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How to Improve Employee Performance

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In the early 1970s Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry hit a wall with his players’ performance on the field. At the time, one of his coaching methods was to have a team meeting to review film from the previous game. At the meeting he would point out all the mistakes the players made in an attempt to improve overall performance. The result: performance did not improve. In fact, things got worse.

Landry finally realized that pointing out his players mistakes was ultimately bringing down morale and shutting his players down. He recognized that the best way to improve and teach excellence was to show each player when they excelled, not when they missed the mark. He continued to show films of previous games, but he highlighted the team’s effort and the great plays made during the game. During an interview Landry noted, “We only replay winning plays.” As a result, the Dallas Cowboys appeared in the 1975 Super Bowl and won it in 1977.

Shop owners have unique responsibilities. We hold ourselves accountable for ours and our shop’s performance. Comebacks, productivity, efficiency, sales, and profit all take center stage. Our mind never ceases to find ways in which to improve. This is the life of a business owner. The relentless quest where each day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. We understand that attaining our goals is not just the result of what we do, but a combined effort of our entire team. This is where frustration sets in. We sometimes feel that our passion and commitment is not always matched by our employees. That frustration often leads to pointing out the wrong or the mistakes performed by our employees. It’s our attempt to improve shop performance, but the result will most likely be the opposite.

Feedback is important. Everyone should know what’s expected of them and when they’ve missed the mark. But we all know everyone has an emotional bank, and that bank needs a healthy deposit of “at-a-boys”before any attempt is made to give criticism. For some, pointing out a mistake is perceived as your opinion. In other words, you may be correct in your assessment of someone’s performance, but many people have a hard time accepting it.

The bottom line is this: Feedback given to an employee when something went wrong, in an attempt to improve their performance, is too often considered negative feedback. This may shut down the employee, which closes their mind, resulting in no improvement. Think about it, how many issues have you repeated over and over, with no improvement no matter how many times you bring up the problem?

We need to take a page from Tom Landry’s playbook. It’s far better to focus on what went right, as opposed to what went wrong. When you spot the right behavior or when someone excelled, highlight it and reward it. People crave praise and recognition and are inclined to repeat the behavior that was rewarded. 

This is not to say that we must ignore when things go wrong. I believe mistakes must be identified and used as a learning experience. However praising effort will keep a person open and willing to discuss when mistakes are made. 

Improving employee performance means looking at things through the eyes of our employees and understanding what they go through on a daily basis. Let’s face it, employees generally want to excel. I have never met a technician who enjoys a comeback or a service advisor who celebrates a declined sale.They may not show it, but their emotions, just like yours, are flowing intensely throughout the day.  

As you go about your day, keep a positive mindset. Tell yourself things will work out. Look for reasons to praise and point out when people excel. This will do a world of good for you and for your employees. Don’t focus on what went wrong, focus on what goes right. This will give your employees the desire to want to excel again and improve morale. Remember what Tom Landry said, “We only replay winning plays.”

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