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Create a Company Culture that Lasts

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Mike Anderson_0817

Let’s start with a little fact that many of you are familiar with: Team culture is critical to success in business. You’ve heard that before, right? I mean, we’ve all heard it many times. So, since we’re all well aware of this, the culture in all our shops must great, right?

Well …

How about a story while you think that over: When I had my shops, I was part of a 20 Group that was facilitated by Elainna Sachire. She had a tremendous impact on me—one of the biggest mentors I ever had. Among many other things, she opened my eyes to the importance of culture in your business.

In our group meetings, we would have various speakers come on and discuss specific topics, and once, one asked a very simple question: Do you think your employees trust you? Well, we all said, “Of course they do!” So, he asked if any of us would be willing to let him interview our employees to find the answer. Being a cocky young guy at the time, I said of course. After all, my business was strong and I had a great rapport with my staff.

Of course they trusted me!

It turns out, they didn’t. He interviewed my employees, and a lot of them didn’t trust me. Now, it wasn’t because they thought I lied or would steal or cheat. It was because they said I broke promises—simple promises. I might’ve told one tech after hiring him that in, say, 90 days we’d reevaluate his salary; then I’d forget and he didn’t bring it up. It never happened. There was another guy that I promised to send to paint training, and, again, I didn’t keep track of it and forgot.

Repeat after me: Broken promises lead to broken trust. If your team does not trust you, you cannot expect them to follow you. And, most often, these people will get fed up with the broken promises and leave.

So, what do you do? Well, I have a multiple-part answer here, and we’ll start with the simple one.

All of you, every single one of you reading, whether you are worried about your employees’ trust level or, like I was, confident in it, hold a meeting and ask a very simple question: Have I ever promised you anything and didn’t follow through on it? Then, just shut up and listen. I do this with my coaching clients and their teams, and acknowledgement and correcting the error goes a long way. It shows you care. It demonstrates that there was nothing intentional to that broken promise. It was simply an oversight. Then, you can start fresh and move on.

It all comes down to setting proper expectations and ensuring follow-through, which brings me to the second part of the solution. One thing I always found useful in my business was an employee handbook. Every time hired someone, I would sit down and personally go through the handbook with them. Here’s the history of Wagon Work Collision Centers. Here’s how my dad started it and here’s where we’re at today. I’d show stories of people progressing and being promoted.

Then I’d go over benefits and expectations and our various policies.

Then, once per year, we’d get everyone together in January and go through the handbook again, looking at anything that’s changed, refreshing them on certain key policies and benefits, and stressing anything important that may pertain to an issue we’re encountering at the moment. Also once per year, our person who handled the 401 K would come in and meet with each team member individually and address how their investments were doing, explain how everything worked, and answer any questions they might have. (A simple thing like that, taking place on company time, also helps to build trust with the employee in showing that you care.) We would also bring in our health care representative once each year and have our employees’ spouses come in for those meetings, too. They can ask any questions they’d like, but it also served as a reminder for whom to call, where you could go for visits, etc.—all that information that is easy to get lost in translation or forgotten.

Too often, when we hire a tech, our first concern is whether or not they know how to work with our paint or how to use a certain piece of equipment or how to make a certain type of repair. But we ignore their benefits programs, their retirement plans, health insurance policies. It’s so easy to think you’ll explain those later or as they come up, but it rarely works out that way.

We should focus more on the things that matter most to our teams. We’d do a questionnaire at our yearly reviews that we did each October that went over the employee’s goals and how we could help them accomplish those. And for those worried that a review will just turn into an employee asking for more money, we would ask what the employee thought he or she should make the next year and (here’s the catch) what they would do or take on to earn that pay. It becomes an open and honest discussion where expectations are clearly laid out. These reviews were so successful for our teams that we shifted them to every six months to make sure things weren’t lost between the cracks.


To sum things up: I would encourage every shop to have a good process for indoctrinating new hires and a thorough employee handbook, and to work to uphold the expectations you lay out. Don’t underestimate the value of company culture on your shop. All employees need to feel like they are part of something greater. It’s the role of a business leader to uphold that promise.

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