Situational Leadership

Oct. 1, 2012

Implementing change within shops isn’t easy. After getting employees on board with a new initiative, it takes time for them to get accustomed to and proficient with a new responsibility. Employees go through a series of development stages every time they’re introduced to something new. Each of those stages requires shop management to adapt their leadership approach to properly coach and support their staff, says Sharon Gregory, owner of SBG Learning Strategies and instructor for PPG’s MVP Business Solutions courses.

Gregory discusses the importance for shop owners to learn a management style called situational leadership, and how implementing it can positively impact employee performance and productivity.

Situational leadership is a strategy for shop owners and managers to diagnose the needs of their staff. It helps them identify the stage that each of their employees is at in learning a new task or function of their job. That allows leaders to provide the appropriate amount of direction, coaching and support to employees, depending on their individual level of understanding for a new responsibility.

Many shop leaders think there is only one way to manage their employees.  They know what type of leadership works for them, and attempt to apply that across the board to everybody. Some managers tend to micromanage everything, and never give employees opportunities to grow and develop. Others tend to delegate, and expect employees to succeed from the get-go without any direction. That doesn’t always work.

Leaders need to understand there are four stages of development that employees go through every time they’re introduced to something new:

1. The Enthusiastic Beginner: Employees in the “enthusiastic beginner” stage tend to be excited and positive. They look forward to starting something new, but aren’t aware of any challenges or difficulties they might encounter.

In this stage, employees are sponges for information. They need to be given a significant amount of direction and guidance. They need to have goals, action plans and specific steps provided to them by the shop leader. Leaders should speak with statements rather than questions to provide the direction they need to succeed.

2. The Disillusioned Learner: This stage occurs when employees have been doing something long enough to struggle. They go through a large learning curve and are not confident in their abilities. They become disappointed, frustrated and negative because they don’t have the necessary skill set to complete the task.

Employees in this stage need to be heavily coached, and allowed to learn from mistakes. Shop leaders should step back, watch them work and offer feedback based on observations. Start to ask the employee questions, such as “How would you handle this?” or “What do you think would be the best way?”

3. The Capable, Cautious Performer: Employees in this stage are fully capable and proficient at the new task, but they’re still not confident enough to be let go without oversight.

Shop leaders should begin to step back, reduce their amount of oversight and let the employee work. Support the employee by letting them know you’re available to help or answer questions. Show confidence in their ability to do the work on their own.

4. The Self-Reliant Achiever: Employees in the final stage are experts, fully proficient, and have the new skill set down to a fine-tuned science. They’re confident in their ability to complete the task without guidance.

In this stage, shop leaders should simply delegate work to the employee and let them go. Give them goals, and allow them to figure out how to accomplish it on their own.

Situational leadership will have a significant positive impact on your business. It inherently increases the frequency and quality of conversations with employees. They realize that management is there to help them progress and succeed, which builds trust and strengthens relationships. People want to be developed in order to perform well. The more developed they are, the better they feel about their job. That positivity creates a healthier work environment and culture, ultimately driving improved morale and productivity.

Many shops today are being forced into changes to improve repair speed and quality. The insurance industry is requiring shops to do so many things differently, and repairers have to adapt their processes to survive. It’s imperative for shop management to become situational leaders so they can better influence employees into accepting new policies and procedures, and equip them with the skills to succeed.