Make Your Voice Heard
SHOP STATS: Westlake Independent Location: Westlake Village, Calif. Operator: Bruce Nation Average Monthly Car Count: 300 Staff Size: 12 Shop Size: 5,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue: $2 million
Behind every vision is a leader who wants to get the job done. Bruce Nation, owner of Westlake Independent in Westlake Village, Calif., has spent his career chasing numbers and growing the operation he started in 1988 after leaving the dealership industry.
“I just thought I could do a better job,” Nation says. “I really had seen what my employers had done and I constantly saw shortfalls in what they were doing and how to do it better—nobody was listening.”
While Nation is heavily involved in his operation, his leadership mentality changed after he realized the importance of spreading knowledge in the business, instead of keeping everything locked away to himself.
“I was very intent on doing it my way or the highway,” Nation says. “[I thought], ‘I’ve got everything in the world, and if it’s not going to fly, it’s going to be my fault and nobody else’s.’”
After determining the initiative of how to communicate effectively with his staff, he’s found that goals are more reachable and his staff is more eager to get the job done.
“I’ve learned over the years to listen to people and don’t just discount what they say, even if it seems far-fetched,” Nation says.
Today, Nation leads a team that understands what he wants, and is willing to go the extra mile to receive an achievement.
Roughly 15 years ago, Nation’s shop was successful, bringing in 120 cars per week, but it seemed as though he couldn’t keep his head above water.
“I had people running everywhere and was thrilled to death that I was so busy all of the time, but I didn’t have money,” Nation says. “I thought to myself, ‘This has to be wrong.’”
After taking a course with a consulting company, Nation realized that, instead of keeping procedures internally, he had to start passing on knowledge to his team members.
“Believe me, I still like the place to run my way [because] it’s my shop,” Nation says. “I’ve learned to listen to people … people that work for me.”
As the business began to grow, it became difficult to get everyone on the same page as Nation. Although he felt his team was in good communication with one another, it seemed as though certain tasks were not viewed as priority, and getting staff members to see the importance of the task was an issue.
For instance, Nation’s accountant suggested the business clean up scheduling by switching over to a time clock. After informing staff members about the change, he found that nothing was being done—employees continued to not punch in the moment they got into the shop.
In order to get his team to listen, he had to find some way to be heard.
“I couldn’t get the guys to comply,” Nation says. “I needed them to comply and get the timeclock down.”
When staff members aren’t following protocols, it can lead to issues that arise on the shop floor later down the road. And if he couldn’t get his employees to do something as little as use a time clock, how would he be able to get them to carry out larger projects?
Nation realized that simply directing his employees to do something didn’t work. Plus, doing so required him to have to monitor the staff for consistency—a task that siwmply wasn’t feasible, given his higher level role in the business.
Instead, he realized he had to take a more visionary leadership approach to the business and explain, reward and follow up.
While talking wasn’t working, Nation decided to try a different leadership approach for his employees. In the instance that an employee would follow suit with a task, Nation would reward the employee with a small prize in front of the group during the shop’s monthly Saturday meeting.
The action was inspired by his assistant who informed Nation that an employee had done really well using the timeclock.
“One guy that worked for me went a whole month and didn’t miss a punch,” Nation says. “He did a perfect job and my assistant brought this to my attention.”
Since the first few years of the shop opening, the business met on a Saturday to work, go over numbers, and collectively meet as a team—it was the perfect opportunity to congratulate the employee, Nation realized.
“When it came up to the Saturday meeting, I took a piece of Almond Roca wrapped in a foil and helium balloon and tied the string [to the piece of candy],” Nation says. “I gave it to the guy and said, ‘I want you guys to know that he did not miss a punch,’ and they gave him a hard time, but that became a big thing.”
While small, Nation found that the initiative encouraged employees to try harder, even if it simply resulted in being in the spotlight for a few minutes and receiving a piece of candy tied to the balloon. It inspired them, made them work harder, and allowed Nation to see who was performing well above others.
The leadership tactic happened three years ago, and since the first prize, Nation has seen an increase in his employee’s productivity, as well as overall willingness to go the extra mile. Not only are employees listening to Nation, but he’s able to identify employees who are often not recognized for the prize.
“One guy, in particular, his skills were good but he was not getting it done,” Nation says. “He worked next to an older guy who was constantly telling him what to do, and the older guy left and I changed the racks and moved everybody.”
After moving the employee, the employee has improved his productivity by 50 percent.
“It just goes to listening to people,” Nation says. “[When I] gave it to my employees, it showed me what their personalities were.”
When Nation hopes to change something in the shop, the recognition is tied to it, pushing employees to work harder and receive the recognition.
“It does affect them; they like it a lot and I see where they are at the end of it,” Nation says. “They want to know how close [they] were and it’s engaging them and it improves their productivity and that’s what I’m looking—I need them to push a little bit harder.”
The competition brings the team together, Nation says.
“I think everybody likes it and we try to include everyone [in the victory], and I try to work with them,” Nation says. “It puts them in front of me, but really what I think does it here is the engagement; the fact that I talk to everybody here [and] I make sure that everybody knows that this is what they did and this is how we get there, and that is what I need from you to get there.”
While the competition is a small aspect that has motivated employees to work harder in their roles, it’s important to have a team that is willing to go above and beyond for your shop’s vision. For Nation, it’s all about communicating your expectations and ensuring that you hired the right talent for the role.
“Whenever you hire an employee, you take responsibility for that person as long as they’re willing to buy into your example and buy into what you’re willing to do,” Nation says.
As an employer, it’s essential to ensure you are not only setting reachable goals for your shop, but ultimately catering to employees, Nation says.
“You need to be responsible for that person and they need to feel it; if they feel that you are giving them what they need in their life, if you can get them to see that you do care about them, that’ll build some loyalty that is outstanding,” he says.