Running a Shop Operations Human Resources

Managing an Employee You Don’t Like

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Bill Park strives to assemble staffs full of employees who are, as he phrases it, “humble, hungry, and smart.”

Park, a former MSO owner and executive with ABRA Auto Body & Glass, has always appreciated employees that embrace his business’s core values, like technicians who consistently push themselves to take extra training courses. Yet, he has learned over the years that not every employee will share all of his values.

“If somebody’s outside of those values, we try to understand that person,” says Park, who currently serves as the CEO of Axiom Accident and Hail Repair in rural Denver. We examine “is there a conflict somewhere that we have to resolve? Is this just a temporary departure, because that does happen and we all have bad days and circumstances in life kick in.

“However, if there’s an underlying personality conflict … if you’re persistently being annoyed [as a shop leader] then somebody’s out of kilter somewhere.”

It’s a complex problem, he says, and it’s one that virtually every shop operator will encounter at some point: essentially, how to deal with an employee that rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps the employee shares drastically different political views than you … and reminds you of that fact often. Or, maybe an employee speaks to you in a fairly dismissive fashion during meetings.

While an employee might irk a shop leader, not every collision repair business can afford to simply part ways with every staff member that annoys certain co-workers. In many cases, these occasionally frustrating employees are too productive on the shop floor to give up on. And, sometimes an employee simply has a basic habit, like tending to interrupt conversations, that would annoy some coworkers more than others.

“Owners shouldn’t be looking for reasons to fire someone,” Park says. “Who’s being annoyed? Is it a one-on-one situation with the owner, or manager, or is the annoyance affecting more people? … By not bringing the issue to the forefront, the owner or manager would be doing their employees a disservice—the real insult is not addressing the issue in a proactive manner.”

That begs an overarching question: How can shop owners make things work with an employee with whom they don’t relate well? Park offers several solutions below.

Tweak Your Interview Process.

If you frequently find yourself with employees that grate on some of their co-workers, it might be time to overhaul your facility’s interview process. Because, in doing so, personality traits that don’t align with your company culture are likely to present themselves.

Nowadays, when Park interviews job prospects, he doesn’t spend much time asking them what they view their strengths to be. Instead, he asks questions that help reveal a prospective hire’s personality. That way, Park can gauge whether or not the prospect is likely to fit in with his existing staff.

“You need to be honest with people, beginning with when you hire them,” Park says, “and set those expectations. Say, ‘this is us as a company; if, at some point, you’re not aligned with our core values and following these, you won’t work here any longer.’

“We ask them to respond to core value questions and how they relate to them in their daily lives—I don’t even talk about the job; I just talk in general, [noting] how a person communicates, and then talk about their answers a little bit. They’re going to open up from there, and say, ‘Well, this is how I seek to understand,’ you know?”

Clarify Your ‘Non-negotiables.’

Early in employees’ tenure with Axiom Accident and Hail Repair, Park makes sure to clarify what are, in essence, his non-negotiables—in other words, what issues will lead to an employee’s dismissal if they persist at length. Some examples might be speaking in an occasionally unprofessional tone with superiors, or consistently being late to meetings.

By clarifying any behaviors that are deemed unacceptable—and by documenting conversations along those lines, and having an employee sign and date such documentation—shop owners protect themselves from any potential wrongful termination threats down the line.

By clearly stating your business’s non-negotiables, it can help a shop owner avoid being stuck with a poor staff fit.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re not a good technician, or a good estimator, necessarily,” Park says, “but I think you’re causing a lot of problems by not addressing the personnel side of human behavior.”

Attempt Conflict Resolution.

Occasionally, Park notes, a shop owner can have a manager pull an employee aside and iron out a persisting issue. After all, sometimes calling upon a colleague—and attempting to view an issue from another perspective—helps get to the root of a problem.

And, Park encourages owners to make multiple attempts at conflict resolution.

Some shop owners spend part of a workday toiling alongside employees they’ve had conflicts with, in an attempt to see things from the staffer’s perspective. Occasionally, that can open an owner’s eyes to an issue they weren’t previously aware of.

“You have to have intensity, [showing] that you’re really engaged,” Park says. “You can’t have someone clock in and then you don’t see them for a week.”

But, at some point, Park says, it may be time to sever ties with an employee if the worker has overstepped the boundaries of what’s deemed acceptable behavior.

“We pull people together, we have a discussion—you address it and ask questions to seek and understand where [the problem] is coming from,” Park says. “And if we can’t resolve it then somebody’s going to leave. That’s just the way it is.

“You either fit or you don’t fit at some point. And that’s not [always] a bad thing. That’s when you’ve just got to tell people, ‘Look, this just isn’t working—if you’re not happy, why are you here? You’re a great tech, but it’s just not a good fit; there’s too much conflict everyday. And let’s help you find a better fit.’”

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