Running a Shop

Tips for Managing Modern Employees

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PatrickGray

Patrick Gray used to lead on the shop floor by using the mentality of a no-nonsense football coach. 

That was an observation shared with FenderBender in a 2010 article, in which a former painter of his noted how seriously—and, occasionally, harshly—Gray spoke to his staff. 

These days, Gray has mellowed a bit. Yet, his new management style is every bit as effective. Instead of being a stern, Mike Ditka-like leader, the Arizona shop operator has become “a player’s coach” who consistently displays empathy and respect for staff members. 

“Now I just have a higher value for employees,” says Gray, the operations manager of Sunn West City’s Auto Body, in Surprise, Ariz. 

Gray has used his lessons learned with regard to management to spur the 35-year-old business’s ascent. Not only does the shop boast a 98.6 CSI score, but its cycle time has also been whittled down to 7.8 days on average. 

Below, the 33-year veteran of the collision repair industry offers his tips for effective management. 

State your overall mission. 

One factor that has helped Gray command respect on his 11-member staff is the clear mission he has shared on his shop floor. In recent months, he has made it well-known that he wants his staff to foster a long-term relationship with customers whenever possible. 

“By doing that, we’ve changed the way we’ve managed our customers,”says Gray, whose facility has an annual revenue of $1.8 million. “It’s a single point of contact, start to finish, in a very welcoming, comfortable atmosphere. And we really noticed a change right away with that.” 

Make employees feel valued. 

As imperative as using lean principles and also tweaking the shop’s layout have been to Gray’s business recently, simply treating employees with respect may have been most important. 

As long as employees are willing to work hard and embrace Gray’s coaching, he has little hesitation when it comes to hiring from within. On multiple occasions in his career, Gray has promoted a porter to an estimator role, for example.

“I create an expectation,” for employees, Gray says, “and I expect the same.” 

Be transparent. 

As the years have rolled on, Gray has softened on his approach to scheduling employees. While he originally came from the school of thinking that employees needed to work until 5 p.m. at the very least, he is now willing to accommodate employees who need to leave early. 

And, on the rare occasion in which an employee is allowed to leave at, say, 3:45 p.m. each day, Gray typically explains to other staff members that he wouldn’t have made such a decision if the shop’s repair work suffered as a result. 

“We measure everybody’s performance and we share it,” he explains, “so that’s our way of showing the team that it’s not affecting our overall performance.” 

Respect employees’ personal lives. 

In a similar vein, Gray tries to be sensitive to the needs and desires of millennial employees. Having scheduling flexibility helps. Lending an empathetic ear also makes an undeniable difference. 

For example, one of Sunn West City’s employees works a shift at the opposite time of day as his wife and, as a result, is allowed to leave earlier than most of the shop staff. And, when young employees express a desire for training on evolving shop-floor technology, the request is typically met. 

Having happy employees, more often than not, leads to solid workplace productivity, in Gray’s experience. 

“I think understanding the needs of your employees,” is important, he explains. “It’s not being a pushover, but understanding the difference, and then figuring out how it [benefits] the shop.”

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