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Innovations and Best Practices

As you build your business and focus on improving your dealership’s processes and policies, what innovations/best practices have you implemented in the various departments that you are most proud of? How do you make sure these practices are duplicated by every present as well as future employee?
–    John Truss, Operations Manager, Lift Power Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida

Asked & AnsweredScott Lee
Conveyor Solutions
Schaumburg, IL
The best part of your question is that it’s “never ending.” After 16 years, we are still constantly looking for new ways to improve our processes, communication, policies, etc.
The key is to be able to roll out the policy and procedures while making sure everyone is aware and has access to the information. We’ve implemented a Process Procedure Outline. We keep a hard copy in a centrally located three-ring binder as well as an electronic version. The processes are grouped by departmental function. This way, employees can find the ones, which are applicable to them and not have to sift through ones that don’t apply.
New employees are shown where the manual and files are located as part of their on-boarding process. Our most successful Best Practices with true staying power tend to be the ones, which are developed from the bottom up. Empowered employees are continuously searching for ways to make their jobs easier and more efficient. Putting a process in place to recognize and implement these ideas is the key.

Mark Juelich
American Warehouse Systems LLC
Blaine, MN
A few years ago we implemented a strategic planning process at American Warehouse Systems. We used the MHEDA strategic planning wheel as a starting point and with a little help from some of our MHEDA member friends we were able to tailor a process specifically for our company and how we go to market. Like the MHEDA process, our plan is a wheel, so it never stops. We have four teams that focus on different areas of the company and every employee is involved at some level with a team. The teams set goals based on critical impact factors and work the year to complete those goals. We have monthly meetings where each team is able to discuss their process with the rest of the company so everyone is kept up to speed on all progress. At the end of the year, data is compiled, reviewed and we use it for next year.
This process not only allows us to work on the company and drive it forward, but it also allows everyone to be involved in planning the future of the company. I couldn’t be happier with the results of this process. If you don’t already have a strategic planning process in place, I would urge you to look into setting one up.

Mark M. Milovich
Lift Atlanta, Inc.
Decatur, GA
There are two practices we have instituted in the past few years that have really paid out dividends for our dealership, and both of them deal with equipment sales. First, we started bringing our service manager into our weekly sales meetings. The first order of business is to discuss any service related issues that came up in the previous week. We also discuss field service calls and the status of customer trucks in the shop. This gives our sales reps constant feedback and information as to what is going on service-wise with their customers. Nothing is worse to a sales rep than going into a customer location and being blind-sided by a service issue. This way, our sales team knows in advance any issues that may come up, and can assist in satisfying the customer.
The second practice is in sales pricing. We have given our sales reps a range of gross profit percentage that they can affectively negotiate with a customer when trying to secure an order. The range is large enough to be effective, yet small enough to protect the GP of the sales. No more “I have to check with my sales manager.” We have established a GP percentage floor that reps cannot go below without approval. If a rep feels we need to drastically discount a sale to win an order, it is discussed in detail, and management makes a “Go, No-Go” decision. This has freed up our sales professionals to be able to negotiate on their own, to a certain extent.
These practices are on-going and managed by myself and the department managers to ensure they continue.

Buddy Smith
Carolina Material Handling Services, Inc.
Columbia, SC
Several years ago, we did a comprehensive employee survey and after reviewing the results we saw a constant theme – our company had a problem with communication. Initially, I was frustrated at not knowing how to tackle a problem that seemed vague. However, after digging into it we came up with a communication process that continues to this day. This process has two main parts. First, each month I write a letter to all of our associates in which I communicate how the company performed for that month. I talk about our top five goals as a company and how we are doing in accomplishing these goals. (Jack Stack’s book, “The Great Game of Business,” has helped our company adopt an open book strategy.) Secondly, a member of senior management meets with a small group of employees (six to eight) for breakfast or lunch once a quarter. We try and touch every employee twice a year. These discussions also center on how the company is doing, with a focus on our values. And they are a great way to allow our employees to provide feedback on what they are seeing and how they feel the company can be improved.

After doing this for five years, I have noticed a significant increase in the trust level between our management team and our employees. This level of trust comes into play especially during tough times when difficult decisions are needed. This is probably the one process that I am most proud of.

Al Boston
AK Material Handling Systems
Maple Grove, MN

Very insightful question. I am most proud of making absolutely sure that we keep our processes and policies as clear and concise as possible. Our motto is “You can always say more with less words.” The innovations/best practices that AK Material Handling Systems takes pride in are using technology to automate our customer/supplier/employee communication. There is an educational video available from MHEDA that was just presented at ProMat 2013 on Growing Your Engineered Systems and Storage and Handling Business Workshop that will explain exactly how the system works. Best practices within your organization are based upon the culture. If the current culture is a healthy one supported by all employees, then all you have to do is make sure you have regular meetings that keep the culture healthy. New employees will adapt and embrace a healthy culture. If they do not, they are not the right employees. For ideas on building and maintaining a healthy culture, read “Six Habits of Highly Successful Managers” by John Cioffi.

