What about Bob?

He’s a talented but belligerent tech, and he’s ruining the morale in the shop. What you can do to make peace.

I was finally able to hire a tech that I had been chasing for a few years. His knowledge and skill sets were said to be unmatched, and I couldn’t believe I was landing a “rock star.” I’ll call him Bob.

My dream became reality, production was up and there wasn’t a challenge we couldn’t overcome or car we couldn’t fix. Sales were going up 20 percent a year, our customers were happy and our business was building a reputation as the place for consumers to get their vehicles repaired.

Life was good, until one day I entered the shop and found my rock star cursing, throwing a tantrum at another employee because a job had gone wrong and
needed to be repeated. I intervened, of course, and calmed down Bob, which allowed the other techs to get back to work.

I explained to Bob that his behavior was not acceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated. He apologized, claiming that for a number of reasons he was feeling stressed. But as you can guess, Bob’s behavior didn’t improve. His attitude continued to get worse, but I kept trying to serve as the peacemaker with my team, using every excuse I could think of so that I could keep my rainmaker rock star.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I let Bob’s belligerence go on way too long, losing a few good techs in the name of “tolerance.” Replacing Bob’s production was impossible, I thought, and I could only see the potential for a downward spiral in my profitable business – until the day of reckoning came. I replaced Bob with a tech of perceived lesser skills. What happened next surprised me. Our gross profit for the year grew by 39.9 percent despite relatively flat sales.

The lesson learned in this story should be obvious to all my fellow shop owners who have the appropriate amount of gray matter, properly formatted. Lesson being: If you have an apple that’s spoiling the barrel or a prima donna, a few simple questions will cut to the quick of your decision.

Talk to your problem employee, saying something like, “Bob, you’re clearly a terrific tech, but I’ve had too many complaints from others about how you’re treating them. Most recently, you were overheard yelling at Jim: ‘What’s the matter with you? This is important. Do it right.’ This type of behavior is not consistent with our core values and cannot continue, even if you’re right about him dropping the ball. There are other ways to deal with the problem than yelling and berating people.”

Ask Bob, “Is this description of your behavior a surprise, and how do you think it should be handled?” Bob’s response will help determine what you should do.

Response A: Overly defensive, makes excuses for why he does what he does and says something like, “If they would only do their jobs better, I wouldn’t have to yell at them.” This response suggests that it is unlikely Bob will change.

Response B: If Bob owns up to his behavior, asks to be given the opportunity to make changes, it’s possible he might change. If he’s sincere, offer to help him get some professional help. It’s hard to have the mental dexterity and control to learn how to handle emotions and improve interpersonal skills on our own.

Be quick to have these conversations with employees who don’t live up to your values. Act swiftly when change is needed. It will improve your personal and business life.