4 Tips for Empowering Your Employees
Roughly four years ago, Brent and Brenda O’Neal found that the two of them had become so ingrained in their shop, that they were overworking themselves, and often frustrating the rest of their staff in the process. For instance, when Brent, co-owner of The Woodlands, Texas-based Repair One Automotive, saw his staff behind the counter get overwhelmed or busy, he would stop what he was doing and immediately try to go back and help with customers. This would regularly cause some sort of issue with his staff or his own work.
“Every time I’d go back behind the counter, invariably that customer would get screwed up,” Brent says. “I’d get occupied with something else, and the ticket would get lost in the fray.”
It wasn’t until Brent and co-owner Brenda began working with a coach at consulting company Elite that they realized they needed to take a step back and start letting the business run itself. However, changing his mindset was one of the hardest parts of running a business yet, Brent says.
“When you open your business it’s your baby— it’s like your kid,” he says.
George Zeeks, the director of client fulfillment for the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), has led classes on this subject, and directed several of his own clients on the process of taking themselves out of the business. A big part of this, Zeeks says, is guiding your employees to be better with constant coaching and mentoring.
For the O’Neals, taking themselves out of their business was a gradual process that involved hiring additional help, communicating with employees, and setting up a monitoring system when they weren’t in the shop that eventually resulted in a 21 percent jump in revenue and record sales numbers.
“At least the last two years, for the first time, I actually own a business, not a job. For me, it’s exciting,” Brent says “I’ve been doing this 28 years but after 25 years, I’m in a whole new world.”
From what they’ve learned, Brent and Brenda list the five main steps in making this transition work.
1. Hire additional help, if necessary.
In starting the process of stepping out of the business, Brent and Brenda were advised to add another person behind the counter from their coach to alleviate some of Brent’s duties.
“I said, ‘That’s a huge salary, there’s no way I can afford that,’” Brent says. “It went on for about six months before I finally agreed to it.”
The coach told him that if he hired the extra help, the shop’s sales would increase with the added efficiency, and it would pay for itself, which it soon did.
“Once that happened, I was immediately freed up to do other things,” Brent says.
Zeeks says that hiring additional help can be very important in this transition process, especially if an owner doubles as a technician. It’s important to look at what another person has that you may not, and what they’ll be able to do that you can’t.
“The person you’re hiring should not be looked at as an expense, but as an investment,” Zeeks says. “They should be able to make you money.”
2. Find the right people.
An important part of shifting responsibilities to the rest of your staff is hiring employees that are willing to learn and be accountable.
As this process has gone on, the O’Neals have tried to continually hire and find employees that will fit the needs of the business and be able to handle working on their own.
“Each person has been better than the last,” Brent says. “Now we have a great manager, and a great service advisor.”
This hiring process also allowed Brent and Brenda to evaluate themselves, and their own work habits. The manager position was one that saw a lot of turnover, and Brent says that with his heavy involvement in the business, he thinks these employees left because he didn’t allow them to grow or take the reins themselves.
“As an owner, you believe you can manage it a little bit better,” Brent says. “You have the tendency to fall in the same traps.”
3. Construct solid team-wide goals and a monitoring system.
Around November, Brent and Brenda set up the sales goals for each year. They let the team know what these goals are, and the staff makes a conscious effort to hit them.
“An effective way to step back and let employees take the reins is having clearly outlined responsibilities,” Brent says.
They’ve worked to make clear what the focuses are for each year. For instance, this year, the focus is on taking more training classes, while a few years ago, they remodeled the whole shop and updated everything with an iPad bar.
To hit the specific goals they set, the O’Neals make sure to have a structured monitoring system, so they can evaluate employees even when they aren’t in the shop.
Evaluation sheets are important to making this process work, the O’Neals say, and they make sure to do evaluations of their employees every six months. In this process, they try to monitor production, closing ratios and productivity.
The employee also does a self-evaluation, which generally opens up a discussion on what they’re lacking or on what they need to work.
Recently the shop implemented digital inspections, which has taken the monitoring process to another level.
“We can check technicians and see, maybe why is it that in the last 12 months, we haven’t recommended a belt on a car?” O’Neal says. “It allows us to get down to specific areas.”
Zeeks recommends having a scoreboard, with sales tracking, service tracking, and technician hours so each employee can constantly assess his or her goals.
“If someone is capable of doing 30 hours per week, six hours per day, he can see on the scoreboard if he’s three hours behind on Wednesday,” Zeeks says. “Then we can figure out how to make that up.”
Once per week, Brent works in the shop to watch his employees and the shop’s processes directly. Every Wednesday, he gives a service advisor the day off, and works behind the counter, ignoring all other ownership duties and simply watching the shop and interacting with customers.
“It’s a unique opportunity,” Brent says. “It allows me to see if procedures are still being followed, and allows me to stay in touch with my employees.”
4. Offer employee feedback and mentoring.
When going through these management shifts, the O’Neals say that communication is key when implementing any changes.
“As you start looking at ways to manage your business, invariably there’s going to be change,” Brent says. “Change is never easy. People often don’t want change.”
The best way to get through this change, Brent says, is to make sure to explain to each employee how each decision will eventually benefit the customer.
While it’s often difficult to get the entire staff together when things are busy, the O’Neals say that weekly meetings are essential to providing an open forum of discussion for all employees.
“Even if you have those quick 10-minute meetings every week to get information in, that’s very important,” Brenda says.
One-on-one meetings, and positive reinforcement is key to making this work, Zeeks says.
“Instead of answering questions, ask questions. Guide them. Most of the time, they have a clue on what the answer is; guide them to be better,” he says.