Putting People First
“In business, people are our most sustainable resource,” says Ryan Ross, East market business services manager at AkzoNobel, but in the collision repair industry, some shop operators do not see things this way.
In Ross’ experience consulting shops; he has seen that many operators are under the impression that their only responsibility to their employees is providing a place to work that has a steady stream of vehicles to repair. In reality, Ross explains, that’s only one aspect if someone wants to be the employer of choice. If shop owners want to grow their businesses, they have to look at the bigger picture of how their businesses are run. Bob Gilbert, AkzoNobel North American business and process consultant, agrees with Ross and says that almost every manager is dealing with some type of employee disengagement. In fact, a 2013 worldwide study conducted by Gallup stated that nearly 90 percent of employees reported that they were either not engaged or actively disengaged.
Does this sound familiar? How do you know if you’re managing your employees correctly? Ross and Gilbert share their insights.
Both Ross and Gilbert agree that the majority of managers in this industry are not unaware that this is a problem, but many are scared or hesitant to change how things have always been done—or they simply don’t know where to start.
Gilbert says there is a very common misconception that comes into play that can be attributed to a manager’s hesitation to change how they lead. Most managers believe that everyone is unique and that leading them all will be too labor intensive or difficult. Yes, individuals are unique, Gilbert says, but the majority of human behavior and the essential things that people look for are very predictable. The reality, Gilbert says, is that if managers make an effort to try to understand how people naturally react, the solution to engaging employees is simple.
Ross sees mismanagement of employees all the time in shops, and he’s heard the stories straight from technicians. In many cases, an employee can do 100 things right and they will go unnoticed, but the second he or she does something wrong, they may never hear the end of it.
Gilbert says that the need for people to “feel” like they’re right is ingrained into our DNA, and when an employee is reprimanded for one mistake, it causes him or her to shut down. Ross says that this fear of being wrong, and the lack of a big picture objective that they can see and understand is what causes employees to turn into the type of person that waits to hear what to do and doesn’t care much about anything as long as the paycheck continues to come. This type of management is not the way to grow a business. Time is wasted when employees are complaining about their environment and if they’re not being fulfilled, and Gilbert explains that this wasted time will result in inefficiencies and will cut into the shop’s bottom line. A 2016 study conducted by RSG, a UK-based recruitment company, found that the average employee spends the equivalent of over six working days per year complaining about their employer. Shops make money based on efficiency, and not too many processes can deal with this sort of time being wasted on complaints that can be prevented.
“I’ve had conversations with techs who explain that as long as they’re getting that financial incentive, what happens beyond that point is of no concern to them,” Ross says. “What they’re saying is as long as I get paid; it doesn’t matter to me whether or not a vehicle ever leaves a shop.”
Ross explains that the collision repair industry is so focused on processes that it has forgotten all about its people. There are two simple questions that leaders need to ask themselves to fix this, Gilbert says. The first: What do they need to do right now to do their best with their employees? And the second and most important question: What should they not do right now to get the best out of their employees?
Effective leaders are people who understand when they should take a step back and trust an employee's judgment, Gilbert explains. Shop owners that do this unlock the potential of their people, and it will create the trust that changes the level of engagement and enable employees to make a difference, Gilbert explains. Owners need to get employees to believe that they’re making a difference and convey the big picture goal, Ross says.