5 Ways Shop Managers Ruin Good Techs

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Why Is It So Difficult to Find Good Mechanics?

There once was a famous garage owner who achieved fame as a NASCAR mechanic and engine builder. Self-educated, and a former military pilot, he was so brilliant that OEMs hired him as a technical consultant. But he eventually closed his garage, saying there were “no more good mechanics” to hire.

If you know the story, you recognize that as a popular quote attributed to Smokey Yunick. Despite Smokey’s complaint about good mechanics being hard to find, thousands of great techs have been repairing trucks and cars for decades since his lament. So, what was it that Smokey, despite his high level of intelligence, did not know?

Management is Succeeding Through Other People

As with many highly skilled people, Yunick did not understand how to get other people to ‘want to do what he wanted them to do.’ In a nutshell, that is the science of leadership, and a hallmark of good management skills. Let’s look at some common ways that shop owners create problems with techs.

Assigning Work Orders to the Wrong Skill Level

Wouldn’t it be nice if every tech you hired could do any repair on any vehicle you take in? Those days are long gone, given the complexity of today’s cars. Every tech you hire will have his or her strong areas as well as weak areas of talent. Mismatching work to skill level is a poor management practice that slows productivity. You breed frustration and lose good techs when you create work systems that mismatch human labor to tasks.

How can you tell which mechanical areas tech are good in, and identify the areas in which they have room to grow? Trial and error, with the resulting comebacks, is a lousy system for evaluating technician capabilities. The ASE eight basic CMAT exams area a better indicator of skill levels.

Have all your new hires take all eight ASE tests. Pay the test fees for them if you have to. Then use the results to match talent to repairs. Like a skilled military leader does, it is good practice to match your human resources to the tasks at hand. Make sense?

Having No Formal System Training in Place

If you can realize that your management decisions might be causing some of your technician problems, then you can take steps to eliminate the problem issues. Institute some weekly training. It could be as simple (and free) as finding articles and trade literature for your techs that shed light on their weak areas.

Many techs struggle with electrical and electronic systems. How about sending them to a local trade school at night for some classes in that?

An even greater benefit of training is that it makes your techs feel important and valuable. If you studied psychology in college, you know that all humans have an inner motivation to seek out recognition and appreciation. Recognize that as a valid need of theirs, then meet it, or lose techs. It’s your choice.

Not Providing the Information Needed to Repair Today’s Vehicles

Yes, repair information is expensive, but losing talented techs is much more harmful to your profits. If you investigate why comebacks and misdiagnoses are happening in your shop, you will find that the fault in many cases is a lack of relevant, complete and timely repair information.

People can tolerate only so many errors before they start looking for employment elsewhere. Then when you hire their replacement the problems start all over again for you. It’s better to attack the root of the problem directly. Smarter too.

Poor Soft Skills – Wasting Tech’s Talents

Face it, some of your customers would rather talk with the tech who will be working on their car than to discuss their mechanical issues with you. It’s normal. So, put aside your ego, and let your techs and your customers transact business more efficiently.

Identify those techs who are good at talking with clients, as well as those who are not. Allocate those soft skills when necessary, as situations present themselves. If you don’t do that, and insist that every piece of customer communication always flows through you, then you are creating a ‘bottleneck’ of communication. Miscommunications and trouble will follow. And you will eventually burn out from the stress.

Stop Punishing Your Techs

  • The flat-rate pay system is antiquated. If you want techs to commit 40 hours a week, or more, to your business than you have to commit some money to them in return. Yet few techs have any guarantee of minimal earnings in place.

As a manager, you have the responsibility to become skilled in marketing and advertising. It takes time and effort, to learn how to attract a steady stream of new customers to your shop. Penalizing techs, making them go without earnings when business is poor, is making them suffer for your lack of marketing skills. Think about it.

  • Every tech meets people socially. Do you have business cards printed for each tech, so he or she can proudly hand them out? It’s cheap advertising, and very profitable. Do you pay an enhanced commission when techs bring you new business like that? If you don’t pay your techs for that financial benefit, then they won’t give you the benefit of new business.
  • Are your shop’s work hours inflexible? Some techs would rather come to work an hour or two early, and then leave early to pick their children up from school. Likewise, other techs might have a difficult time dragging themselves to work on time every day, but would be very happy to work past normal closing times, if they had the choice.

Rather than forcing everybody to work on your personal schedule, why not accommodate them as reasonably as possible? If you’ve been thinking about having extended shop hours to facilitate more customers’ busy schedules, and to compete better in the market, this might give you the opportunity to do that.

Don’t Be Like Smokey

Good management means bringing out the best in each of your techs. That’s why it is called human capital, because their talents and willingness to work for you have monetary value. Don’t waste that capital..

