Why Keeping Employees Interested Pays Off

March 1, 2012
Imparting enthusiasm for the job onto employees is a crucial part of maintaining a productive workforce.

Many shops are in the process of incorporating new procedures, practices, and technologies. Lean procedures call for changes in how technicians do body repairs. Waterborne paints require changes in how technicians refinish vehicles. Even office and estimating practices are being revised to arrive at greater efficiencies. All of this demands a significant amount of tolerance for change on the part of shop personnel, but I’ve spoken with a few shop owners who have had difficulty getting a buy-in from employees.

Many employees are stuck in their old ways and reluctant to change. To some degree, shop owners and managers are responsible for this reluctance. They may have allowed employees to slip into a fixed state of mind over the years. Many employees are simply no longer really interested in their work, so they just go through the motions. The owner or manager is now trying to break up a very solidified, concrete frame of mind.

“In a production facility, when interest and attention are gone, productivity growth goes along with it.”

If “interest” could be described as a commodity, it would be one of the most sought after commodities in the world. A young woman seeking a husband wonders, “Is he interested in me?” He also wonders, “Is she interested in me?” The shopkeeper hopes the young woman will be interested in the clothing he sells. The film producer hopes the public will be interested in his film. And the manager of a collision repair shop expects his or her personnel to actually be interested in doing the best job they can. The amount of attention given to something is generally proportionate to the degree of interest in it.

It’s easy to study “interest” in a baby. The baby sees something bright and shiny and is curious. The object has captured the baby’s interest. But now we can see the complete “interest spectrum.” Next the baby desires to touch, play with, or eat the object. If no one responds to the baby’s interest by giving her the object to touch, play with, or eat, she may demand it by crying, screaming, or otherwise trying to get her desire fulfilled. Assuming the child is given the (inedible) object to play with, eventually the child will lose interest and reject (throw on the floor) the object.

We now have the complete “interest-to-no-interest” attention spectrum, beginning with curiosity, interest, desire, demand, lost interest, and ending with rejection. The duration of the spectrum may be only a few minutes with the baby, or many years from the time a girl is interested in a guy, marries him, has children, cohabits for years, loses interest and finally rejects (divorces) him. Of course not every set of circumstances that begins with curiosity and interest eventually declines to no interest and rejection. But in a society obsessed with entertainment, excitement and celebrity, the full spectrum is experienced by many people in a wide variety of situations from school to jobs to relationships to hobbies. In a production facility, when interest and attention are gone, productivity growth goes along with it.

So what is needed to get jaded employees back to a state of curiosity and renewed interest in their job? Challenging them to take on the new lean procedures will only work if somehow these are tied into the individual’s personal realm of interests. Many technicians, estimators and even office personnel may at one time have been attracted to the collision industry because of a love of cars, mechanical and vehicle technology or simply the aesthetics of vehicles. Assuming that an entire shop crew shares the same underlying interests will not provide a way to stimulate curiosity or interest. It’s necessary to approach each person individually to find out what aspect of the business attracted him or her, and what new approach might now be interesting.

Of course there’s always the possibility that a person is simply interested in making more money. Unless some kind of increased compensation or bonus system is included in a new responsibilities program, personnel with this narrow line of interest may never really care about the program. But then that may be a way to weed out those people who have no real interest in participating to begin with. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to replace someone simply because they don’t share our own personal enthusiasm. There’s always the hope that more in-depth training will strike a chord of interest and capture that employee’s interest in some of the remarkably intricate measures that make up lean technology. It can be worth an employer’s investment to send people like this for more training.

For those of us who truly enjoy the game of creating or working on more efficient, more durable and/or more aesthetic vehicles, curiosity and interest comes naturally. For those of us who enjoy the increased profitability of improved productivity, lean procedures are automatically very interesting. Now all we need to do is somehow pass on our own enthusiasm and interest to those who have to put these new tools into practice.

Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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