Empowering Employees

Nov. 1, 2015
Hire the right people, train them, and then get out of their way

In his classic book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins identifies how some companies go from being good companies to becoming great companies. Among the many reasons outlined in the book, the one thing that stands out over the rest is this one statement: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.” Although I agree with this statement, I’d like to add my own assessment: Once you have the right people in the right seats, train them properly and then get out of their way.

A few years back, Mike, one of our service advisors, was speaking to a customer about replacing the timing belt on his Toyota. I walked in on the tail end of the conversation, and heard the customer say, “Mike, let me think about it and get back to you.” This was a longtime customer and his decision to wait on the timing belt was unacceptable to me. So, I walked over to the customer and said, “Hank, I couldn’t help overhearing your decision to wait on the timing belt. I have to tell you, I wish you would reconsider that decision. The timing belt is overdue for replacement and if it breaks, you could be looking at a lot of money to repair a damaged engine.” Hank looked over at Mike and said, “You’re right, Joe, let me schedule the job.” I felt great until I turned and saw Mike staring at me with eyes as big as saucers. If his eyes were weapons I would be dead now. In an instant I knew that what I did was completely wrong.

Mike is an outstanding service advisor. He is well trained, self motivated and loyal. Mike also understands his personal goals and the goals of the company. He knows exactly what we need with regard to sales and our commitment to deliver worldclass service. While his approach may not be exactly the same as mine in all cases, he is very competent and effective. What I did was wrong. I took Mike’s legs out from under him. I should have stayed out of his way.

Later that day, I pulled Mike aside and apologized to him. I will never do that again. When you have the right people in the right position, you need to give them control over their own destiny. It’s actually more than control—it is trust that they will perform at their personal best. If you make people accountable and responsible for their position, you also need to get out of their way and let them perform.

You might be thinking, “But what if Mike couldn’t sell the job?” Well, we will never know that. But what’s equally important is what Mike is feeling inside. If the job was sold, it would have been his win, not mine. If it wasn’t sold, Mike would take that as a failure and an opportunity to learn from it. He would work hard to improve. Either way, Mike understands that he is accountable for what happens, whether it’s a win or a loss.

Think of it this way: If I were to step in on every sale that Mike has difficulty with, what does that tell him? It tells him I really don’t trust his abilities. It also sends a message that although I am holding him accountable and responsible for his position and his sales numbers, I don’t have confidence he can achieve it. Plus, I can’t be there every minute of the day either. By the way, there is a time and a place to review customer declines. It’s not in the heat of the moment. You formally meet with the advisor and review both the successes and challenges, and discuss ways to improve.

What’s the alternative to this concept? You end up micromanaging every decision and everything your employees do. You will pull your hair out and put out fires all day long. Sound familiar? When the day consumes you to a point where you are involved in every decision and have to micromanage everything that happens, you either have the wrong employees or the problem is with you.

It all starts with the right people, but doesn’t end there. As shop owner, you need to be a mentor to your employees: work on their strengths, empower them with the ability to make decisions and build a work environment where everyone feels that what they do truly matters to their personal success and the success of the company. Do this, then please, get out of their way.

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 [email protected]

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