Doug Carson
VP Marketing/Sales
Fallsway Equipment Company
Akron, OH

At Fallsway Equipment Company, one of the best practices we adopted was the establishment of scorecards for all departments and positions. Scorecards are our method of communicating and tracking our departmental and company related personal goals. All departments have scorecards that assign Best Practices metrics for their discipline. They also reach into the individual level for sales personnel and technicians.

Scorecards have a good number of financial measurements related to sales and profitability specific to their departments. All managers are required to populate their own scorecards with their metrics on a monthly basis in preparation for a meeting where results are shared with the entire management team. This discipline requires managers to pull data from monthly financials, ensuring our review of the company’s financial pulse, and it helps us recognize trends, problems and opportunities in a timely manner.

In addition to financial metrics, each scorecard has non-financial metrics related to industry best practices for each discipline. For instance, the service department scorecard will have response times, PM completion percentage, service quotation metrics, training measurements, injuries tracking, etc. All of these various measurements are industry best practices metrics that we’ve adopted primarily from our OEM partners’ suggestions. Each measurement comes with “best in class” suggested performance levels that ensure we are operating our dealership optimally.

Probably the best result of our scorecard discipline is the sharing of results with all management and departments. Our monthly financial meetings and management discussions of dealership activities are driven by the picture established by our scorecards.

Bill Ryan
VP/GM LiftOne
Charlotte, NC

LiftOne underwent a significant expansion this past year and with it came a new business system, a whole host of former processes, policies and practices, many of which either no longer would work, were outdated or had only been implemented partially or in some cases not at all. In spite of our strong desire to want to “stop the presses” and start all over again from scratch, we chose instead to introduce our employees to Change Management. This basic and fundamental training taught our people about the elements of paradigm shifts, root cause analysis and the methods of creating and maintaining deliberate and intentional change to the status quo. It teaches us to accept that we are not going to do new behaviors well for a while and that there will be some loss of performance in the process. This was a significant investment in and for our people to get “the process” of the development and acceptance of new processes and polices initiated. From there, we created a Process Development Team, developed our lists of broken items and prioritized them as to what we should work on first. Then, we set to work on identifying the needs of the customer and the needs of the business and we developed and put forward new processes, which we piloted and perfected. Then, once the processes were proven and accepted, we have taught and will continue to teach these new ways of doing things to our folks. We can see progress every day.

Mike Vaughan
Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc.
East Syracuse, NY

The most innovative idea that Liftech Equipment has been utilizing the last couple of years relates to the company’s ongoing effort to get everyone invested in the idea of improving our absorption rate. Liftech implemented a bonus program that rewards every employee monthly if the branch and/or business achieves 100 percent absorption. It’s a graduated scale where minimum bonus is $100 (100%+ absorption) and then increases to $110 at 110 percent, $120 at 120 percent, etc., to a maximum of $200. If the business achieves full absorption, then $50 is added. Maximum monthly bonus is $250 per employee.

We reinforce the concept by holding quarterly branch meetings discussing the success, or lack thereof, and what decisions are made daily by employees that impact absorption positively or negatively. We have experienced that it has really increased the awareness level by speaking in non-financial terminology that employees understand and that correlates to key elements of absorption. I have experienced very lively and productive discussions. By informing employees, they become empowered to make decisions rather than wait for a chain of command decision.

Daryle Ogburn
Advanced Equipment Company
Charlotte, NC

At AEC, our most successful recent innovation is a total upgrade of our IT Systems. We have implemented new hardware that includes new desktop computers, new laptops for salesmen, a new server and back-up server. We also implemented a new operating system, some new software and cloud based email. With the aid of our outside IT service provider, we were able to complete the entire implementation with no down time and are extremely happy with the results. The upgrade has greatly increased the accuracy and speed of all business communications, without interruptions, and has provided us with the security of knowing all communications and business transactions are always securely backed-up. Our upgrade has also enabled all of our employees to fully utilize new software and other technology innovations provided as tools from our suppliers. All employees, present and new, will be trained on the best use of all of our IT systems as well as on software and technology provided by our suppliers.

Steve Fawcett
Bode Equipment Company
Londonderry, NH

In 2000, I attended a MHEDA conference in Dayton, Ohio, where former MHEDA president Tim Hilton and a consultant named John Cioffi talked on Strategic Business Planning. One of the components of this seminar outlined a employee compensation program used at Tim’s company.

Carolina Handling and my company could not be more different. I am a small storage and handling company and he was a principal in a large forklift company. Tim and John offered a bonus plan system that I copied down that day. That program has been used here at Bode Equipment Company for the past 13 years. I think it works well here and Tim suggested it had worked well for his larger forklift company.

Every full-time employee has a bonus plan. The 10-point plan is specific to them. They can earn extra money quarterly if they comply with their personal 10-point program and help our team reach the company forecasted number.

This bonus program is a really great tool for getting employees to buy into company policies. If you have a employee who is bucking a new company initiative you make their compliance to that program part of their 10-point plan. A supervisor can change each individual’s bonus plan any time throughout the year. You would be surprised what a little money can do to motivate change and achieve company compliance to policies! I am proud of how well that program has worked over the years.