Of all the things someone in a management position is charged with handling, managing people is the most important responsibility of all. Owners, upper management, and shop managers all bear the weighty responsibility of ensuring employees are well led, well trained, and well cared for, if they’re to have a successful business.
“Everyone in our organization has a role that is pivotal to us providing a great experience for the customer, and without great leadership that is extremely hard to achieve,” says Jordan Beshears, vice president of Steve’s Auto Body, which operates shops in O’Fallon and Belleville, Illinois.
Beshears—along with Steve’s two location leaders, Tristan Nolte and Corey Billups—all agree there are certain non-negotiable characteristics of a great manager … and being an effective communicator is at the top of that list.
Communication Is King
“A great shop manager needs to be a great communicator and a leader,” says Nolte. “Manager is not a term we use here at Steve’s Auto Body, we use ‘location leader’—this better fits the description of the role. As a leader we guide by teaching, showing, and implementing the processes that we want to follow as a company, leading by example. Being able to communicate the goal not only to the techs, but to our office staff, parts manager, customer service rep, vendors, jobbers, all the way to the customer, is essential. Whether it’s a new idea, supply issue, or customer concern, communication is the ability to listen, identify/process, and apply the solution … this is the key.”
Billups agrees, reiterating that the best shop managers listen and communicate well, and treat their employees with respect.
Be Honest and Transparent
Not only does a great manager communicate effectively with everyone they encounter, they must do so in an honest, straightforward way.
“Transparency is extremely important,” says Beshears. “It is our job as leaders to make sure all of our people know what is expected of them, and the team as a whole.”
One of the most important areas in which Beshears and the Steve’s Auto Body leadership team is transparent is around the successes and failures of the company.
“We have benchmarks set and celebrate when our team achieves them, and we learn from our failures when we don’t,” he says. “If you aren’t transparent with your team it is extremely hard to get them to understand what you are trying to achieve, in my opinion.”
Show Employees You Care
One of the other most important things a manager can do to solidify the respect and loyalty of their employees?
“You have to show you care about your people,” says Beshears. “This is from a personal level, compensation level, and a career growth level. We pride ourselves on letting our people grow in our company and we believe it is pivotal to our success that we have people who can see themselves growing and achieving their personal goals in their career as we reach our goals as an organization.”
Billups agrees that getting to know your employees is one of the best things a manager can do.
“Employees are more productive and efficient when they work in an environment where they feel respected and honored as individuals,” he says. “In management we tend to focus on customer service and forget about the people that allow us to offer services, but both are equally important. Without a solid foundation, you’ll have trouble creating anything of value.”
“We are very big as an organization on collecting data and measuring KPIs,” added Beshears. “As a lean Six Sigma company we can look at the success of our location leaders based on the success of the team. If the metrics we have set are being met, that means the process is being followed, which also means we are achieving our financial goals. As Tristan mentioned, we call our managers ‘location leaders’ because that is what they do. They don’t manage a store, they lead a team, through process, to be the top location in a market.”
“Pay attention to the details and follow a good process,” suggests Nolte, “whether it’s a morning meeting, a quick walk around to every person each day to say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’ or getting yourself set up for the next day.”
Train and Step Back
No one at Steve’s Auto Body believes in micromanaging employees. In fact, Beshears is a proponent of the exact opposite.
“I think it’s important for the ownership of the company to fully commit to letting their managers fail,” he says. “If I rush to an issue every time I see smoke, our leaders will never learn how to solve the problem themselves, which will not only hold the company back but the individual as well. This doesn’t mean that we let people make catastrophic mistakes that will ultimately hurt the company, but we have to let people learn from failures and become problem solvers so they can meet their true potential.”
“You will make the wrong decision and you will make the right decision, but if you don’t make any decision, you will be wrong 100% of the time,” adds Nolte. “Stay calm—this is an ever-changing industry and can get a little crazy at times … just remember to stop, take a minute to collect your thoughts, and make the best decision with the information you have. You will have some failures—learn from them, and grow.”
Lead by Example
A great manager leads by example, and for Nolte that means jumping in to help the team at a moment’s notice.
“The key to leading/managing and motivating is being open minded, a good listener, teacher, and not being afraid to get dirty and help out no matter your position,” he says. “If we need a panel buffed, mirror installed, car washed, or if a customer needs a ride home, it’s all part of the job—the goal is to fix cars and get them back to the customer in a timely manner. We are part of this team, and we will fail as a team or win as a team. Showing the people you lead that you care and are willing to help when needed, or just to be nice, goes a long way.”
While setting a good example for all employees is important, it’s especially so for the young people just entering the industry, he says, to teach them the proper way to do things and prove to them that hard work and dedication does indeed pay off in the end.
Hiring location leaders who align with the vision of the company is essential, says Beshears, to ensure that the example they’re setting and direction they’re leading the team is consistent with the company’s goals.
“If you have people in leadership roles trying to steer the company or location in a different direction than the vision for the company, it will not work,” he added. “This is the reason why we prefer our location leaders to come from within as we continue to grow. They understand our process, our vision, and are excited about the direction of the company, which will ultimately lead to their success as well as more success for the company.”
Never Stop Working to Improve Yourself
And, finally, a great manager’s work is never finished, reminds Nolte.
“Being a great manager/leader is not only something we become, but something we must strive for, and continue to do by adapting and overcoming the challenges that arise in our day-to-day lives.”