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Bridge The Generational Gap

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SHOP STATS: Performance Tune Auto Repair Location:  Fort Collins, Colo.  Owners: Pat and Kathy Schnaidt  Staff Size: 7  Shop Size: 3,500 square feet, 6 lifts  Average Monthly Car Count: 120 ARO: $650 Annual Revenue $1 million

Baby Boomers, Generation X, millennials, Generation Z. Much is presumed about the generation you belong to and what that means about how you live.

From a manager’s perspective, it also matters how you manage a team when it’s very likely you’ll have employees that fit into a few, if not all, of these generations. Pat Schnaidt, owner of Performance Tune Auto Repair in Fort Collins, Colo., has employees as young as 22 and as old as 61. 

“There’s big differences between them and how they work,” Schnaidt says. 

So, what do shop owners need to do to make sure their multi-generational shops run smoothly and maximize each person’s skills and minimize his or her deficiencies? 

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with Schnaidt and Sara Fraser, who advises shop owners on working with millennials as the creative director for Haas Performance Consulting, on best practices.

Understand your team’s dynamic. 

Schnaidt employs three technicians and two service advisors at his six-bay shop. Although it’s a small staff, his team varies greatly in age. At age 56, Schnaidt is one of the oldest in the shop, along with a 61-year-old technician. He has two employees in their early 20s, a service advisor in their late 30s and a technician in his mid 50s. 

Schnaidt admits his shop doesn’t do everything perfectly and isn’t without its blemishes, but he’s keen on making sure the staff runs cohesively despite the age gaps. 

One thing he’s prioritized is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his employees. The younger employees are much more casual than him and their older co-workers. Before Schnaidt has finished a conversation with them, they’ve already texted him, sent pictures and filled out what he was asking about. The older guys, on the other hand, are much more deliberate, he says. 

That fits what Fraser sees in generational trends. Millennials are inclined to use technology, want to collaborate and are team players. Gen Z and baby boomers are much more individualistic and internally driven. 

The important takeaway for shop owners is to understand the dynamics of the shop, Fraser says. Your employees might fit this description, or they might not. Learn what makes them do well, and don’t use the same approach on everyone. In all likelihood, different employees are going to be motivated by different factors, and the generational gap is likely to widen those differences. Treat that as a positive challenge your business wants to solve and not as a detriment, Fraser says. 

Address the technology issue.

To Fraser, one of the biggest areas of disconnect that exists between millennials and baby boomers is the use of technology. Millennials love it and have grown up surrounded by the internet, smartphones, cameras and apps. Baby boomers? Not so much. Striking a balance between the right amount of technology is a key for shops employing multiple generations. 

For Schnaidt that has certainly been the case. Getting his 61-year-old technician, who doesn’t like email or computers, to use ShopWare has been difficult. He’d prefer to do things through pen and paper. But Schnaidt is committed to using the software and with several employees in their early 20s on staff, they respond very well to the technology. 

Still, Schnaidt isn’t leaving his older staff members out to dry. Every morning the shop employees have their daily huddle around a 3-foot by 6-foot whiteboard. Schnaidt has the whiteboard set up the exact same way as the ShopWare dashboard. All the employees can see where cars are in the repair process and what their responsibilities are. Schnaidt tries to keep the whiteboard updated all day long.

It’s a compromise in the shop’s use of technology. While everyone is still expected to use ShopWare correctly, input photos and type out notes, they also have the convenience of seeing it on the whiteboard. 

That fits what Fraser tells to her clients. 

“Do it in doses,” Fraser says of technology. Don’t dive into technology without a buffer period and time to learn. Schnaidt said the training of his oldest tech took several months before he was able to use the technology correctly. 

It hasn’t always worked for Schnaidt either. At one point Schnaidt tried to hire a 65-year-old retired Toyota master technician. Schnaidt was never much of a mechanic, with his expertise more on the work in the front of the shop. With a stable of young junior technicians on staff, he felt they could use the discipline and leadership. But the master technician wasn’t able to maintain the level of technology that the younger technicians had been used to. It led to much resistance and after two months, Schnaidt and the master technician agreed to part ways. 

Schnaidt believes his shop could still use that guiding older voice, but the challenge will be finding a person that can adopt the technology in order to be a positive influence in the shop. 

Make the young workforce feel included. 

While Fraser rejects many of the negative connotations associated with millennials, there is truth to some of the stereotypes. One of those is the common adage of millennials being “trophy kids.” Now Fraser doesn’t agree with all the baggage that often comes with the phrase, but she knows that because millennials grew up getting recognition for many things, that should continue in the workplace. 

Now that doesn’t mean they should be receiving gold stars or any medals, Fraser said. In fact the best way to do it is just giving feedback. Whether it is positive affirmation or constructive criticism, younger generations want to hear how they are doing. 

Fraser remembers her own experience working in a shop. When she wouldn’t get feedback from her boss, she often became her own worst critic. She thought the lack of feedback she was getting meant she was doing a bad job, when in reality her boss was happy with her work. 

This is a difference from older generations, who are often independent and don’t need any guidance or feedback on their work, Fraser says. She also says shops should look to get the younger workforce involved as much as possible. 

“I think one of the worst things you can do when managing millennials is not to involve them.” 

Tell them about what is happening in the shop. Share KPIs and shop goals. Update them on the things you are working on. Even if it doesn’t directly relate to their work, millennials want to be informed. 

The key to managing millennials is prioritizing communication. Along with the daily huddle meetings, Schnaidt has a full staff meeting twice a month over lunch. They close down the shop and have discussions about training the staff might want, what tools are needed and anything else related to the shop. On weeks without a full staff meeting, Schnaidt tries to meet with his employees for one-on-one meetings. 

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