How to motivate employees to achieve shop excellence

Aug. 24, 2016
Leadership, and in this motivation, is not an easy part of the job, but as unpleasant as it is for many of us, it is much better than under-performing year after year and dying that slow death.

There are two very distinct schools of thought on motivation, with one large group strongly of the belief that we are who we are and if there is motivating to be done, we either bring it to work with us each morning or we don’t and our leaders, managers and supervisors have little or nothing to do in determining if our motivated (or unmotivated) self shows up to work each day. Of course I do not hold it against persons of this school of thought other than to say that they are as wrong as they could possibly be or at least as wrong as they could be as it applies to the automotive repair industry of today.

There is no doubt that there are a lot of unmotivated workers out there, certainly in and among the technicians and service advisors that make up the automotive repair industry. There are plenty that could use a quick dose or two of motivation but relying on them to self-administer this important trait might be a long wait and one that is very likely to end in bitter disappointment and probably bankruptcy. We as leaders have to lead our people in a better direction, not wait for them to decide if they want to hop on that bus.

My saying this would highlight my strong belief that the large number of unmotivated and under-motivated technicians and service advisors in automotive repair is directly attributable to the very poor state of leadership within the industry. It is wholly chargeable to our poor performance against our goals, our lack of profit as compared to other service industries and our lack of production in our bays. Motivation, or the lack of motivation, is the direct result of poor leadership and in most cases we are getting just what we have asked for: nothing.

We as shop owners and as service managers mostly would rather jump off a cliff into a swimming pool filled with cactus and fire ants than to have to actually look another human being in the eye and tell them what to do. As sad and unfortunate as this is, it clearly explains why production, sales, profitability, training and employee turnover are in such terrible straights and why the industry is struggling for viability. Leadership, and in this motivation, is not an easy part of the job, but as unpleasant as it is for many of us, it is much better than under-performing year after year and dying that slow death.

It’s time to lead and to motivate our technicians and our service advisors to do the things we want, as we want them done.

The Army describes leadership as “The process of influencing others to accomplish the task or mission by providing purpose, direction and motivation”. This is the definition I cut my leadership teeth on many years ago and I still like it today because it allows me, as a leader, to define the task and relies on me, as a leader, to provide what I see as the appropriate purpose, direction and motivation to assure that the task is completed. If I am not comfortable yelling, I’m not going to yell. If I choose to give an inspiring speech or provide performance incentives, I have that flexibility. A good leader will use everything at his or her disposal to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished. If we fail in some kind of way to complete our assigned tasks or the tasks that we assign to one of our staff members, our approach to leadership has failed. It’s as simple (or as complicated) as that.

As inconvenient and messy as it is, each of us is unique in how we are best motivated and because of this we as leaders need to know our people and what makes them tick. A common mistake I see here is the mistaken belief that all of us are money motivated and in trying to move our staff members or motivate them toward something new or better, we build all of our incentives and motivations around more money. For about 30 percent of the population these efforts might prove appropriate and successful but for the other 70% we have just missed the boat and are likely to see little to no change in effort or behavior. Believe it or not, far more of us are motivated by time off, recognition, or awards than by money and this disconnect and misunderstanding of what motivates us is clear explanation of why our actual performance is at such variance with our goals. To be motivated by something, we have to care about it, and in this example we are wrong in what motivates us 70 percent of the time. If we come out with a plan that only 3 out of our 10 staff members care about, the chances are very good that we will see little or no change in behavior and therefore little or no change in our results.

Another common mistake I see is the use of fear as a motivator and while fear works extraordinarily well in the short term, relying on fear as a primary motivator over time will almost certainly drive morale down and likewise result in employee turnover. Fear works but it needs to be used sparingly, if at all. Threatening an employee with their jobs or pay will likely get an immediate response, but if this is an employee you care about, fear is probably not the best choice.

As hard a concept as it might be to grasp, what motivates most of us is simply knowing what is expected, acknowledgement that we are doing our job, and some sort of public highlighting of our successes. This might be money, it might be time off, it might be a plaque or it might be a handshake or public and sincere thank you for a job very well done. Celebrating an individual’s success is the key, both for the individual and for the entire team. Consistency here is critical!

Everyone (well, almost everyone) wants to believe that they contribute, that their efforts are important and that they are vital to our success. Our job as leaders is to foster beliefs such as these and do everything humanly possible to develop a sense of pride, a sense of team, and a sense of mission in all that we do. Though we have to guard against arrogance or cockiness in our employees, making them feel important and that their contributions are vital to our success is the best way to ensure their motivation and continued strong efforts, which then gives you the opportunity to appeal to their sense of pride in assigning additional tasks and setting higher standards. They feel part of something special and significant, and will work hard to maintain their status. This is a very sneaky form of motivation in that we are appealing to pride and ego, but people usually go very willingly and tend to bring their best efforts with them. If we praise them and recognize them for superior effort, we will be able to count on them to be there for us and to improve and grow as we improve and grow.

As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”

Try something different; find out and foster what motivates your people and get the heck out of their way!

About the Author

Brian Canning

Brian Canning is 30-year veteran of the automotive repair industry who moved to the federal sector as a business analyst and later change management specialist. For many years, he worked for a leading coaching company as a leadership and management coach and team leader, working with tire and repair shop owners from across the country. He started his career as a Goodyear service manager in suburban Washington, D.C., moving on to oversee several stores and later a region. He also has been a retail sales manager for a distributor, run a large fleet operation, and headed a large multi-state sales territory for an independent manufacturer of automotive parts.

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