See Eye to Eye With Your Staff
Employees who show the most talent can sometimes be the most difficult with which to work. Just ask Bob Pearson, owner of Pearson Auto Body in Shakopee, Minn.
One afternoon not too long ago, Pearson says some 20 employees called him up to the lunchroom, demanding an employee he recently fired be given his job back.
“It was like a mutiny,” Pearson says of his staff gathering to oppose him.
Through patience, rationalization, and being open to talk, Pearson explained to his staff why his decision would stay, regardless of how fond they were of their former colleague.
Although it was a daunting situation, Pearson says he, his staff, and his shop are all better for it. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Troublesome Team Member
Pearson says he used to employ one of the most respected estimators in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—his shop is located in the Twin Cities’ outer ring.
“He was a hard worker who got along with everyone,” he says.
But, as time went on, this particular employee’s work ethic declined, creating additional work for other staff members and a conundrum for Pearson.
“Everyone else was doing his job, everyone was covering for him,” he says, “I had given him so much rope, I couldn’t even see the guy.”
Despite the slack, Pearson’s staff at large adored the employee because of his cheerful demeanor and years of dedication to the craft.
“He gave me six fabulous years,” Pearson says, “and nine months of a bad one.”
When it came time to let the man go, even though it was well-warranted, Pearson afterwards found himself face-to-face with nearly all of his 25-person staff. All were displeased and requesting that the former employee be re-hired.
“They had built themselves into a real attitude to call me up,” he says, “I was afraid that I would lose people—good technicians are so hard to find.”
The Silver Lining
“It was a horrifying situation to go into,” Pearson says.
After presenting his staff with the whole story—not just the watercooler talk that paints an incomplete picture of the situation—he says his staffers were appreciative of his candor and more supportive than ever.
“It was so liberating to hear them come back to me, even those who were close with [the former employee], and say that I did the right thing,” Pearson says.
To get employees back on his side, Pearson says he had to be clear in his communication, provide evidence, and be patient with his employees. Here’s how he did it.
The Lessons Learned
Listen, and listen some more.
If your employees have you backed into a corner, Pearson says the best thing you can do as an owner and leader is to listen. Your employees confronting you is nothing to be taken lightly—they’re going out on a limb.
“Hear, listen, and understand,” he says. “They have a reason and you’re probably part of it.”
By hearing out his employees, Pearson says he was able to understand the source of their confusion and then show how his decision to fire was better for the shop and its customers.
“You need to listen, and if you can’t, then there’s no solution,” Pearson says.
When it came to this particular employee, Pearson admits he was quick to make excuses.
“We didn’t write him up,” he says. “[The former employee] could make any shop a beautiful thing, so we gave him room because of his outstanding ability to perform.”
But slowly his dedication to the job began to take a backseat and Pearson says others in the shop were having to step up to cover for him.
“We could get by, but the other employees started to see that they were carrying this man’s water,” he says.
When it was time to terminate the employee, Pearson says he had more than enough reasons, though many of them were issues of which other employees weren’t aware, creating some of the confusion.
By taking the time to lay out which tasks were not being completed, Pearson says he was able to shed light on the situation for his staff and temper their reaction.
Make yourself visible.
After any difficult conversation with his staff, whether he’s had to let someone go or implement new disciplinary measures, Pearson says he makes a point to make himself visible throughout the shop afterwards, for two reasons.
The first is to show that even though it was a tricky situation, he made his decision and he is sticking with it. Pearson says it takes courage to make tough decisions and then “stand in front of guys that are irreplaceable.”
Second, he says he wants to show his staff, even following a harsh conversation, that his door is always open.
“I make sure I walk by everyone,” he says. “I’m available and I’m approachable.”
Pearson says transparency is baked into the culture at Pearson Auto Body and if an employee has a question, comment, or concern, they are always encouraged to contact him directly.
After speaking with an employee, Pearson says if they ask for feedback, it is of the utmost importance that as an owner he follows through. Whether it was a simple question or a request for a follow-up meeting, he says you have to get back to that staffer.
“If you don’t follow through—that’s disrespect,” he says.
The Pay Off
Pearson says by dealing with the aftermath of the firing in an open and transparent way, he was able to build more trust within his team.
“My technicians feel empowered to speak up because we’re like family,” he says. “They know that I care more than anyone as an owner, and we are in this together.”
Pearson even notes that the formerly disgruntled employee attends shop-wide events and is welcomed by all with a friendly embrace.
If a similar issue were to arise again, he says, his technicians trust him to do right by them because they know their voices will be heard.
Though it took some personal reflection and a bit of tough love, Pearson says it was worth it for his shop’s culture and the trust he was able to build with his staff.
“When they put their [Pearson Auto Body] jacket on and go through the grocery store,” Pearson says, “they are proud to wear it, because they are a part of something excellent and they want to protect that.”