Put the Manage Back in Management!

Are you one of those hard-working, dedicated managers who personally makes sure you are providing your customers with the best you have to offer?

The thinking goes something like this, “No one in the shop is as concerned as I am about quality service and customer satisfaction, so I will talk to every customer.”

Do you also try to perform all the major extra services yourself — like coolant or transmission flushes — just to ensure you won’t get any comebacks? What about handling all the billing and cash-out transactions? Are you the only one allowed in the drawer, just to make sure there are no paperwork mistakes or money shortages to worry about? If so, then you have the kind of drive and sense of pride this industry needs.

What if you are the owner and not necessarily on the property during most of the open business hours? Do you keep a tight reign on your manager, making just about every important decision for him and the store? Do you require approval of work schedules before he is allowed to post them to ensure proper staffing? Do you make all the product orders to prevent him from going crazy and just ordering everything in the book? If so, then you are clearly an owner with your finger on the pulse of your operation. The examples above describe a hard-working and conscientious manager and a dedicated, detail-oriented owner.

Are they demonstrating good examples of pride and concern? Absolutely! Are they practicing good management skills? Absolutely not!

What is Management?
There are many different ways to describe a manager, such as a boss, leader or the one in charge, but none of those really describe what a manager does. The classic definition of a manager is an individual who accomplishes positive results through the efforts of others. In simpler terms, a manager is one who gets work done through the efforts of other people.

The problem with management in this industry, and many others, is so common it is almost impossible to see. The events leading up this type of ineffective management are so subtle and insidious that most can’t even recognize the symptoms when they are on full display every hour of every business day.

It goes something like this: Let’s say Joe is a brand new lube tech. You hired Joe because he was energetic, enthusiastic, clean-cut and seemed to have a great attitude. During Joe’s first week of employment with you, you are very impressed with how quickly he learns the ropes of your business. He learns quickly, is great with customers and really seems to enjoy his job. Ninety days into Joe’s employment with you, he has become the lynch-pin of your operation. He rarely, if ever, shows up late and never calls in sick. Pretty soon, you promote him to lead tech. He is one of your best techs, always producing a high ticket average, and the customers just seem to love him. So, after six months, or maybe a year, you decide Joe is ready for a new opportunity, and you promote him to assistant manager. As an assistant manager, Joe is very good. He may be a little slower to pick up the paperwork and such, but he is so good with customers and rarely makes any mechanical blunders. He is still way ahead of the curve.

After a couple of successful years as an assistant manager, an opportunity arises for Joe to become a store manager, and he is promoted with much enthusiasm. He promptly fails to become the star you thought he would. Oh, he may be adequate, but he isn’t doing anything extraordinary. Maybe he isn’t that skilled at predicting business patterns, or possibly he does not have the moxy needed when dealing with problem customers.

What happened? Joe is still a hard worker. In fact, he is now working harder and more diligently than ever before. He is still great with customers, but he has other important duties to fulfill as a manager, too. Why is Joe doing all the presentations? Why is Joe doing all the write-ups? Why is Joe doing all the cash-outs? Why? Because Joe is the best at those things, and he wants to keep operating at that high level. Therein lies the crux of the problem. We sometimes think a great technician is worth his weight in gold. Unfortunately, the skills needed to be a great technician are vastly different than the skills required to be a great manager.

Lee Iacocca, world famous for his involvement with both Ford and Chrysler, is fondly recognized as the father of the Mustang. Even so, with that title, he did not ever attach one fender to a Mustang. He did not paint a single body-panel, nor did he personally design a single mechanical detail of the Mustang. While becoming Chrysler’s savior during the 1980s, Iacocca championed the world’s first mini-van — the Caravan/Voyager twins — and introduced us to the K-car. While with Chrysler, he never spent a single shift operating an air-powered tool on any assembly line, and he never fine-tuned an Omni’s fuel-injection system. However, he was responsible for all those things and many more. He did them all by being an efficient manager. He got work done through the efforts of other people. So the lesson is clear: A great technician is not necessarily a great manager.

Management technique requires a completely different set of skills than hourly-employee skills. It’s not that a great technician can’t be a good manager. He just requires a completely different skill-set to complement his existing skills, and those skills need to be taught to him by you.

A good lube shop manager will rarely have his head buried under a hood. If he did, how could he keep his eye on the store? Likewise, you will almost never find a good lube shop manager working the pit for more than just a few minutes. How can the store be managed from downstairs? Well, it can’t.

Managing is Expediting
A quality lube shop manager is really just an expeditor, or someone who creates and maintains a positive environment for his crew to succeed. A positive environment in a minute-to-minute sense. He accomplishes this by being on the floor with his crew for most of the open business hours. He stands behind his crew as they are working, and he gives them guidance and encouragement, minute by minute. I call this ghosting the crew. At a moment’s notice, a good lube shop manager can move over to whatever part of the store, or whichever employee, needs him at that particular moment. This cannot happen if he is stuck under the hood of a customer’s car, or if he is downstairs all day.
An effective lube shop owner, who does not spend a lot of time in the location, will let his store manager actually manage the store. Approve the schedules if you need to, but let the manager make them. If there is a scheduling problem, have the store manager try to correct the situation before you get involved. If the decision is the right one, then go ahead and approve it.

An effective manager will assign duties to his subordinates, and then make sure they are done to his satisfaction. This does not mean asking team members if they completed the tasks. It must be inspected for that sense of importance and pride in a job well done. An effective manager talks to his crew about behavior, not about attitude. A manager can require a specific behavior from his people, but requiring a specific attitude is fruitless and difficult to pin down. An effective manager will find things his crew is doing wrong, but he will also find things they are doing right.

If you give the average employee 10 complimentary remarks concerning their job performance over the course of a week, you would be lucky if they remember one of them a month later. Unfortunately, if you were to point out 10 things they were doing wrong over the course of a week, they will typically remember each and every one of those complaints for years. It’s just human nature, so make any comments appropriately. An effective manager is a task master. Develop a daily list of things that need to be completed, but make sure they can be done in one day. Otherwise, you will be thought of as unreasonable. Don’t put the same things on the list every day. Remember, variety breaks up the monotony of a daily chore.

By doing all these things, an effective manager maximizes the efficiency of his employees’ efforts. This, in turn, gives the manager more time to spend being an effective manager. It’s just that simple.

Work these tips to your advantage, and always remember to make it happen!