Most auto care centers have regular staff meetings, sometimes even every morning. But according to shop owners who swear by one-on-one meetings with their employees, those gatherings aren’t enough.
Individual sessions, they say, are where they can truly learn about an employee’s short- and long-term goals and challenges–both at work and at home.
At Done with Care Auto Repair in Merriam, Kansas, owner David Roman schedules recurring weekly meetings with his four technicians and one service advisor. He calls the closed-door, lunchtime appointments in his office “personal development interviews”.
The first part of each 30-minute meeting focuses on accomplishments, concerns, complaints, and ideas about shop operations. The rest is a free-ranging chat about the future: potential training and certification opportunities, budgeting concerns, investment options, family plans, hobbies, bucket list items, and much more.
“If we’re invested in them, they’re invested in us,” Roman says. “In my mind, the shops that will succeed in the next three to five years are the ones that can retain experienced, skilled technicians. Even if you can’t out-pay another shop, you can offer that personal connection and show employees that you want to help them grow as people.”
The sessions also have taken the pressure off him as a leader, he adds: “The thought that an owner has to come up with every thought or solution for a business is ludicrous. Empower your employees. If someone has a great idea, try it out or bring it to a group meeting.”
Rob Choisser, owner of Choisser Import Auto Services in Davidsonville, Maryland, aims to hold individual meetings with his 10 employees at least once every two weeks. Choisser, himself a former auto technician, wants them to feel their job is about more than a paycheck.
“If they don’t see a bigger purpose–if everything is just transactional – they’re not as likely to buy in,” he notes. “They’re also probably not going to handle stressful or busy days as well. To me, one-on-ones are vitally important to staying on the same page and staying cohesive as a team. If you feel someone cares about you, you’ll work harder.”
Both Roman and Choisser use group meetings very differently than one-on-one sessions, while never substituting one for the other.
Roman has a rule to discuss only positive points and celebrate wins during the larger gatherings, leaving the negatives to private conversations that have replaced annual employee evaluations at his shop.
If a single auto technician isn’t cleaning cars well before returning them to customers, for example, Roman covers that with the individual rather than bringing it up as a problem to the entire team.
“Otherwise, the morale of your top performers is going to come down, while the low performers get to hide,” he says. “You’ve just got to have the guts to have the honest, good-and-bad conversations with people, and to be clear about what you need.”
Constant communication should prevent skilled technicians from suddenly quitting a job out of stress or frustration, which is a major shock and financial burden for owners. Choisser likes to ask employees about their biggest “pain point” during the workday.
Past answers have included ineffective equipment, inconvenient locations for parts in the shop, and poor lighting in a work area. Once he is aware of an issue, Choisser checks to see if other staff have the same concerns and brainstorms fixes.
“If I were to ask that same question in a group, I’m more than likely just going to get silence,” he says. “No one will want to speak up.”
Employees also have time during solo meetings to share details on how they handled more difficult or unusual repairs. If Choisser thinks a particular job has lessons that would be valuable to all employees, he adds it to group meeting agendas.
Owners need to be careful to meet employees where they are in life, based on age and situation, he notes. If a young technician doesn’t have any one- or five-year goals, a leader can gently nudge him or her to set a few. Passing along information on industry certification courses and credentials also is advantageous to employers and employees alike.
A few more tips:
- Show up. Routinely canceling, postponing, or arriving late to meetings will make employees feel unimportant and resentful.
- Be a listener. Let the employee do most of the talking. Ask open-ended questions and turn off cell phones and email notifications.
- Focus on strengths first. People are more likely to accept constructive criticism after they have heard some positive feedback.
- Express gratitude. Say “thank you” on a regular basis.
- Explain the goal of meetings. Share with busy employees that setting time aside for regular one-on-one sessions will benefit them.
- Follow up. Check back with an employee to see if a concern has been addressed. Or, if they’ve requested information on topics such as continuing education or budgeting, connect them with resources and later ask for feedback.
- Be honest. Employees should always know where their boss stands by the end of a meeting. If they don’t, insecurity likely will affect their job performance.
For automotive care center owners who have never tried routine one-on-one meetings, there can be some awkwardness at the start, Roman notes. His advice: just keep putting the sessions on a calendar, develop a habit and never stop talking.
“Lean into it,” he says. “Push through the uncomfortable pauses. If you share, they’ll share back. They’ll open up with time.”