What would you say….. you do here?

“What would you say… you do here?”

This has got to be my all-time favorite movie line. Office Space is such a great movie almost everyone can relate to and I hear references to it all the time when I travel.  From the TPS Reports to the Red Swingline Stapler…but my favorite scene is when the Bobs are meeting with Smykowski as he is justifying his job, explaining how he talks to the customers so the engineers don’t have to.

I believe the greatest accomplishment we can reach in the workplace is working as a cohesive team. Yet to build this level of teamwork, effective communication between departments must take place. An even more important factor is the understanding idea of why the different departments are performing procedures. It is crucial for the people we rely on in our professional lives to understand the context/reasoning behind what we are asking them to do, they need to know how they impact our performance, and vice versa.

In my world of automotive dealerships, the service department and the sales department rely on each other for the business to succeed. Often the two departments will get frustrated with each other, usually from a lack of understanding about what is going on. They may know what the other team members are doing on a surface level, but don’t understand why they are taking certain actions.

I am sure you can come up with many parallel situations in your work life as well.

I was talking to a manager last week about some of these challenges. It reminded me of a customer I had years ago. I told his story to the manager and he came up with a great plan for his dealership.

About three years ago I was driving a customer to work for the day. If I remember right, our shuttle driver was sick so I grabbed my car and we left. He worked for a major company headquartered in Richardson, TX.

Making small talk, I asked what he did for a living. He explained to me that he was just starting in the accounting office. When I started to congratulate him on his new job, he stopped me and explained he had worked for the company for over five years. Five years and just now starting in accounting? Based on the age of my passenger, I assumed he wasn’t in an entry level position. “If you are just now starting in accounting what did you do before?” I asked.

Turns out he wasn’t entry level at all. This is what this company does: Every year or two, depending on the role, it is a requirement to change the department you are appointed too. So, you could spend a year in logistics, then a year in accounting, then a year in production, and so on.

He explained to me how everyone is cross trained in the departments and areas of production so they all know the context and importance of everyone else’s job. They had true teamwork across the board, not only did everyone know what the others were going through daily, they more importantly understood why they were doing the procedures required.

“Doesn’t this waste a lot of time training employees?” I asked

He told me that it was extremely helpful and sped up training. After a short time, you started to understand what was going on. This culture also made the company hyper efficient as very little time was wasted in meetings going over changed policies. Everyone understood the impact across the board as they have all been there before. An additional benefit is increased employee moral as you knew you weren’t stuck in a single career path and there was always something new on the horizon.

He did clarity for me, after you are promoted to a certain level in the company, you stop moving departments. You need your top talent in roles best suited for them.

I could see the service manager get excited as I told him the story. While it is very difficult to just have people move all around your company all will, it is very realistic to cross train for a day or two. He came up with the idea to have one sales person come back and cross train in the service department two days a month. While the salesman was back in service, one service advisor would go up to sales. They would rotate this throughout the year. He is going to do the same with the technicians and parts personnel. Not only does this increase knowledge of procedures for everyone in the dealership, it creates a line of communication between employees that would normally never talk to each other.

“Do you feel this would be a waste to pay these guys those days, if they aren’t producing for you?” I asked

“No way, if I can get these guys to understand what the others go through, maybe they will stop complaining about each other and work together.” He gave me the answer I was hoping for. I am excited to see how this turns out.