of all the important parts of the shop, the customer is the most important part.

A “New Normal” Policy Guide

Owner Expectations

The first section of your new policy should include what the expectations are. Many shop managers have dealt with this problem: a lack of direction. Often, when an employee is being reprimanded for violating company policy, his or her excuse is, “No one ever told me what was expected of me.” The owner’s expectations are important to establish. They are the ground rules. In my experience of training, I have noticed most employees are happy to do what you want them to do, but you have to tell them. As with most people, when there are no clear directions of which way to go or how you want something done, people will go in the direction or do the job at hand the way they think is best, which may or may not be the direction you would want them to go. An example of this can be seen on your local lake. Since open water does not have defined lanes to drive in, boaters can, and do, go in all directions. It is the responsibility of the boat driver to look out for others and stay out of the way. Unfortunately, these non-defined lanes can result in boating accidents that often include a boat and personal watercraft both being in the same lane going in opposing directions. No one wanted the accident, and both drivers thought they were going in the right direction. A good policy will clearly explain the owner’s expectations so everyone will be working toward a common goal. The owner’s expectations should include the shop hours, how many hours an employee can work, the level of pay, dress code, employee conduct in the shop, a discipline policy, a reference to the procedure guide (we’ll talk about this next month) and last, but certainly not least, the company culture (which we’ll examine in the September issue of National Oil and Lube News).

Employee-Customized Policy

As with the owner’s expectations, the section of the policy that addresses employee expectations should also be clear. The employees of today can and should have expectations of the company they work for. The interesting part of this section of our policy is we can give an employee the opportunity to clearly define what their expectations are. Shop owners and managers have discovered when hiring a new employee and giving them the space in the policy to express their expectations, it actually gives clarity to the whole policy.

When I first introduced this idea of allowing an employee to dictate what the employee section of the company policy said, owners would raise their eyebrows and say, “Isn’t this going to mean I will have as many policies as I do employees?” My normal response is, “Is that not what you have already? You just haven’t defined it.”

For example, suppose Employee A needs to leave by 3:00 to pick up a child from school and Employee B cannot work on Saturday mornings. Employee C has some physical concerns that prevent them from working in the pit and so on and so on. But none of this is defined, and most of the time these non-documented employee expectations lead to misgivings or ill feelings toward one another. However, the opposite is also true. In shops that have allowed employees to “put it in writing,” the employee knows their expectations will be achieved. Now, before you fire me, hear this — you are still the boss, you are still the one in charge. Time and time again when this sticky subject comes up I ask, “What are you doing now?” In most circumstances, all of these employee expectations are happening, they just haven’t been defined. But truthfully, wouldn’t you rather know what their expectations are now? The biggest benefit to everyone is that once these expectations are agreed to, then rarely do these expectations change, and even rarer, employee retention is way above the industry norm. The fact you have allowed an employee to participate in their own customized policy will pay back to the shop in many ways.

Customer-Focused Policy

You may remember from the May 2015 column the “Who Benefits the Most” funnel, meaning when making shop decisions, who benefits the most — the shop or the customer? The policy also should clearly define these concerns. In the shop policy rewrites I have been a part of lately, many shops now include a section of the policy that states this idea. This “funnel” is the safety net to catch all of the “what if” scenarios that come. What are the “what ifs?” You all have heard them when training or discussing an issue. There is always the person or persons who will say “what if.” Although I normally say I train for the 90 percent of the time, it is nice to have a policy in place to address customer expectations.

To be clear about customer expectations, these two simple rules apply:

1.          Give the customer what they want.

2.          When in doubt, refer to rule No. 1.

Not to beat a dead horse, but of all the expectations that have changed the most in this new normal, it has been the customers’ expectations. The new policy should clearly define what these expectations are and give the employee the permission and power to always put customers first.

A good example of this happened a few weeks ago. It was pouring rain in a Texas community, and at the local hamburger joint, an employee came to work under the protection of an umbrella. As the lunch rush was starting to end, this same employee grabbed their umbrella and started escorting customers to their cars. According to company policy, the employee was supposed to start cleanup duties at the time, but the overriding policy was that employees were supposed to look for ways to implement a better customer experience. This employee took matters into his own hands, and for the customers who were eating there that day, they had an exceptional customer experience. Just an observation, but today when I went past the same hamburger joint, customers were waiting out the door to eat. Give the customer what they want, and give your employees the permission to do so!  

RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at: ragan.holt@noln.net


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