Want Your Shop to Be Successful? Avoid the Mistakes We Made
Loyal employees = $uccess
Have you ever heard of the Battle of Agincourt? If you want to lead your employees and your company to greatness (and avoid making the same management mistakes that we did in our shop), this is a story you'll want to hear.
Back in 1415, Henry V and about 6,000 English soldiers were returning to Britain from doing battle in France when about 36,000 French soldiers intercepted them. Bogged down in muddy terrain, outnumbered 6 to 1, exhausted and sick from months of fighting in a foreign country ... by all accounts, it should have been a slaughter.
But something happened. With one of the most famous speeches of all time, Henry rallied the troops, led his soldiers into battle, and crushed the French forces, dealing them about 10,000 casualties and capturing most of the remaining soldiers.
Would Your Employees Do the Same for You?
I'm not talking about the battlefield, but the similarities are there. After all, how many of us face overwhelming odds from dealerships and chain stores? How easy is it to give up when the odds are stacked against us like they are in this economy?
If you have the skills to manage in any situation, if you can move seamlessly from hot to cold, from black to white with no wishy-washy middle ground, your shop can succeed in any situation.
Do you have what it takes?
How We Got It So Wrong
I came to work for Terry Keller, AAM, and Keller Bros. Auto in Littleton, Colo., in 1997. When I joined Terry's team as a service writer, he was an incredibly knowledgeable shop owner who looked incredibly weak. His employees had figured out how to pull the wool over his eyes, to push him into getting their way. Terry's leadership was failing because he wanted to be a nice guy, liked by everyone in the community no matter how much it hurt the business, and consciously or not, his team had come to resent him. They couldn't trust him to look out for their well being, which is why whenever he turned his back, they slipped back into being mediocre and following their own rules.
When I saw this happening, I decided to take control. With my background in the military, I knew I could whip them into shape by constantly controlling everything they did. And in a way, I was right. I stopped taking lunches, came in early and worked late, micromanaged every aspect of every job and became a dictator for that shop. We quickly grew to higher profits than ever and fixed the behavior problems. But at the end of the day, employees didn't have respect for my iron rule, which meant that as soon as I looked away, things went back to mediocrity again.
Do either of these situations sound familiar?
Things came to a head when Terry asked me, "Are you tired of having to control these people every day?" He was right. He couldn't get the shop to do what he wanted by being nice all of the time and I could only get them to do what I wanted by controlling them every second of the day.
What we learned next changed our lives.
Stop Being a Hostage!
Until we earned the respect of those employees, until they wanted the shop to succeed, we were always going to have to control and micromanage to get the shop to run the way we wanted it to be run.
Before you can keep respect, you have to earn it, of course. And earning their respect meant two things: providing a work environment they could respect and managing in a way they could respect.
On the first count, it meant caring for and serving employees in ways they never experienced before. Yes, that means better pay and better working conditions than they could find elsewhere. But it also means that we build relationships with them that they can't find elsewhere. Instead of keeping employees at arm's length, we make them a part of our lives. We help them move, take them to the hospital in the middle of the night, give them advice and listen to the struggles they're dealing with at home. We found that respect doesn't come because you're the boss but because they know you care about them. When they honestly believe you have their best interest at heart, both personally and professionally, that means they can trust and respect the decisions you make.
Managing in a way they can respect also means I expect every employee to do their job. The only thing that gets you where you want to be in our shop is to be loyal and to perform.
This second part can be particularly hard for managers. It means no playing favorites. No letting things "slide" or covering up issues. It also means being "above reproach" - not behaving in a way that gives employees something they can hold over your head. The problem is this: If you're not above reproach, you can't hold employees accountable. You can't discipline them because they won't take you seriously. And whether you're an owner or a manager, that's a terrible position to be in because it makes you a hostage to your own business!
Earning that respect is only half of the battle, however. You need to be able to keep their respect if you want them to follow you into battle. And that's where the two critical faces of leadership come into play.
The Two Critical Faces of Leadership
Our policy of getting angry when things in the shop went wrong, happy when things were perfect and lukewarm otherwise, had trained our employees to think they couldn't trust our attitudes. We'd taught them that we'd correct them when they messed something up, but quickly go back to lukewarm afterwards. They didn't feel our respect for them doing the job properly and so they lost respect for us.
What we found is that every leader has to have two faces: excited and happy, anger and frustration. There can only be black and white when you're a leader. Gray areas lead to uncertainty, to confusion, to a lack of commitment.
That means that rewards and consequences must happen swiftly. On the reward side, you must reward excellence as it happens so that the employee and the rest of the staff understand that you recognize it and encourage it.
But just as importantly, you have to discipline swiftly when they do something wrong.
If you don't enforce your rules immediately, you'll build resentment in your shop between the employees who care enough to follow the rules and those who don't care at all. And if there's a universal truth in here, it's that when these divisions happen, you'll lose your best employees far more often than you'll root out the bad ones. If you don't discipline immediately, there is no reason for your employees to trust anything you say or for them to have any respect for you at all.
When your employees know they can believe what you say, when you set a good example, when they know you are doing everything in your power to protect them and the business that feeds them ... that builds a fierce loyalty. Those employees will follow you into any battle.
Leading Your Band of Brothers
It's up to us as owners and managers to build respect so that our employees want to be loyal to our shop and our vision.
But that means we have to want those employees to succeed as well. We have to take the time to train them, to recognize their accomplishments and teach them how to correct their mistakes, as well as take the time to help them succeed in life outside of the shop.
The success by the British at the Battle of Agincourt didn't happen because of a great speech. It happened because that small, outnumbered, exhausted army was truly a band of brothers who was willing to walk through the fire to protect each other. And I can tell you from personal experience that when you build that same camaraderie in your shop, it means increased sales, much less stress, and real, lasting success for your shop.
Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2011, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
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