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Using Constraints to Your Favor

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007
By Rachael J. Mercer, Contributing Editor

Using personal experience to explain how his own business was stuck in a rut, John Beckworth, president, Mile One Collision Works, is humorous and insightful in teaching course attendees about the “Theory of Constraints” (TOC) and how it can affect their own businesses. He immediately challenged participants to change their thinking process, pointing out that nothing ever changes by continuing to do everything the way it was always done.

After 26 years in the collision industry, Beckworth’s desire to be part of something bigger than just day-to-day operations drove him to find a better way of doing things. The changes he implemented in his own business have resulted in increased business while empowering his employees to facilitate a sustainable business model and encouraging his feelings that he was contributing to society by being productive. “I’d like you to walk away with an understanding that we need to, as an industry, evaluate our process models from an efficiency standpoint,” Beckworth told attendees. “I encourage you to question my ideas. It means you are thinking about how things are done, and that's the first step to better efficiency.

The Toolbox

Today’s participants learned:
Un-learning is harder than learning.
It’s easier to change when you want to, not when you have to.

Your employees know what’s wrong. Let them help you fix it.

Beckworth explained those keys to a more successful work environment, including the need to “unlearn” the way things have always been done. Owners and managers were encouraged to see employees as smart and valuable to the process: “The technicians who live the processes we implement [in our businesses] are absolutely capable of helping build them. It must be a team effort to generate a sustainable cultural change.”

Course attendees participated in a “driving to work” exercise designed to demonstrate the value of this theory in their workplaces. “An easy way to explain the value of TOC is to think about driving to work everyday,” said Beckworth. “Most of the time, you get in your car and without much thought, you end up at work. You don’t get in your vehicle; think to put it in drive, go to the first light and turn left, bear right onto the freeway, etc. That is TOC – a process that basically requires little thinking.

“But sometimes, when you drive to work, there is an accident, closed road, etc., and then you need to be able to reroute yourself to still reach your destination, even if it’s a little later than usual. That’s TOC also, the thinking process to evaluate daily issues and work around them,” he said.

 “Consistency is key,” Beckworth added. “Being number two all of the time is better than being number one only some of the time.”

Several seemingly contradictory principles must be established and practiced to become more successful, he explained. First, “unlearning” a bad habit is more difficult than learning a new one, but it can be done. Second, recognize the value of slowing down in order to ultimately speed up the process of collision repair. Third, thinking differently is an important component. Finally, he encouraged participants to solve the problems instead of just acknowledging their existence: “Solving one big problem can fix many small ones.”

Participants acknowledged some of the fear is associated with changing the way things are done in their businesses, but Beckworth encouraged them to take those steps. “Personal fear is healthy,” he said. “We have a lot at stake in our businesses.”

He pointed out that change is easier to make and adapt to when the changes are something that is wanted, such as when owners and managers are look to improve the status quo. He also stressed that changes can be much more difficult to adapt to when the changes are being forced by any number of outside influences.

In closing, Beckworth urged participants to improve their company’s current environment, making it stronger and helping unite themselves and their employees in common goals. “These changes can lead to sustainable profitability,” he said. “Keep it fun, and take the steps necessary to strengthen your business today.”

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Copyright 2006. Automotive Service Association and AutoInc. Magazine. All rights reserved.
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