Raise Your Hand if You Love to Manage People

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Everyone has failures. The most successful people are often quick to share their hardships and what they learned from them. And the school of hard knocks (S.O.H.K.) continues to hand out diplomas daily.

Many years ago while attending the S.O.H.K. I suffered from the “no one will do it as good as I will” mentality. Now I might [secretly] still believe that but I’ve learned that the path of least resistance involves managing other people.

A group is capable of accomplishing more than a single individual. But yeah, managing people is not high on my list of favorite things to do. Probably not yours either. I prolonged it for many years and ended up with back problems due to trying to do all of the work myself. I’d venture to say that most of us shop owners begrudgingly accept at some point that our fate involves managing others.

Now hey, it’s not all bad. There are those star co-workers and staff that just make it easy. But there will always be a range of skills and people working in an automotive shop. And we have to learn to manage all types simultaneously. When I imagine managing a perfect shop, I remember an experience I had many years ago.

It was back in 2005. One of my oldest friends had a degree in computer programming and was offered a job at Netflix in San Francisco. At the time, they would mail their customers a DVD and you’d return it. I remember clearly him telling me, “streaming is going to be the way of the future.” And look at Netflix now! But that’s not the story. What I remember is the tour he gave me of his workplace and what he said. Employees made their own hours, coming and going as they pleased. There was literally no framework for vacation, time off, or how many hours a week a person worked. A person could be hired and take their first week off! Also, everyone worked at the same type of desk and cubicle, even the CEO. There was always free food and fun movie-themed meeting rooms were available at any time. This type of work environment is more common now, especially at tech companies. What I took from that experience was a company that understood how valuable the work was it was doing, hired the best talent available, and them empowered them to work in the way the employee found most efficient. I assumed they were compensated based on their performance. This strikes me as a very defined culture in that business and I see similar culture in some auto shops. Have you even had a flat rate technician that is amazing, comes in and rarely needs to speak to anyone just knocks out their repair orders and then stays late or leaves early based on the workload? I know, it’s a high benchmark to shoot for but in my experience seeing some of the highest performing shops in the US, I see a similar empowerment of their staff. These people are engaged, they have responsibility, they’re A-players, and they want to succeed. Oh and as an added bonus, THESE are the people that need the least “management.” Getting to this point in a shop is a process though.

Alright, let’s go polar opposite here… McDonalds. A very different example of management, but really any fast food restaurant could be an example. Things move fast, the labor budget is rock bottom, and expectations are high. I want my food tasty, hot, and now, right? This is a much different consumer demand and requires a different approach. In stark contrast to Netflix, in a fast food restaurant the staff are managed VERY closely. Your supervisor is always within eyesight. There is a very clearly defined pecking order. Your time clock remembers even one minute late. There is no creative control, the process is very clearly mapped out. A computer on the wall measures burgers sold every minute and helps to make decisions on how many staff are needed at any given time. Turnover is higher and employees are more replaceable. Positions like this are much less common in our business but if you employ a custodian, lot tech, or car washer you may relate a bit.

Now these are two extremes, the reality of managing our staff is going to be somewhere in the middle. I don’t think my shops or any auto service businesses will ever be 100% free of daily management but if I can get my staff up to 70-80% automated, I’m good with that. I don’t love standing over people, making sure they do their job. If I can do random quality control checks once a week and get 95% compliance, I’m a happy camper. And so are my co-workers, no one wants the boss around! It’s one of those true win-win situations if you can swing it.

Most of us put countless hours into our businesses. With some careful hiring, visionary leadership (tell them where the ship is headed), and processes in place, the day to day management burden can be quite small. Freeing us up to work on the business in ways that help us grow and keep up with the times. And for those moments when you do have to manage? Well, the S.O.H.K. is the best teacher. I wish I had a silver bullet for managing people. Classes and books help but in the end, doing it day to day and week to week will make you a better leader and manager. Figure out how to assemble and lead your dream team and you will see your business take off.

What management styles do you find yourself using in your business? Please share some stories. I’d like to hear!

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