Years ago, while creating a work schedule for the following two weeks, I had the challenge of scheduling around all the staff’s personal issues. One employee had to pick up his kids after school, another had a doctor’s appointment and another was the best man in his brother’s wedding. That was just the beginning. I had 12 employees, and all but one had some kind of conflict during the next two weeks that would somehow prevent them from working the shifts I needed them to for the shop to run at its full capacity. I came to realize I had somehow filled the shop with the biggest set of misfits and ne’er-do-wells that had ever been assembled in one shop. I had to do something to inspire the staff and make them realize coming to work was a privilege and an honor. After all, in most parts of the world, people would love to have our kind of steady work.
Our work is honorable and a service to our communities, so why is hiring and keeping good, qualified employees such an issue? Why is it that we cannot have a reliable workforce? Is this epidemic only in our industry? In my frustration, I started making a list. I had employees’ names on one side, and three columns next to their names of pros, cons and comments. As I started down the pros column, it wasn’t that bad. The whole crew had exceeded the minimum requirements for employment — a high school education, a valid driver’s license and meeting the state’s requirements by qualifying to perform safety inspections. Most of the crew had passed our company’s training program. The majority of the crew was cross-trained and had the ability to perform multiple positions within the shop. The most recently hired members were on track with their training and, in several cases, were ahead of schedule. Our car counts were good, and ticket averages were within an acceptable range.
On the surface, all seemed OK. The list of cons was a pretty normal list of undesirable traits, like poor work history or no experience. A few had unprofessional tattoos I could have done without. One or two of them had sketchy transportation back and forth to work, and so on. So, what was the problem? On paper, this was a normal group of people; however, in reality, they were unreliable and inconsistent with daily operations. What got my attention, though, were the notes in the comments column. This crew of misfits had some issues that were beyond my scope of responsibility as a shop manager, but if I wanted to solve the inconsistency problems, it meant that these other, more personal issues needed to be addressed.
I am not a counselor, so many of these issues were way above my pay grade. These problematic issues were none of my business, and my first reaction was to bury my head in the sand and hope they would go away. Where would I start? How had their personal problems become my shop performance problem? I was in way over my head, but it still felt like something needed to be done. All was fine for now, but there was no hope the shop would or could improve above its current status.
I really didn’t know where to start, so instead, I tried to quietly look for teachable moments to encourage the people I worked with. I was fortunate to have good examples of successful business people around me who had Christian morals and standards I admired. I also had several mentors I could lean on for advice. I started by asking for their advice. Most agreed the best approach was a one-on-one approach. Prior to all of this happening, during some formative years of college and shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to go through some self-training from folks like Zig Ziglar, Dennis Waitley and others like them who had a message that resonated with me about the value of effective leadership.
One lesson from Zig Ziglar was, “Give others what they need first, and you will get what you want in return.”
In other words, my crew had a slew of personal problems that needed to be addressed first, and if Zig was right, if they got what they needed, then I would get what I wanted — a reliable workforce. It seemed overwhelming at the time, but with all the courage I could muster up, a new plan of personnel development was hatched.
I started with some Dennis Waitley material, mostly the “seeds of greatness” lessons from Waitley’s book with the same title. Admittedly, I had selfish goals: I wanted a crew who would show up for work on-time, trained and ready for that day’s events. What happened was much better than that. As it turns out, a small investment in people will result in a huge return of loyalty, eagerness to improve and a willingness to go over and beyond in their efforts. It was during this time we coined the phrase, “Count your profits in other ways besides money.” With good advice in my mind and good material in my hand, I would look for opportunities to encourage the crew around me. Slowly, the plan started to work, and when the opportunities presented themselves, I would nudge folks toward healthy choices that could make their lives better. Over time, it got easier, but the best part was when workmates started sharing possible solutions to their issues with each other. Over time, not only did the scheduling become easier, but friendships developed.
As time has gone by, new methods of training have made their way into our lives. In our world of digital media, one can receive motivation from a host of trainers and speakers. One that has been on the top of my list for a year now is author and former Navy Commander David Marquet’s “Turn This Ship Around.” The book should be a must-read; however, his weekly email reminders are also good advice for effective leadership. There are also several self-development podcasts that are available. One of my new favorites that Tammy Neal, editor of NOLN, put me onto is the series from Mike Rowe called “The Way I Heard It.” (For us old-timers, they are short inspirational stories that have a feel similar to Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.”) People are funny creatures in that when we hear inspirational stories, we are also motivated to inspire. According to Travis Cargile, Sales and Advertising for NOLN, another effective training tool is a YouTube video from Jocko Willink titled, “How to Deal with Failure.” Willink, a former Navy Seal, travels the globe offering sound advice to world leaders and leaders of large corporations. Of course, there are still the traditional methods of self-training with a whole host of books on the market.
As we know, the training never stops. We will always need to train and develop the crews around us. Even in the unlikely event that everyone was trained to work on today’s vehicles, soon the OEMs will change the design or engineer something new that will need to be maintained. Effective methods for training still include role playing, practicing on our vehicles or reading from word tracts until the employee has the confidence needed to make good presentations. Attending conferences and requiring our crews to meet certifications are more important today than they have ever been. The training will never stop, but how we train will always change. If you want the training to be meaningful, we must train our crews in a way that makes sense to them.
However, sometimes before the technical training can be effective, training on a personal level may be required. The rewards for having a personal development program will exceed your financial goals. As the saying goes, “Happy employees create happy customers.”