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How to Coach Master Decision-Makers

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While addressing his audience at a recent Automotive Service Association’s X50 Automotive Conference & Expo session, Maylan Newton, AAM, professional speaker and CEO of Educational Seminars Institute, stopped to call attention to one key reference. 

He noted a study from Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich,” which gathered insight from over 25,000 people who had experienced failure, and found that lack of decision nearly topped the list of nearly 30 possible causes. While the book was published back in 1937, Newton notes the principle, unfortunately, still holds true. 

“We see this everyday from shop owners or managers,” he said. “And what might be worse are the owners who aren’t building their staff out to become decision-makers either.”

Newton stressed that the intentional effort to build skilled decision-makers on your staff can not only improve day to day shop operations, but can help ensure that your business will remain successful in the long-term and survives long after you’ve retired. 

“There are plenty of businesses where the owner can leave for the day or go on vacation and the business can run without them, but this is still a challenge for the automotive world,” said Newton. “If you’re not building something that can survive you, you’ve just built a job and you’ll have nothing to sell when the day comes. You want to build a crew that can run the operation just fine without you.”

To begin the business of coaching their own staff members to become skilled decision-makers, Newton laid out a few key ground rules. 

Set expectations.

Newton noted that it’s likely many shop owners are leaving their teams to wonder where the responsibility may lie when it comes to making decisions and the amount of ownership expected in those decisions. 

“Often that lack of decision-making from your team is going to come from a misunderstanding of expectations,” he said. “How often are you really taking the time to define what you expect from them? And how can they make decisions if they don’t know what you really want?”

Make Space 

“It’s funny,” Newton says, “shop owners tell me all the time that if they don’t go to work, nothing gets done and no one is able to make a decision without them. It’s because you do it for them.”

Newton said he often finds shop owners have a hard time trusting their staff to make decisions on their own, which can lead to micromanagement—the exact opposite of decision-making. 

“The only way they’re going to get to practice that skill is by having the chance to be challenged. Next time they ask you what to do, ask them, ‘If this was your shop, what would you do?’”

Accept that mistakes will happen. 

Newton reminded attendees that everyone makes mistakes and that those mistakes are actually a key part in building decision-making skills when used as learning opportunities. 

“Worse than not letting your staff make decisions might be yelling at them because they made a decision,” he said. 

His rule of thumb? Newton said he accepts mistakes, but doesn’t turn a blind eye to mistakes made without an attempt to improve and grow.  “At that point you’re not learning and we’ve got a bigger problem.” 

Budget for those learning opportunities. 

Newton recommended that shop owners view mistakes made as “tuition.”

“A lot of us have paid to help our kids go to school and get an education. Making decisions and inevitably making mistakes in some of those decisions is an education. They got smarter through that process,” said Newton. 

He advises shop owners actually build the potential expense of those mistakes into their shop budgets right alongside line items like rent, electricity, and tool upgrades.

“Budget for it. Plan for it. That way, when a mistake is made you won’t be as mad and you can focus on sharing the knowledge you can offer that they can learn from.”

Embrace more than one solution. 

“A decision that might be different than yours is not always wrong,” Newton reminded attendees while sharing his own story of a time he needed to spend months away from his shop. 

“Things may not have all been done my way, but they got done and the clients were happy, the employees were happy, and the business made money,” he said.

“I always say, the only truly wrong decision is a decision not made.”

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