From The CEO - January/February - 2016

A Change of Purpose

At the 2015 ATRA Powertrain Expo we covered a lot of topics in the management sessions; many were focused on leadership and employee development. One of the big issues for shop owners today is finding competent technical help. It’s a subject that sort of crept up on everyone until they couldn’t avoid it any longer. Some shops have even closed their doors because they couldn’t find technicians to do the work.

One of the things we arrived at during discussions is that, for a shop to meet this challenge, all of the training has to be available in house. That is, you’ll need to train your tech staff yourself (with a little help from ATRA).

But before we get into the aspects of training, it’s important that you establish — or reestablish — the purpose of your business. This’ll be key when bring in new staff. Purpose is another word for “the big picture.” It answers the question “why does your business exist?”

For this I’d like to offer two examples where the business purpose was improperly defined, which eventually caused the businesses to fail. Those examples are Kodak and Blockbuster.

Kodak was founded in 1888 and was the undisputed king of photography for over 100 years. Their purpose (reason for being in business) was primarily to make film. They made cameras and other products as well, but primarily they manufactured film.

In 1975, Kodak developed the first digital camera, but that product threatened the sale of film so they scrapped it. As the digital market forged ahead, Kodak was left behind, hanging onto a purpose that was out of alignment with consumers’ demands.

Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Had they established a purpose that was more along the lines of “To capture special moments in time, for all time,” their future might have been very different.

Blockbuster opened its first store in 1985 and quickly became the leader in movie rentals, with nearly 60,000 employees and over 9000 stores. Their purpose was to rent movies.

Netflix opened in 1997 with the idea of providing on-demand entertainment. No more running to the store for a VHS or DVD (only to find they’re out of stock) or dealing with late fees. In 2000, Blockbuster passed on an opportunity to purchase Netflix, sticking to its model of movie rentals from a brick-and-mortar business. They filed bankruptcy in 2010. Netflix, on the other hand, is seeing profits that Blockbuster executives could only have dreamed of.

So, what’s the purpose of your business? If you believe it’s to rebuild transmissions, you might be setting yourself up like the executives of Kodak and Blockbuster. Not that I’m suggesting you stop rebuilding transmissions; far from it. Rather, I’m suggesting you define your purpose to expand beyond that.

How’s this for an example? “The purpose of my business is to help people with transmission problems get back on the road as quickly and cost effectively as possible.” That purpose includes rebuilding transmissions, just like you’re doing now, but it doesn’t limit your potential solutions. It also involves the customer, which is vital!

Notice that you’re really not changing your business model; just redefining your perception of that model. What’s interesting is that, once you’ve accepted this new definition, you’ll find yourself adjusting your operating strategy to fit that definition.

You’re still a transmission shop, but your focus will be more about how you can serve your customers than about rebuilding transmissions. You’ll be amazed at how much better your customers will respond to that new definition.

It’s also important to recognize that profit can’t enter into your purpose. Not that profit isn’t important; it is. But it can’t be your primary purpose. We’ve seen that time and time again: Serve your customers properly and the profits will take care of themselves.

Finally, your purpose has to be something that everyone in your shop can understand and get behind, particularly as you begin the work of training new technicians. Repeat it often, until it becomes automatic. Reiterate it whenever a job seems to be taking you in a new direction. You’ll be amazed at how your new purpose can keep you focused on what’s important… to you and your customers.

In this, and future issues, we’ll look at ways you can reach and train tomorrow’s technicians… in a way that aligns with your purpose. It’s a critical part of keeping your business moving forward.