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When and How to 'Trust Your Gut'

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Many business and shop owners credit making successful decisions to “trusting their gut,” but what does that really mean?

Trusting your gut isn’t simply responding to the feeling in your stomach, or relying on some mystical force—it’s taking into account your past experiences and the lessons you’ve learned to make future decisions.

Patrick McHugh has gone through many of these “gut decisions,” as he’s learned how to operate his business and grow his shop. He started Richmond, Va.-based Bimmer Rescue in 2008, with no prior business experience, mainly working off of his “gut feelings.” As he’s grown his shop to a business with over $1.3 million in revenue with six staff members, he’s figured out what trusting his gut actually entails and how to make the best decision possible.

There are many different components that go into a decision, and although it may seem like a choice is made on the spot, it is actually determined by many different factors. When McHugh says he’s trusting his gut, he’s actually considering what he’s learned from past experiences, information that is available at the time of the decision, social cues and outside influences to make a decision.

Marcia Reynolds, the president of coaching and leadership development company Covisioning LLC, says it’s very important to learn how to weigh facts to consider all of your options when making a decision. McHugh details four ways he’s learned what his gut is trying to tell him to make an informed decision in his shop.


1) Self-reflect before making a decision.

If you have a tough decision to make in your shop, Reynolds says, you shouldn’t make it on the spot.

“Sometimes people get really busy and make those quick judgements. We don’t give ourselves a time for reflection,” Reynolds says.

Even stepping aside and taking five minutes to think deeper about your next steps is a key part to making this work, Reynolds says.

In the early days of his shop, when McHugh worked alone trying to make a name for himself, he would take on jobs that were a bit over his head, in an effort to not let the customer down.

In one particular instance, McHugh took on a three-year-old Audi S5 that needed an engine mount replaced. McHugh says he didn’t really have the technical data he needed, and was winging it, trusting the skills he had built up to that point. He ended up leaving a battery cable loose, and it shorted out the frame while he was test drove the car.

“I was just firing blind,” McHugh says. “I ended up having to replace the whole job, cost me thousands of dollars. Had I just researched it more, used the data, trusted someone else—I could have avoided that.”

For every project he took on from that point forward, if a customer asked if McHugh was qualified to do a repair, he’d go back and try to become qualified somehow. Additionally, McHugh has worked to hire some of the most talented people in the industry, to get their trained gut reactions as well. His service advisor has more than 20 years of experiences, and he hired two factory-trained technicians with at least 10 years of experience.

“Those guys have exactly what I was lacking back then,” McHugh says. “I’ve learned to trust those people. I know that they’ve done the right thing in the past, because they’ve been successful as well.”


2) Don’t let your gut ignore relevant data.

When it came to setting his parts prices and margins, McHugh thought he was benefitting his customer base by lowering the margins on his parts. He did what many inexperienced shop owners have done and gave away parts and labor when he didn’t need to.

“I looked at my cost, stuck an extra $30-$40 on there. I was trusting my gut entirely there,” McHugh says. “In the end, I was not profitable. I was losing a major profit center of selling parts that I could have been taking advantage of.”

He then worked with Cecil Bullard and his 40-plus years of experience in the industry, to build a full pricing matrix and look at the data his shop needed to be successful. He took a deep dive into his numbers, and looked at how much profit he needed to reach at the end of the year, and from there worked backwards to find the necessary pricing.

“I trained my gut to trust the data in the beginning,” McHugh says. “I learned I could ultimately do more for my customers if I charged correctly for my parts.”


3) Question your gut feelings with a critical eye.

Some of the most notable, and important, gut reactions can occur when going through the hiring process.

“There are 500 million neurons in your gut. Your gut may be actually picking up signals, and telling you if someone’s a good hire or not,” Reynolds says. “Write it down, and ask ‘what could it have been that my gut picked up here?”

When hiring another person, Reynolds says, you should look for an attitude that reflects your values.

In McHugh’s interviewing procedures, he uses well researched, data-driven questions to find the attitude of the interviewee. One particular tactic is to use his own gut reaction, and test the gut reactions of his interviewees, during the discussion.

He’ll give the technician a situation: He or she has a car that comes in with a misfire, and a check engine light. He asks the technician what he or she would do next, step by step, and no matter what they do in the hypothetical situation, the solution never clearly appears. In this process, McHugh says, he’s not only testing the technician’s attitude, but whether they’ll go get additional help or resources when necessary, as well.

“To me, the very best technicians are the ones who, after three rounds of that, say that this sounds like it’s getting really complicated, I’ll ask an advisor to authorize more diagnostic time,” McHugh says. “The best technicians to me want to figure out the problem in the car.”


4) Consider how your gut and the opinion of trusted team members align.

After he interviews a prospective employee, McHugh will get feedback from the rest of his team to make sure the potential staff member will be a great fit for the shop’s culture, and fit the rest of the team’s values.

“I’m the last call on who we’re going to hire next,” McHugh says. “I let my guys pick the people out of a big long list that I find. They decide the top two, top three of what we want.”

McHugh says that, now that he has a full staff of talented employees, he doesn’t want to be the hub of all knowledge and information in his shop.

“We’re building the business quickly, and I don’t want to be 100 percent involved in my shop,” McHugh says. “I want people to make gut decisions of their own every day. We have six people here, and six guts is better than one.”

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