'Many business owners feel like they are coping with trouble areas on a regular basis and this need to constant cope prevents them from expanding the business.'

Jim Kahrs
One of the comments I hear from business owners most frequently is that they find themselves doing the work of and making decisions for the rest of their staff. I hear things like “Can’t anyone else make a decision around here?” or “Do I have to do everything?”. It can very easily create a feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion. Many business owners feel like they are coping with trouble areas on a regular basis and this need to constantly cope prevents them from expanding the business. So, what is the answer to this industry wide problem?

The first step of the solution lies in understanding the cause of the problem. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary to cope means to “to deal effectively with something difficult.” For example, a customer calls screaming about a service problem that hasn’t been handled. You, the dealer principal, are now faced with the need to deal with this effectively if you want to keep a customer. However, the state of cope goes even deeper. As defined by the Hubbard Management System, developed by world acclaimed author and administrator L. Ron Hubbard, cope “is the process of finding and correcting out-points (problem areas in the organization that detract from success) without ever discovering a why (the reason the out-point occurred) and without organizing any return to the ideal scene.” Let’s go back to the service problem example. 

The first part of finding and correcting the out-point is usually handled very quickly. You get a hold of the dispatcher or service manager and direct them to get out to the customer and fix the problem immediately. But to truly handle it long term you must now discover exactly why this situation got out of control and landed on your desk, in other words discover the why. For example, the customer waited 4 days for a part to come in and was never told by dispatch the time frame for the part’s arrival. The ideal scene would include ordering the part overnight and communicating with the customer to let them know exactly when the technician would be back to install the part. Had this been done in the beginning the call would have never made it to your desk. So the next step is organizing the area to bring about this ideal scene. For example you could institute a policy that all customers that have parts on order must be told when the part is due in and the service manager must keep a running list of all calls that have aged longer than 24 hours. If these policies are put in place and followed this situation should not recur. In areas where you’ve completed all of these steps the situations don’t recur. If you don’t complete all of these step a month or so later the same problem comes up again and you fix it again. This is what cope really is. 

Let’s review the next step in handling these time consuming situations. One of the key things that Mr. Hubbard outlines in the Hubbard Management System states that “If you remain in cope, the demand for cope increases.” In other words the more fires you put out for others the more fires you will need to put out. So what do you do? One begins to move out of cope by putting an Organizing Board (Org Board) together that labels posts and duties. The Organizing Board is a document that outlines all of the functions of the organization and lists who is responsible for each function. It is very different from the organization charts that many companies use. These organization charts simply list the command lines of an organization, telling who reports to whom.  
What they lack is the detail of the functions that are required in each area of the business. A true Org Board allows each person to clearly understand who does what job. Once the Org Board is in place the next step is to create a write up for each post on the Org Board. In the Hubbard System these are “hat” write ups.  

The term hat comes from the days of railroad travel when you could tell what job each person on the train had by the hat they wore. Conductors, engineers, porters, etc. all wore distinctively different headgear. Now if you only got as far as drafting an Org Board and never got each person’s hat written up, in their hands and each person trained the executives of the organization would remain in cope. Every time there was a problem it would immediately go to the top of the organization for handling. So you need to get the hat written up and the staff checked out on their understanding of the hats and their ability to carry out the duties.

In order to get the results you’re looking for each hat must have nine components. They are: (a.) A purpose of the post. For example, the purpose of the technician post is to repair customer machines and make sure that the customer is satisfied with the service they receive. (b.) Its relative position on the Org Board. This lets other know who the post reports to and how the post interacts with the rest of the company and your customers. (c.) A write up of the post. This is usually done by someone who has held the post before. It details what is done. (d.) A check sheet of the policies and procedures of the post. This check sheet would be used to track a person progress through their training for the post. (e.) A full pack of written materials and manuals for the post. This would be the materials that were listed on the check sheet in the previous step. (f.) A copy of the Org Board of the portion of the org to which the post belongs. (g.) A flow chart showing what is received by the post, what changes need to be made to them and where the post routes them. For example, sales order processing receives customer orders, makes corrections as needed, enters them into the system and sends them on for billing. (h.) The product of the post. This is critical, it is a statement of what the post is expected to produce. In the example above, the product for sales order processing is a correctly entered order. (i.) The statistics for the post. The statistics are the measurement of the product. Each area is responsible for specific products and the best way to drive production in all areas is to track and drive the statistics that represent this production. You can easily see how a hat write up is very different than a typical job description that merely lists out duties. Very often employees will go about their duties with no concept of the purpose of the post, let alone the product they are expected to get or the statistics that measure their production.  

By putting an Org Board and hats in place you can begin to move out of cope mode and into sanity mode. Imagine if all of this were in place in your dealership. The constant emergencies that land on your desk would be spotted and handled by the appropriate staff, not you. Everyone in the dealership would clearly understand what their job is and who is responsible for all other functions. They would be getting consistently high levels of production and the level of sanity that comes about at this point is hard to believe. You would actually be able to take a vacation for more than a few days without worrying about the dealership. Who knows, you may even be able to turn over day-to-day running of the business to a competent manager as an alternative to selling the business in the future. 

Jim Kahrs may be reached at [email protected]
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