Running a Shop How to Lead Leadership

Avoiding Sniper Management

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Motionless, in the prone position and concealed by tall grass, an elite marksman known as a sniper peers through his rifle scope. Slowly moving his weapon, keeping his eye fixed on a location off in the distance, he patiently waits until his target is in sight. Effortlessly, he moves the scope until the target is in his crosshairs and pulls the trigger. Another confirmed kill.

No, you are not reading an article on military tactics. My aim (pun intended) is to make a parallel and explain the pitfalls of what I call “sniper management.”

This is when you say very little to the people you employ. Your strategy is to essentially stay hidden, silent, waiting and waiting for someone to do something wrong, and when you find your target, you snap and pull the trigger. The result?  Another confirmed kill. Not a kill in the literal sense. Rather, sniper management kills morale, team spirit and production, which ultimately also kills business.

I remember my boss in the late 1970s, working at a Ford dealership. You rarely saw him. But when he did come out of his office, he would slowly creep around the shop, staring at the techs until he found something he could complain about. Then he would lash out in a rage. He had many confirmed kills. I never remember him walking over to any of us and asking how we were. He never made small talk with anyone. He was all about business and would purposely look for things to go wrong. He was a sniper manager.

As shop owners, we have a responsibility to the people in our company. That responsibility includes ensuring the success of the company and to provide an environment in which people have the opportunity to grow and excel. Also, shop owners need to know how to effectively manage people; and that involves proper communication. Too often our communication methods fail to promote a healthy environment for our employees. Many shop owners go about the day barely speaking to their employees other than to give orders, or even worse, the only time they address an employee is to reprimand and come down hard when things go wrong.

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Ask yourself, “Do I make an effort to seek out an employee to thank them and praise them for a job well done?” Do you engage in conversation with your staff and discuss things other than business? Or, do you go prowling the shop, carefully watching everyone, waiting for someone to make a mistake? Do you pick apart everyone’s work, looking for things to go wrong or get stuck on things that went wrong? Do you focus on the negative too often?  If so, you too are guilty of sniper management.

Sniper management ignores the accomplishments of the people in the company. It sends a negative message to everyone that what they do doesn’t really matter. In time, they give up. This is when low morale sets in and infects the entire shop like a disease; the results are poor production, low profits, quality issues and unhappy employees. And we all know that unhappy employees create unhappy customers.

When it comes to communicating and managing people, there is a better way.  Make an effort to find people doing things right. People like to be recognized and praised.

While there are times when reprimands are necessary, make them quick and to the point. Remain calm and explain the reason for the reprimand. Focus on the issue, not the person. Start every conversation with someone on a positive note and end the conversation on a positive note. Thank people often and let them know you truly appreciate their efforts. It makes no sense to verbally hammer someone. In fact, lashing out in anger and continuously concentrating on what goes wrong will have the opposite effect on what was intended. It will lead to indifference and animosity.

If we concentrate our efforts on the positive, and recognize the accomplishments of our people, the results will be extraordinary. Have meaningful conversations with your employees. If you do this, morale will improve, customer service will improve and profits will follow. Employees will begin to feel good about themselves, which will reflect in their work. Customers will also notice a positive change in the overall atmosphere of the shop.

The next time you step into the shop, stop and look around. Slowly walk through the bays. Scan and watch what everyone is doing. Wait until the opportunity arises and pull the trigger—and catch someone doing something right. 


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 jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com.

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