Shop Management: What is a Shop Foreman?

Shop Management: What is a Shop Foreman?

A few years ago, it seemed that nearly every shop had a foreman. However, over the years I’ve noticed that the foreman position has been dissolved. Little by little, shops have gotten away from having a foreman and simply have a manager with direct control over the technicians. Why? Is it to “downsize” and save the costs associated with this position? Was this position redundant and unnecessary?

What is a foreman? What makes a good foreman? What should he or she do? A foreman is a blue collar manager as well as a lead technician. They are very technically knowledgeable, plus they are a good motivator, coach, and trainer to the rest of the shop.

The best shop foremen are also good public relations personnel. They are also the spokesperson and translator in communications between the service manager and the technicians, and vise versa. They are the “filler” that smoothes over the cracks in the shop’s daily operations.

The foreman is a blue collar service manager. They should be good with the organization of the shop. They should continuously police and address the condition of the shop, such as controlling messes, making sure the trash is emptied, making sure that lighting and other safety related issues are as they should be. As a manager, they should be good with motivating the other personnel and delegating jobs to them. Major decisions are left up to the service manager, but come down through the foreman.

Minor decisions are handled by the foreman directly so the service manager doesn’t have to worry or waste time over the little things.

The foreman should also be a good customer liaison. When technical-based questions and issues with customers arise that are above the level of the service advisor or the white-collared manager, the shop foreman should be the one to handle them. Let’s face it guys, not every manager in the automotive field knows the technical aspect of a vehicle enough to be the technical voice of the shop.

The same is true for the service advisors. Many managers and service advisors would be just as at-home in their job if they were selling washing machines or managing a box manufacturing company. Some realize this and direct questions to a more qualified person to answer them. However, some seem to think that because they once changed their own oil and mounted a tire, they can handle these technical issues when they arise.

This second type of service advisor or manager is detrimental to a shop’s image. Inaccurate, shoot-from-the-hip answers, do nothing but bring down the competency level of the entire shop when the customer finds more accurate information later.

The technicians may be very capable of fixing the customer’s vehicle, but the customer is convinced otherwise by the ramblings of someone over the front counter. In this age of the internet, some people will walk through that front door knowing more about a product they are inquiring about, such as tires or brake pads, than half of the people in your shop.

Those people will see right through a load of bologna that someone is trying to feed them. To these people, your shop can appear as incompetent, or mistaken for dishonest if inaccurate technical information is given to them. A knowledgeable foreman can protect against these false images from forming.

A good foreman’s skills are most helpful at the technical level. As you know, from time to time, a technician may become stumped on a problem vehicle. Especially on flat rate, or another form of commission, this can become detrimental to the technician’s productivity. A good foreman should be able to either help the technician diagnose the problem more quickly, or completely take it over so as to free the tech up to return to more productive work. This approach is not solely for the tech’s benefit, it is also for the shop’s benefit. A tech that is bogged down by a technical difficulty is not producing anything for the shop either. A fresh outlook on the problem from the shop foreman can sometimes reveal the otherwise hidden answer.

Technical Trainer
After a shop foreman diagnoses a vehicle that gave another tech a hard time, he/she should diplomatically and politely show the original technician what was found and how it was diagnosed. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time… same idea. Morale Booster
Without even realizing it, a good shop foreman can boost and protect the morale of the shop. If a tech is bogged and loosing productivity toward his own earnings, this can be a morale breaker. It’s a fact, happy employees are more productive than disgruntled ones. Not only are they more productive, but they also tend to stay in their job longer. So, if a good foreman is there to help out with the troublesome jobs, he is helping to preserve the morale in the shop.

A shop foreman is a leader, and therefore is like the drummer in a band; he sets the tempo of the others. The foreman should have a positive outlook on his job — a negative one will sour the attitudes of everyone else.

The Pay Plan
Oh yeah, here it is. This is the spot where, up until now, many shop owners, managers and corporate level executives would have been cheering along saying “Yes, we’d love to hire a person like that”, “Bring them right in!”, and otherwise in agreement, only to go silent at this point.

Look, let’s face it, you’re looking for “Superman”; right? You’re going to have to pay him/her like superman.

I’ve heard some cop-out answers to this subject over the years. Things like “people don’t work for paychecks, they work for people they respect” and “just pay them a secure salary.” Well, for one thing, when people write a check to pay a bill, they don’t write the word “respect” in the dollar box, and it also doesn’t take long for someone to realize that they are getting paid the same on salary to work as hard as they do when they goof off.

So here is my suggestion, a salary plus a monthly commission bonus. The commission bonus should be a percentage of the net profit. Why not? If you’re the owner, isn’t net profit ultimately how you get paid? Tie his bonus into the same method you get paid to ensure the foreman is doing everything he can do for your income as well.

The foreman is still an employee, not an owner, so he/she still needs the security of the salary.

The bonus not only keeps that person’s interests the same as yours, it also rewards them automatically for doing a good job at protecting profits and controlling expenses. It provides a built-in pay raise over their base salary that grows with work flow as well. That sounds a lot like a manager doesn’t it? Well it should, because after all, they are a blue collar manager, and then some.

I believe some companies have done anyway with the foreman position to increase profits by that person’s salary. I say they have hurt their profits by increasing rechecks, losing customers, losing good employees, and increasing shop supply expenses. I ask, how can they afford to not have a good foreman?

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