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Adapting to a Changing Industry

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The auto service industry is changing rapidly. New vehicle technology and trends have forced shops to adapt to change and start preparing earlier for future developments. But being aware of the need to change and actually doing it are two different things.

Many shop owners have difficulty leading and getting their staff onboard with changes, says Kevin Wolfe, founder of LeadersWay. As a 22-year veteran of the auto repair industry with more than 40 years of entrepreneurial experience, Wolfe works with business owners to develop their leadership skills.

Wolfe recently met with Ratchet+Wrench to discuss the importance of adapting to change and creating a sustainable business.


Why is adapting to change and getting your staff on board with change so important?

I think one of the more difficult things that shop owners have to understand is that we are in transitional times. And leadership is the only path to make that happen.

I was a mechanical shop owner for 22 years and the only way I could move into my current field was to develop my leadership skills. We had to find a way to get everybody involved in the shop because I wouldn’t be able to manage the changes to the economy and the technology that was being handed to shops. One of the biggest challenges we see in businesses that are out of control is a lack of leadership. I think that’s the underlying purpose as to why organizations will or won’t survive.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I used to work at my dad’s shop. In the wintertime, I would spend 75 percent of the time starting cars. That doesn’t happen anymore because cars have become more reliable. The change has to be toward preventative maintenance and how we take care of vehicles. If a mechanical shop operates out of the belief that they fix cars, they’ll starve. The logical side of our brain says, yes, I get that. But you can’t pluck yourself out of something you’ve behaved yourself into.


Why is it so difficult to effectively execute change?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s difficult for leaders to implement change, one being that, even if a group of people agrees that we need to move forward, it doesn’t mean it will actually happen.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort to change a thinking pattern and get an entire group of people changing the way we do things. There’s not enough work on the repetition and consistency necessary to change neural connections, which is what we’re doing when we’re trying to get people to change. Just think about New Year’s resolutions—it sounds like a great idea to get in shape, lose weight and go to the gym, but six weeks later, most people have stopped. That’s because a lot of people haven’t addressed their thinking toward dieting.

This industry is very similar: We know we can’t just keep fixing cars, we know we have to develop deep relationships with our clients, but we haven’t developed the habits to do that and we revert back to the old comfortable patterns.


What do you feel is the employee perspective on change?

A lot of this has to do with understanding where motivation comes from. I think it’s helpful to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which are to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. Those needs are in order from what people need to survive to what they need to thrive.

At the top is the need to leave a legacy. People want to know that their life matters. If you do research on sustainable companies, like Google, Apple or Amazon, they have a clear and compelling purpose. Often what I’ll say is that if you think you’re going to get the best from people because you fix cars, you’re delusional. We have to have a bigger reason why we’re there and why we’re making a change so our people will buy into what we need to make the business successful.


If you want to implement a change, how should you go about doing that?

First and foremost, I think it’s important to establish the language we use. It’s far too common to hear the words leadership and management intermingled. They’re two completely different functions. Leadership is about development; if you’re not developing people, you’re managing something. That could be managing processes, files, inventory, etc.

Leading is clearly about developing talent. The idea here is that it’s not a lack of resources, it’s our inability to tap into it. The people we need to make our business successful volunteer to walk through our doors every day. Leaders find ways to build relationships with each one of their people and find out their passions and where they want to be.

A recent Gallup poll about worker engagement found that of 100 million participants, 70 million admitted to being disengaged. Of those 70 million, 20 million admitted to being actively disengaged, which means they have the intent to make things worse for your company. They’re going to be negative and triangulate.

So that’s the work: How do we move that large group of disengaged employees to the rank of the 30 million that say they’re excited? Managers don’t have the capacity. It takes the skills of a leader.


How can shop owners start to get their employees on board with potential changes?

I look at it as two paths that businesses follow. First, it’s about getting to know their employees, where they are, where they could be, and what you can do to help them. The second piece is corroboration. How can I do everything in my power to get every member of this team working together? We have multiple exercises that illustrate the power of corroboration.

We have an exercise where we ask every person in the shop to describe every position in the business. You have the accounting department, the repair department, the customer service department. Their job is to tell the whole picture. Each part of that tells a piece of the story, so if you don’t understand the pieces, there’s no way you can understand the whole picture.

People will sit very quietly and detach until they’re involved. As soon as they’re involved in the picture and understand that their role matters, they’re engaged. What we pull out of that is that engagement follows involvement.

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