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Even with the extensive rules Nascar enforces--current regulations run hundreds of pages and are updated on a seemingly constant basis--possibilities for potential improvement are endless. Although HMS is an organization with enviable resources at its disposal, deciding what not to work on is as important as deciding what should be.

So is making decisions and moving on. A hood fit issue on the 24 appears to be a problem without a quick fix. Unlike the relatively overbuilt hoods on street cars, a race car hood is thin, flimsy sheet metal. Prop the hood up for too long and it can sag in the center.

The hood on the car used at Phoenix sagged enough that it fit poorly on the cowl support, breaking negative air pressure and impacting aerodynamic performance. In time, the group appears to reach consensus on how to address the hood issue, yet Alan lets that conversation end without resolution. I'm surprised.


When I worked in manufacturing, closure was king. I try to empower the guys. You have to accept the occasional mistake or failure that comes from letting people figure certain things out for themselves, but that's the best way to get performance and build a real team. That's why Alan didn't push for closure on the hood issue.

NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson on Daytona 500, Danica Patrick

That way, they'll work together and come up with a solution and then brief me. Or they'll ask for input and I'll help shape the solution. I ask the obvious question: Doesn't that approach waste valuable time? Micromanaging is definitely not the way to accomplish either of those goals. Of course he's right. High performing organizations are often built by optimizing processes and procedures Plus, engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence. I care when something is "mine. And freedom breeds innovation. Even heavily process-oriented tasks have room for different approaches.

That's why smart leaders give their employees the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. So even though some crew chiefs still try to oversee every detail, micromanaging is a fast track to a short career. As best I can determine, the average crew chief's career span is approximately three years.

Micromanaging isn't sustainable for many reasons, chief among them the overwhelming mass of information that must be synthesized and the countless decisions that must be made over the course of the longest season in professional sports. The Nascar race schedule runs from February to November, with only a handful of weekends off. And the offseason itself isn't really "off": testing, development, adapting to rules changes, preparing cars, finalizing logistics, and making plans for the next season A successful crew chief must constantly balance control and empowerment, knowledge and trust--an uneasy equilibrium made even harder by the relentless pressure to perform.

Josh knows he needs to follow up.

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He'll stay on top of it. They'll sort it out and get back to me. The manager meeting ends and we walk downstairs to the shop floor.

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Everywhere you look are cars in various states of preparation. All the employees affiliated with the 5 and the 24 teams gather around. Although it's a couple of years old, here's a video that will provides an inside look at the HMS campus. Alan speaks first, recapping the weekend at Phoenix. The car was good in practice and they almost won the pole: Chase qualified third, five-hundredths of a second behind from pole-winner and teammate Alex Bowman.

Alex subbed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. They started the race well and decided to pit early in the first run to take advantage of fresh tires and hopefully gain a second or so per lap on the leader, but a caution flag caught them in the pits. They fought their way back through the field, gambled by changing two tires instead of four on the final pit stop, but eventually finished ninth. The result was disappointing but Alan remains positive throughout and thanks everyone for their hard work. Keith then steps forward to recap his team's race. The 5 car wasn't fast on new tires but sustained speed well on long runs.

Keith is also happy with his team's progress. They amassed five top finishes in the last 10 races of the year and he's optimistic about the Homestead race. Unfortunately, Kahne will be involved in a late-race crash and finish 37th. Up next is general manager Doug Duchardt. Doug is responsible for overseeing all competition-related departments: teams, engines, chassis and body construction, engineering, research and development, and pit crews.

He reminds everyone to make any yearend employee benefits changes and announces a pep rally will be held on Wednesday for the 48 team. It's natural to assume that racing is somehow different from "normal" businesses, but in most ways, it is not. There is a need to perform; the main difference is that victories and defeats play out on a public stage.

There are still goals to focus on, metrics to track, and careers to nurture and develop, but many of those aspects play out publicly as well. Success is rewarded and failure is punished Each week there is only be one winner. Thirty-nine other teams are left to wonder what happened--and what they can do differently the next time.

But that is also business. Maybe what makes racing different is that most of the people involved genuinely love the sport--or at least love the work that goes into the sport. Still, Alan says he doesn't work as many hours as he once did. While a few races sprinkled throughout the year are run on Saturday nights, Sunday is typically race day. The team flies back after the race, meaning he gets home as early as 7 p.

Mondays he gets to the shop by 8. He generally doesn't leave work until 6 or 7 p. Thursday afternoons are typically reserved for travel to the next track. In years past, he worked Thursday mornings, but more recently he's taken those few hours off to spend time with his family or mountain bike or paddle board. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are spent at the track Engaged employees have ideas. Take away their opportunities to make suggestions, or instantly disregard their ideas without consideration, and they immediately disengage.

That's why great bosses make it extremely easy for employees to offer suggestions. They ask leading questions.

They probe, but gently. They make employees feel comfortable proposing new ways to get things done. When an idea isn't feasible, they take the time to explain why; other times, they use silence as a tool to spark discussion. These are car guys, so they talk about brakes and brake calipers. They talk about splitter angles. They talk about the balance between aerodynamic performance and wind shear.

They also talk about the other Hendrick teams. One of the advantages of running a multi-car race team is that each car serves as both a benchmark and a test bed. The ability to share information is a huge advantage, but it also creates a problem common to complex businesses: sharing information adds to the blizzard of data. All those factors make this a surprisingly thoughtful room, filled with relatively introverted people who spend significant time in their own heads, in a constant search for innovation.

Another surprise is the nature of conversations about other Hendrick teams. I'm accustomed to overt competition between facilities and even departments. I once worked at a dog-eat-dog plant where intra-department competition was encouraged and "winning" was a zero-sum game. Here, the spirit is collaboratively competitive. The 24 team never talks about what other teams don't do well--they talk about what other HMS teams do well that they can learn from.

They want to out run their stable mates because their car is better, not because the other teams' cars are worse. Then the team's spotter, Eddie D'Hondt , provides input that can't be found on their spreadsheets. During the race, spotters assume a perch high above the track and serve as the driver's primary point of communication. Once spotters focused primarily on safety, letting the driver know when others cars were in the driver's blind spot and alerting them to crashes.

Today's spotters pass on information about other cars, suggest lines that are working for other drivers, identify rubber buildup on the track After each race, Eddie prepares reports that include his impressions, post-race video analysis, and suggestions for improvement. Today, his input is especially valuable since Chase's plane has been delayed by fog. The group decides they had a potentially top-five and possibly even a top-three car. They feel the 48 of Jimmie Johnson was the best car, the 88 of Alex Bowman was a little better, and while the 22 was better on short runs, their car was better on long runs.

And they're probably right What perplexes the group is why the car performed relatively poorly near the end of the race.

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