Avoid rabbit holes by staying focused on what is actionable in your shop
Avoiding rabbit holes can mean avoiding (from day-to-day operations) measures and information that are not actionable. Look for ways to move the needle, make improvements or maintain quality and consistency. Set yourself up to avoid rabbit holes. For Key Performance Indicators (KPI) focuses with staff, look for measures that people can relate to in their work space. Speaking with your paint department about a poor paint and materials (P&M) gross profit percentage may not be the best tool or method to help them relate and in turn move the needle. Having a conversation about what goes into the P&M costs as measured by hour is more relatable for production staff. Production staff is aware of the labor hours per job per repair order (RO) (you are providing these to staff, right?). More specifically, sharing cost per ounce of color, clear and surface prep is something very tangible for most production staff. Avoid the rabbit hole and discuss ounce and hours with paint staff.
I see this a lot with KPIs and similar business measures. These KPIs, or Critical Profit Variables (CPVs), are great and are valuable tools to help everyone better measure, and therefore better manage, their business. But all measures are not the same for all businesses. Financial measures and ratios such as Current Ratio, Breakeven, Cash Flow, ROI, RO, Return on Sales and more are wonderful measures, but are not always the best references with non-financial personnel. Other measures may not be the most suitable for all businesses. Two misunderstood measures that come to mind are sales per square foot and sales per employee. I’m not suggesting that these are not relevant or valuable measures; I’m suggesting that they are not as actionable as other measures. For these you can only increase sales or reduce employees (or even less likely, reduce square footage). So once these measures have been performed, they aren’t the best drivers of the day-to-day operations for body shops.
With KPIs, it is easy to go down a rabbit hole. Before spending too much time on any measure ask yourself: is it actionable? In the example above, you can discuss ounces used per refinish hour with your paint staff; they in turn can use that measure as a guide in their daily tasks. Avoid the rabbit hole.
Those sales per employee measures can be better used by jobbers, as this is a more suitable measure for this group, where staggered shifts and part-time employees can have a significant impact on staffing. Some jobbers will have part-time employees helping with order pulling and deliveries only during peak times, such as when they process and ship stock orders. With this group, we now have an actionable measure.
Find and use the KPIs that are best for you and those members of your team you are working with. All KPIs can help — just not always for all issues by all members of your staff. Find relatable, actionable measures that will provide opportunities for improvement and/or consistent performance.
Yet another rabbit hole is chasing a solution to a perceived problem. An example I was recently exposed to was with a friend’s shop — he was getting bids on a second spray booth. This can be a daunting task and can consume a lot of time. He was concerned about the apparent bottle neck in production. Rather than explore how the shop was currently utilizing the existing booth, he had already determined that a second booth was the answer. The rabbit hole thinking here was that he failed to explore other ways to get more production from the existing equipment. Stepping back (climbing out of the rabbit hole), some ideas were tossed out with a little roundtable discussion. What impact would spraying more parts off the vehicle have on booth utilization? One vehicle might still leave room for other parts from other ROs that can be painted and cleared alongside. What if nothing entered the booth until it was completely ready to spray (paint mixed, color matching done, virtually completely masked)? What if the first car of the day was readied the night before and could be sprayed at 8 a.m. (or start time)? The goal is working towards no idle booth time, making that expensive chunk of sheet metal earn its keep. My friend still ended up buying a second booth, but he was able to delay that purchase for almost two years. Sometimes you must stop, look around and make sure you’re not in a rabbit hole already.
It’s easy to see rabbit holes forming from negative thoughts — or worse yet lack of thought. Over-analyzing data rather than focusing on solutions or changes to make is a big rabbit hole. One rabbit hole we all can fall into (Ok, maybe it’s just me) is our email inbox. How much time do we spend sorting through this growing mass of communication? Here, too, a little prioritizing can be helpful. Most emails can have a delayed response and maybe even a delayed reading. Consider having your emails automatically put into separate folders (easy to do with Outlook, Yahoo and Google mail). Having a separate email address for personal or family use can help scrub the inbox. Now your email inbox is less of a rabbit hole. Monitoring your inbox perpetually all day can be a distraction. Consider checking your email only a few times per day. First, check it in the morning when you are setting up your priorities, and then again as needed during the day. Emails, unlike phone calls, are not a “right now” action item most of the time. Usually people are expecting some delay in emails (as opposed to phone calls or texts). Don’t let your inbox become a rabbit hole.
Another aspect of avoiding rabbit holes is prioritizing what we work on and with. Don’t forget the A-B-C rules of adjusting your daily list of things to do. Let’s be honest — you’re not going to get everything on your list done (too much to do and not enough time, for most of us). Making a list of tasks (avoiding other tasks as rabbit holes) every day will help. Some suggestions to consider: Mark all priorities as “A” tasks. These should be limited to tasks that if you don’t get them done will have serious consequences. You can then prioritize them as A-1, A-2 etc. in order of importance. “B” tasks are only to be worked on when you have no remaining “A” tasks. These would be nice to get done but are not critical. Consider delegating some or all these tasks to someone else. Your “B” priority can be some else’s “A” task. The remaining “C” tasks are all rabbit holes. Ignore them —they will go away or move up in rank to “A” or “B” tasks.
In short, rabbit holes are something we venture into all on our own either through over-thought or negative thoughts. Step back and take a breath. Is this “thing” I’m pondering so deeply worth the time? Is it truly an “A” priority?