Shop Life

Weed Out the Bad Seeds

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When I met my wife six years ago, I had no idea how much I’d actually enjoy planting flowers in our yard. Every spring, we find ourselves making multiple trips to nurseries to get some new flowers to plant. I now look forward to doing it and enjoy coming to a home that has a yard full of vibrant colors. Of course, the job of weeding those gardens now has become that much more important if we want to keep our flower beds looking nice. I used to loathe pulling weeds as a kid when my mom asked for help.

Now I find myself pulling a few weeds most times when I get home. I do it without even realizing I’m doing something I used to avoid at all costs.

Just to be clear, yes, you are reading FenderBender, not Home & Garden. I just think there are many similarities to keeping a flower bed looking good and keeping a team of technicians working together. If we don’t take the time to pull weeds on a regular basis, our flowers will be overtaken and, eventually, die. We must make the same effort to deal with the little annoyances within our shops before the culture erodes and decays.  

I met with some other shop operators recently and the conversation turned to each person in the group describing a current situation going on in their shop. While each situation was unique, it struck me how similar the stories were. Each person described the recent behavior of a technician that caused them to question the future employment of that tech. We all had the same feelings about each of our techs: They were qualified to do the job, got along with everyone most of the time, and have a promising future with the company. However, these recent incidents showed a pattern of behavior that couldn’t continue.

So, we sat around discussing and debating what we should do with these individuals. We asked ourselves all the normal questions: 1) If I keep this person around, does it send a message to everyone else on the team that this behavior is tolerable? 2) If we let them go, how will we get the work done with one less person? 3) If we let them go, we know a local competitor is going to benefit from the training and skill we’ve developed with this individual. 4) What can I do or say to make this the last time we have this conversation and the behavior never happens again?

I have spoken with many shop operators over the years and I’ve yet to meet one who actually enjoys having these difficult conversations. Most of the time, we put them off or avoid them with the hope that they will just go away. Just like our garden weeds, they don’t go away unless we do something about it. And the longer we wait, the worse the problem gets. There are many leaders in our shops who haven’t had any type of training in this department. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. We must have more of these difficult conversations with our staff. Over time, we find that they are not that difficult. And, just like pulling a weed, the sooner we address the issue the easier it is to resolve.  

We all get better at things we do more regularly. If we begin to address behavior we don’t want in our companies on a daily or weekly basis, we will hone the skills needed to have those conversations in a productive way. I addressed an issue with a tech yesterday that I reflected on a little later in the afternoon. I couldn’t believe how easy it was and that both of us ended the conversation with a smile and a laugh. I can tell you that would not have happened a few years ago. I didn’t stress over it and sit in my office thinking for hours (or days) on what should I say and how to approach the tech. It happened as naturally as me pulling a few weeds when I get home in the spring.  

Now, imagine a home garden that is completely free of weeds. What a beautiful sight, right? Not so fast. Imagine if that garden didn’t have any flowers. It would just be a pile of weedless dirt. While getting the weeds out of our shop is important, we must also take time to water the flowers and give them plenty of sunshine. I think the correlation is obvious here, but just in case it’s not, we, the leader, must be the sunshine in our buildings each day. I can tell you from firsthand experience, whether we talk about the flower beds at my house or the culture in our shop, the effort made by the leader will directly and immediately influence the product. If you don’t like what you see, you can do something about it.

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