How to Hold Employees Accountable
A few years back, at a spring conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tony Adams served as a speaker and asked one question that truly struck a chord. Adams, co-owner of Weaver’s Auto Center in Shawnee, Kan., asked if any of the roughly 100 people in attendance that day had anyone on staff that was a poor fit for his or her business.
About 80 hands shot up in the air.
That day proved to Adams the importance of having “non-negotiables” in his business. In other words, it proved to him the importance of establishing business values and policies and holding employees accountable to them. Because it’s awfully tough to operate a shop when your staff isn’t respecting and adhering to your standards.
“It’s a humongous problem,” says Adams, a veteran of nearly three decades in the auto industry. “All those people that were in there [at the conference] with their hands up? They’re supposed to be leaders—they’re supposed to go in there and deal with the issues.
“And that’s a really difficult thing. Having direct conversations [is] really hard for people to do. We all grow up with the mindset of, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.’ So, I know I need to go address this, but I’m afraid I’m going to do it wrong, or it’s going to blow up. So the non-negotiating has to start with confronting the issues as they arrive.”
The processes of implementing “non-negotiables” in a collision repair business is simple—and having them in place makes confronting employee issues even simpler.
State Policies Clearly
Let’s say your shop has an issue with an employee often showing up late for work. But you, as a shop operator, neglect the issue. In that scenario, the insubordinate employee has just had his or her negative behavior reinforced, and it isn’t likely to improve any time soon. Expectations need to be clearly spelled out to employees from their first days on the job, whether it’s pertaining to tardiness, or any business policy.
“We're a family here. It's not an us-versus-them mentality.”
-Tony Adams, Owner, Weaver's Auto Center
“There are non-negotiables that come up every day, whether it’s on-time performance or on-time attendance, whether it’s the way you document a file,” Adams notes. “You have to be able to say, ‘You know, Jim, this is the last time we’re going to have this conversation about not documenting the files.”
According to Sam Silverstein, a noted business author who wrote the book Non-Negotiable, “You have to do your work on the front end … and determine what you really value as an organization, and then communicate it to all the workers.”
Silverstein, who has spoken to groups about accountability in the workplace for nearly a quarter of a century, says body shop owners often get hung up on the “doing” of their business, and neglect expressing their values. That can present issues that prevent a shop from performing at the highest level possible.
“When you create an environment where you know the values, where everybody in the organization knows the values,” Silverstein says, “and you never negotiate the values, what happens is the people that don’t fit in that environment leave. They either leave on their own, or you weed a few out, and you end up with an environment of people that buy into a system and are there for each other and support each other.”
What to Stand Firm On
All shop owners have respective sets of policies and procedures they’d like to see their employees obey. Those are forged over years of business experience, of course.
That said, Adams has concluded that a pair of areas are universal non-negotiables.
1. Disrespect. Allowing an employee to consistently disrespect co-workers will sour a shop’s culture quickly. Such workplace cancers must be excised promptly, in Adams’ experience.
“Screaming and yelling at another employee, or screaming and yelling at a customer, being extremely condescending and rude, we’re not going to have that here,” the industry veteran says. “If we see it, we’re going to reprimand for it.
“I mean, this is somebody’s brother or sister, or father or mother. These are human beings. Would you want your daughter or son to be treated that way?”
One way Adams addresses negative attitudes among his staff members is by utilizing a “24-hour rule,” which grants employees a one-day window to issue complaints. After that, employees are ordered to drop the issue and move forward.
“We don’t want to deal with the gossip and the triangulation,” Adams explains. “It’s just not OK. We don’t negotiate on that.”
2. Stealing. It stands to logic that theft leaves little wiggle room for negotiation. Thus, Adams promptly sends offenders in this area packing.
“That’s grounds for termination, immediately,” Adams says of stealing. “We’re not going to negotiate on that. You can’t come back and say, ‘Sorry,’ and say, ‘I didn’t know.’”
Implementing these non-negotiables has paid off for Adams at his shop in Kansas. He doesn’t have technicians throwing temper tantrums and poisoning the culture of Weaver’s Auto Center, because he makes it clear to everyone that such behavior won’t be tolerated.
“It allowed us to become one organization. It starts breaking down some of the silos that got built up,” Adams explains. “We don’t have those issues. We’re a family here—it’s not an us-versus-them mentality.”
How to Hammer Home Your Message
As a shop operator, you can post your business’s policies on posters throughout the shop, and you can play instructional videos during employee orientation. But, as someone who aims to lead a workplace, you need to go further.
Adams, for one, feels it’s valuable to have staff members sign documents like employee handbooks and scorecards, to stress expectations.
“It’s important to sign, not only for HR reasons, but also to ensure clear, consistent communication,” Adams says. “If it’s not signed, what did we agree to?”
Ultimately, the secret to clearly stating your business’ non-negotiables is by modeling those values consistently.
Silverstein suggests addressing your values at some point in every meeting.
“You use your experiences as a leader—good or bad—success or failure, and you teach your people,” the author suggests, “and you show them how you made a decision based on a value. … Every day, just take two minutes and talk about your value. Pick a value and talk about it. Have someone talk to one of the values and how it showed up in what they did the last couple days.”
As a leader, if you give an inch, employees will want a mile, according to Adams. That’s why you need to be willing to take clear stances. If expectations for employees are clear, yet they consistently ignore them, they need to be warned—and repeat offenders need to be fired.
“As a leader and a manager, you’re on stage. So everybody around you is watching that,” he says. “The biggest way to drive [your message] home is to walk the talk. … If you want those things to stop in your business, you have to stop negotiating.”