Building Better Bridges
Reaching peak performance at your shop may not be as tough as you think. Sure, things like maintaining a tight customer service index and good profit structuring are integral to your finances, but the most important—and frequently overlooked—component of your success is your staff. “Your business hinges on the relationship you have with your employees,” says Jim Metzger, an ASE-certified body repair technician. With more than 23 years in the automotive industry, Metzger has seen the most common mistakes shop owners make. Failing to connect with employees tops the list.
Shop owners struggle to establish relationships with their employees for two main reasons. The first is that some managers tend to resist change. They think, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The problem with this thinking, though, is that refusing to swap old management techniques with new ones may actually hinder your business. “[Employers sometimes] need to throw away old management techniques and embrace new relationships, but they are often reluctant to give them up,” Metzger says.
The second reason shop owners struggle to connect with employees is that they get into a managing frame of mind. “The hardest thing to do when facing a management position is to put away your toolbox,” Metzger says. “It’s scary as hell not to be using your hands. You’re promoted to a position where technical repair skills no longer matter.” Instead, organizational, accounting and people skills are brought to the forefront, and Metzger says many shop owners struggle with this because they haven’t had any formal management training. “The need is great in our industry for progressive management,” he says.
great way recognize a job well done."
The good news is that any shop owner can become a great manager. “There’s no substitute for 20 to 30 years of experience,” Metzger says. “Shop owners are so smart, and new people coming in should hang on their every word.” While you shine as a technical guru, Metzger offers some management tools that allow you to establish a presence as a successful manager too.
THE BIG THREE
Want a better, happier workplace for your employees—and yourself? Consider three rules:
RULE #1: Get rid of the jerks. “We hang on to the wrong people for too long,” Metzger says. A common mistake shop owners make is keeping certain employees around even when they’re not adding any value or positivity to the workplace. “[These people] have bad attitudes and poor morale, but we hang on to them because their skill set is good,” Metzger says. He points out, however, that this is not a good enough reason to have them around. “There’s always an excuse [for keeping them]” he says. “I don’t care what the justification is, they have to go.”
RULE #2: Establish more effective interviewing and hiring skills. Metzger says this rule is strongly tied to Rule #1. Shop owners put too much emphasis on hiring someone with strong technical abilities rather than looking for someone who also has exceptional people skills, a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. “My motto is: Hire for attitude, train for skills,” he says.
RULE #3: Have fun! “We get into the mode of thinking that if someone is smiling, they’re not working hard enough,” Metzger says. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Smiles and laughter are an essential part of the workplace, and happy employees are worth their weight in gold.
BUILDING A TEAM
To establish a great relationship with employees, start by creating a team-focused environment, Metzger advises. Here’s how to get started:
• Never make a hiring decision alone. Team members should be able to meet with a prospective hire and offer feedback. “They’re working with them 8 or 10 hours a day—why shouldn’t they have a say?” Metzger says.
• Acknowledge good deeds. A kind word goes a long way in making your employees feel appreciated. “Owners spend a lot of time putting out fires, but they also need to acknowledge the people who aren’t creating the fires,” Metzger says. Both team and individual awards are a great way to recognize a job well done. “Most every car that’s gone through [the shop] has touched everyone’s hands,” he says. Rewarding your employees for working well together and acknowledging their efforts is important.
• Create a pleasant work environment. This doesn’t have to be a production—something as simple as keeping the shop comfortable by turning on the air conditioner during the summer, allowing your employees to wear shorts or listen to music are all great ways to show them you care and that you value how they perceive their work environment.
• Schedule team outings. This piece of advice is perhaps the most crucial. “The most important thing you can do to improve overall efficiency of your organization is to make it a fun place to work,” Metzger says. Organizing activities together such as dinner, bowling or fishing can really help to create a sense of bonding between co-workers—and also between you and your employees. When your employees feel like you’re making a genuine effort to get to know them, they’ll be much more motivated to put forth their best effort at work. “People who enjoy [their job] never leave.”
Successfully connecting with your employees inherently makes you a better manager. The more connected you are, the more you’re able to understand their most important needs and wants. “Remember, you have people working for you—not employees,” Metzger says. Satisfied employees have a huge impact on the success of your shop. And, most importantly, happy employees mean a much happier you. So, maybe it’s time to fire up the grill and settle in to summer with some good old-fashioned fun at a company barbecue. Let the team building begin!