Check out our article on how to keep technicians happy, loyal & productive

How to Keep Your Technicians Loyal, Happy and Productive

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Getting the Most out of Your Shop’s Employees

Larry has always paid his techs above average flat-rate commissions. In fact, he pays the highest commission rate of all the shops in his area. Larry prides himself on that and has always believed that money is the biggest motivator of people.

But despite the generous pay plan Larry’s techs eventually leave to work at other shops. Even the best ones leave. That hurts his business. Why does Larry have this recurring problem?

 

Learn the True Things that Motivate People

Decades of research into human behavior has shown that money is a poor motivator in the workplace. Money does not encourage loyalty from employees, as Larry has discovered, and it certainly does not motivate workers to strive for excellence.

Other things motivate people more than money does. Ignoring those things, or even trampling on them, can be disastrous, as Larry is experiencing. But nurturing those aspects of human behavior can yield great results for your shop. Let’s look at three basics of motivation and examine some easy ways you can apply them in your shop.

auto repair shop employee retention

People are Born Motivated to Succeed – Acknowledge That Fact

Years ago a scientist named Maslow asserted that people are born with three innate motivations. We all are driven to survive physically, to belong, and to feel important, in that order. I am simplifying this a lot, but you can Google ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ for more detail. It’s very interesting.

If your techs, then, come to you already motivated to achieve success, to be productive, and to become an important part of your business, what makes them leave? Simple. The way you run your business is demotivating them. Let’s see what might be wrong.

 

Our Basic Motivation – The Drive to Survive

Starting from earliest time, humans have been born with an inner drive to eat, to have proper clothing, adequate shelter and all the basic necessities of life. That means that every tech you hire already wants to earn enough money to pay his rent or mortgage, and to buy food, clothing and medical care for himself and his family. Make sense?

If a tech is not earning enough money to provide all that for his loved ones, he is not lazy. If you hire intelligent, skilled techs but see them quit, the fault lies with your management methods. Do you hamper your techs’ productivity by making these three common mistakes?

  • Do you assign only one car at a time to each tech, when they can easily take responsibility for two or three vehicles and plan their own work flow?
  • Do your techs have a lot of dead time in each day, like when they have to wait for each new assignment or for you to sell the work? Keep them busy instead. Learn how to delegate your work flow better and then trust your techs to get it done.
  • Do you avoid asking customers to buy upsells that your techs recommend because you promise every vehicle finished by 6:00 pm the day of drop off? Learn to manage your customers better.

 

Our 2nd Motivation – Our Need to Belong

What is the culture like in your shop? You might have heard this famous management saying: “People don’t leave jobs; they leave people.” Let’s look at two ways managers strongly influence their shop’s culture: how they handle mistakes and how they provide training (or ignore it).

Mistakes; everybody makes them. When mistakes happen, though, is the standard operating procedure to make the tech feel embarrassed or inferior? Are the techs punished or penalized beyond having to make up the work at no pay? If so, then you are teaching your techs that they are not important to you. Don’t expect loyalty.

Why not use mistakes as an opportunity to improve your business? Learn why the mistake happened. Investigate what the tech was basing his diagnosis on. What unclear instructions or complaints did you receive from the customer, and how poorly did you communicate that information to the tech? What time pressure was making him or her rush through the diagnosis, what faulty equipment and information system (or lack thereof) played a part in the mistake? Many factors contribute to mistakes, and often much of the ‘blame’ falls on the work environment, and not entirely on the tech.

Training. Techs get into this field because they enjoy learning about cars. Why not incorporate some training into your weekly schedule? Find out what areas each tech is weak in and then teach them a little on that topic every week. Find journal articles that explain those topics, and give that reading material to your techs. Develop a culture of constant learning in your shop. Help your techs advance their skills and then watch how their attitude towards you improves.

 

Our 3rd Motivation – The Need to Feel Important

Admit it, some customers would rather talk to a technician about their car than try to explain it to you. Give your techs a role in customer service. Put your ego aside.

Also on that note, some of the best pricing and marketing ideas will come from your techs. For example, you could encourage them to suggest bundled service packages, and then you could post those specials in your waiting area.

Here is one example of bundle pricing. Rather than list your services a la carte on a menu board, try grouping related items together for a small package discount. You could advertise a tire balance and rotation, a road test, a steering and suspension inspection and a wheel alignment as a ‘Vibration and steering service,’ all for one price. That makes it easier for customers and better for you and your techs.

 

Summary

Learn the basics of motivation and profit from them. Stop doing things that demotivate your techs. Instead, build on the things that feed their inner motivation. They will be happier and you will be richer. If you’d like to speak to one of our experienced shop owners to receive actionable tips on how to get the most out of your employees, contact our auto repair shop consultants today!