Need Help? Ask More Experienced Peers
ASA meetings good place to start seeking advice.
Learning from the experiences of others is one way to avoid making the same mistakes they have made. Being involved in a relationship or a partnership where successes are celebrated, mistakes are examined and advice comes from the voice of experience can be beneficial to both sides of the partnership. Are you learning from others who are more experienced and have a different view of the automotive industry than you? If you have been in the industry for many years, is your personal experience benefiting anyone else?
When most people think of mentoring, they picture a relationship between a younger and an older person. In fact, the most common picture most Americans have of mentoring involves teens and adults. But mentoring and coaching can take place at any age and can involve people with all sorts of experience levels. Unfortunately, most people in the business world in America are no longer involved in peer-to-peer mentoring or any sort of peer-to-peer business coaching. There are several reasons why business owners and automotive technicians might not engage in these helpful peer-to-peer mentoring relationships.
Dan Stander, AAM, who represents the second generation at Fix Auto Highlands Ranch in Littleton, Colo., and also serves on the Automotive Service Association board of directors as Collision Division director, points out: “One of the ways the automotive industry falls short is that our business owners – new and experienced ones – disguise their operations with a lot of secrecy – fearing they may reveal too much to the competition. There are a lot of people who have decided they are simply not going to share information with one another.”
This lack of communication and unwillingness to share processes, tips and tricks can lead to a feeling of isolation for automotive business owners … The unwillingness to communicate can really be a barrier to small business growth when inexperienced business owners have no one to show them the way toward growth and success.
Another reason there is little peer-to-peer mentoring can be attributed to changes in the way people communicate. Years ago, to learn tricky lessons or have a heartfelt conversation with a mentor, a technician would have to visit with them in a face-to-face setting. At the very least, a phone call would be necessary. These days, when problems arise for technicians and business owners, the Internet is often the first place where answers are sought out.
There are so many online options for learning and problem-solving that sometimes the need for human communication is overlooked. Scott Benavidez, owner of Mr. B’s Paint and Body in Albuquerque, N.M, commented on the change in communication. “Communication is not like it used to be – and there don’t seem to be as many mentoring programs as there were in the past,” he said. “Could it be because of a communication gap? So many people rely on the Internet and trade magazines for learning.”
Walk a Mile in My Shoes
When a small business owner starts out in the business world, there are plenty of people around to offer advice and direction about what steps to take, what the right decisions might be and to offer reflection about the mistakes that they themselves made when starting out. But the truth is that not all that advice is asked for, nor does it come from experience in the automotive industry. Becoming part of a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship within the automotive industry gives the person receiving the advice some level of assurance that the person giving the advice really knows what they’re talking about.
As a small business owner becomes more successful – hitting bumps in the road less frequently than when he was starting the business – the likelihood that he will ask for help from a peer seems to decrease. Although less frequent, the bumps in the road may be more traumatic than in the beginning. That is to say, as the amount of business increases, the ramifications of even small problems grow exponentially.
Knowing where to turn for help and also being willing to accept advice from a seasoned professional in the industry can make a measurable difference in the level of success a business reaches.
Technology, Group Meetings Enrich the Mentoring Process
Mentoring does not always require a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting to be successful.
In fact, harnessing some of the benefits of the communication changes mentioned earlier can be key in developing successful mentoring relationships. Skyping, Facetime on the iPhone and communicating through email can bring about trusting friendships that are helpful to both sides of the mentoring relationship.
In addition, group settings such as round-table discussions or town hall-type meetings can point a technician or business owner in need of help and advice in the right direction. Benavidez, who is the assistant director of ASA’s Collision Division Operations Committee, said: “During group mentoring and ASA meetings we share information – what’s been successful and what hasn’t. In this environment everyone is learning. It really is one of the places with the best atmosphere when it comes to learning about challenges in the industry.”
Attending group meetings with other technicians and business owners can show you who the experts are, so that you might approach someone who is more experienced in the industry about peer-to-peer mentoring relationships and whether they are willing to assist you. This method for group mentoring does require an effort on the part of all involved. If you are unsure about how to get started in a group setting that will benefit you and your business, begin with involvement in your local or national association. These meetings and association involvement are an easy way to meet others in the industry. You may be amazed at the relationships you can build and the information you can gain through association involvement.
Benefits of Mentoring Relationships
There are many possible benefits to being part of a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship, but the benefits are not just for the person being mentored. In fact, the mentor can acquire new skills and a new outlook through the mentoring relationship. Because mentees have an enthusiasm and excitement that comes with new business ownership, mentors have the opportunity to catch some of the enthusiasm for their business that they once had, and may also have the opportunity to hone their business skills when working through others’ problems.
By design, perhaps the largest benefits come to the mentee who is just starting out in the industry. As conflict and problems arise, the mentor can listen to frustrations and offer solutions. A mentor provides an inexperienced business owner with a sounding board – allowing them to “vent” and release frustrations without involving their family or employees in the discussion. Mentors can help younger business owners as well as seasoned business owners define success in a new way as they navigate the challenges of business ownership.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you are regularly frustrated by your business or if you continue to make the same mistakes month after month, consider asking for help and advice from a more seasoned veteran within the automotive industry. Even asking for assistance from someone whose business is on the same level as yours may give you a fresh perspective on the problem at hand. As an expert, if you feel that you have knowledge that could benefit someone else, seek out a less-experienced professional at the next ASA meeting you attend. There are likely many younger or simply less-experienced business owners or technicians who can benefit from your experience!
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