Sunday, May 25, 2008

Process and Time Away

I was getting my oil changed last week at this place with strange magazines in their waiting room. They had dozens of trade magazines, with hardcore auto repair articles about things like the latest wiring diagrams for Chrysler products. I thought it was strange that they would provide these things to their customers, as opposed to standard "consumer" magazines. I wondered if it was intentional or if they just dumped their back issues into the waiting room. For a moment, I actually had a certain respect for them. It was as if they were silently touting their expertise by showing off their impossibly complex reading materials. Then again, it also said to me that they were more interested in impressing me with their knowledge than actually providing me customer service.

Despite the obtuse material, I found an interesting article about auto shop owners. The magazine performed a poll of shop owners and their results could have been applied to any small business owner. Shop owners, according to their survey, overwhelmingly work towards two goals: Improving their process, including training employees and documenting procedures and creating opportunities for time away. They're actually the same thing, if you think about it.

Improving process is how you get time away. Process is how you standardize your procedures, or to use that cliche, how you work on your business instead of in your business. Creating process creates standardization, a consistent customer experience and makes it easier for your employees to do their job. Once employees have process down, they don't need you so much. Voila! Opportunity for time away.

Time away is my goal for implementing technology. The point-of-sale machine standardizes a lot of processes. Remote access software now lets me do all accounting and ordering from home. I'm also big on empowering employees to suggest or implement new processes. I went three years with a paper notebook for special orders before I finally gave in and allowed us to use a spreadsheet. The big reason? I can't look at a notebook from home, which impedes my ability to place orders. The danger is that I spend my evenings logged into the store, rather than with my family, but I still demand a certain level of control.

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