Running a Shop

Perception Versus Reality

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It’s often said that perception is greater than reality. I guess it depends on whose perception you are referring to. When it comes to the culture of a business, however, the perception of the staff is often the reality.  

Our shop has had three brief (two years or less) stints on DRP programs in 49 years. Never did one of those three DRPs represent even 10 percent of our workflow. I’ve worked here for 21 years and we’ve only installed three aftermarket parts. I have had many “sit-downs” with insurance appraisers to thoroughly explain what new line item we were charging for.

Knowing that information, would you describe our shop culture as a pro-insurance or pro-vehicle owner shop? I’m going to assume most of you chose pro-vehicle owner, right?

Several years ago, we had a meeting when one of our techs mentioned that we cater too much to the insurance companies. I quickly brushed it off and kept on running the meeting. In the back of my head, I even laughed at the comment. How could someone who works here possibly think that? After a minute or two, I asked the entire staff to raise their hands if they thought we worked for insurance companies more than vehicle owners. I was amazed when the entire staff raised their hands! To steal a line from the movie Christmas Vacation, I would have been less surprised if I woke up the next morning with my head sewn to the carpet.  

Over the next few days I shared that moment with some of my friends in the industry. They all had the same exact reaction: instant, and loud, laughter. None of them could believe that our staff thought we were a business that focused on what the insurance companies wanted.

So, now I ask you: What is the culture at our company? I Google searched the definition of “company culture,” and here is the one I liked best, found on “ It comprises the environment in which we work, the standards to which we are held, the relationships we have with our colleagues, the processes in which we communicate, and the unspoken beliefs we share with our staff members.”

If you asked me what I thought our culture was like before that meeting, I would have told you it was great. That meeting taught me a good lesson. The culture is not what the owner/leader thinks or hopes it is. The true culture is what the rest of the staff thinks it is.

And that’s where the statement that perception is greater than reality becomes powerful. For our entire history, our shop has been focused on serving the needs of the vehicle owner. We never let the insurance companies dictate how to repair the vehicle. Even though that was our reality, the perception from our staff was still that we focused primarily on the needs of the insurance companies.  

Today our shop culture is much different. The biggest thing I changed is our internal communication. I spend more time than ever getting to know our team on a personal level. As I have gotten to know them more and find out what’s important to them, they, in turn, find out what’s important to me. I’ve heard the statement, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” so many times, yet I failed to put it into practice in the early part of my career. The more time I spent caring for our team, the more we grew together as a company. Instead of a tech not caring what we got paid for, a common symptom of an hourly shop, the culture now is a place where the details of each person’s job matter to others—and that has been a result of people realizing that someone cares for them.  

If you have a significant other in your life, think about something that the other person cares about deeply and that you now care about as well. It could be one of their family members, or perhaps a hobby they have. My wife loves gardening and knows the name of every flower we see. Before I met her, I could tell you the names of less than five flowers. Nowadays, we take a walk and I point out all kinds of flowers to her. That wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t care about me.

It goes the same with our staff. If we want to create our dream culture, then we need to make the people who are going to create that culture not just feel important, but also actually be important to us. Get to know them. Take an interest in what they do with their time when not working. Before you know it, they will start to do the same with you. And, you will watch the dream culture of your company go from your own perception to reality.​

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