Do Your Employees Really Know You?
You’re walking through the shop on a typical workday. You don’t make eye contact or say anything to anyone. Your thoughts are on making payroll, the rising worker’s compensation bill and all the fires you need to put out before the day’s end. You begin the mental exercise of finding solutions to each problem. Throughout the day, you tackle and conquer each issue one by one. By the end of the day you are mentally and physically exhausted. You did your job, isolated in your own world. After all, you’re the boss. These are your problems, no need to share them with anyone. Sound familiar?
The life of a shop owner is filled with problems. And even if you try to hide it, the people around you can sense that something isn’t right. But there’s something you should be concerned with: Your employees may be judging you by your demeanor. And sometimes, what they think is not good. Why? They don’t know what’s going on inside your head. Without really knowing what’s troubling you, they will fill in the blanks and create their own opinion of what’s going on—and their own opinion of you.
I remember my days working in a dealership in the 1970s. Whenever the boss, Mr. Ford (not his real name), would come into the shop, you could hear the mumbling and comments from the techs. “Here he comes again. Why doesn’t he just stay in his office? He’s a real sourpuss,” they’d say. It wasn’t long before I too joined in the trash talk. No one really knew Mr. Ford.
Well, I got to know Mr. Ford one day at a company barbecue. I happened to be seated at the table with him. I remember feeling very uncomfortable. After all, the last place I wanted to be on a summer Saturday afternoon was with my “sourpuss” boss. But then something happened that changed my perception of him.
It was a hot day and after a few hours, Mr. Ford finally rolled up his sleeves, revealing a number tattooed across his forearm. With my eyes wide open I looked down at the tattoo and then at him. He said to me, “Yes, I was in a concentration camp during WWII.” We sat there silent for a few minutes. Then he began to tell me about his ordeal during the war. How he, because he was Jewish, was separated from his family, never to see them again. He told me how he escaped from the Nazis and made his way to America to start a new life. He started working in a used car lot, cleaning cars. He worked hard, saved his money, and eventually purchased a dealership.
As he spoke, I felt guilty. We had prejudged this man based on nothing but the war-torn look on his face. Mr. Ford never showed anyone disrespect. The only thing he did show was his demeanor, which was born from his past and combined with the struggles of running a business. And, unfortunately, that’s what we judged him on. He took the adversity from his past, turned it around and became a success. I walked away that day with a new-found view of who my boss really was. My job had a little more meaning after that.
As shop owners, we have a common bond. We are survivors. We will do whatever it takes to keep the motoring public moving. And being who we are, we accept the life we have chosen and we accept the fact that the buck stops with us. And many times, the result is an emotional disconnect between you and your employees.
The key takeaway here is not to fear creating relationships with your employees. That doesn’t mean you need to bare your innermost secrets. But it does mean that there is nothing wrong with letting the people you work with know you for who you are as a person, not just as their boss. Hold meetings with your staff, especially one on ones. Discuss things with your employees that show the human side of you. Become aware of your demeanor and try to smile and make eye contact with your employees.
The results will benefit everyone and improve morale. Let your employees really know who you are, your vision for the future and how you appreciate what they do. In turn, you just might find you really didn’t know them, either.
Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.