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How to Plan For Your Next Level Hire

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The Roles  

Director of Operations or General Manager 

Like the position name itself, Murphy has seen shops approach this high-level managerial role (typically defined as a general manager or director of operations) from all angles.

He’s worked with clients who have appointed a GM to manage their only shop, while others have waited until the opening of their eighth to fill the role.

“Really the needs for this position are going to depend on the size of the operation and what you need that person to accomplish in the day to day,” Murphy says. 

For Craig Noel, owner of four Sun Automotive locations in western Oregon, the opening of his fourth shop and growth to nearly $3.2 million in sales prompted his search for a general manager. With three locations and $2 million in revenue, Noel felt comfortable managing on his own, “but when we hit those two big milestones there was a realization I was going to need some help,” he says.

Same goes for Tommy Gaynor, owner of five Gaynor’s Automotive locations in Vancouver, Wash., who filled the company’s GM role before taking full ownership of the operation.

“I was covering three stores pretty well, but at four I was quickly  getting stretched pretty thin,” he says. “It was a natural next step to bring in back-up because I just couldn’t get it all done.”

What to Look For:

Both Gaynor and Noel ultimately hired internal candidates to ensure a cultural fit, but were on the hunt for goal and action-oriented, organized, analytical problem-solvers.

“You’re looking for someone you can trust to carry out the day-to-day responsibilities that’ll keep the operation moving, take in the facts, make decisions, and work under pressure” says Gaynor. 

Noel agrees, noting organic team leadership was also key in selecting an internal candidate. “You need team buy-in at the GM level,” he says. “On a professional team, the coach might technically call the shots, but a team captain is selected by their peers and looked to for guidance. You want to look for the natural team captain.”

Be Sure to Ask:

When interviewing a potential general manager or director of operations “you really want to be testing for their reasoning abilities,” says Murphy “Can they solve practical problems and deal with a variety of variables to come up with solutions quickly? Candidates for this role have a tendency to look great on paper but get tripped up when tested with situational questions.”

Murphy stresses that open-ended questions such as “Tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete a task and how you worked through that,” or “Tell me about a time you were faced with an impossible deadline,” can give key insight on how the candidate would fare with day to day shop decision-making. 

Noel agrees, and draws from real shop scenarios he’s been faced with to expose a candidate’s thought process and see how it might compare with his own. “I’m delegating a lot of big decisions and trusting that GM with sensitive issues so I have to know I’d be comfortable with their approach to those same scenarios.” 

Gaynor also works to expose how a candidate might work under pressure by asking what competitive sports they played growing up. As candidates discuss their experience playing college baseball or four years of varsity high school football, “I’m getting a sense for some of the quick-thinking problem-solving situations they’ve worked through hundreds of times with coaches and teammates,” he says. “Those are skills they can bring to the table when we’ve got to figure out how to get 27 cars out the door by 5 p.m.” The question can also become an opportunity for candidates who didn’t participate in sports to share the unique experiences where they’ve honed their problem solving skills and demonstrate an understanding of how the experience will relate on the job. 

Added ROI:

The addition of a general manager can free up an owner to focus on their goals for the business, but it’s also an opportunity to boost efficiency. “There’s a major ROI in finding someone who can not only handle the day-to-day curveballs, but excels in some of the areas where you might be weakest,” says Murphy.

With the hiring of their general managers, both Gaynor and Noel have been able to step away from the tasks they enjoyed least—and were admittedly not the most productive with. Gaynor is no longer tied to his desk reviewing repairs and responding to Google reviews (tasks he says he had to force himself to do) and Noel has been able to cut out the minutiae of managing the shop’s software systems and internal inventory. “He’s the natural I never was with those tasks and while he’s making sure not one nut or bolt is missed, I’m able to touch base and build business with our clients.”

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