Another year has flown by and it’s hard to believe that 2017 is about to be in the books. We’ve had a great year and formed a lot of new relationships while being able to enjoy time with our friends and family. Each year, it seems like we get to the end of the year and look back wondering how time could have flown so fast. Or at least I do anyways. Growing up, I remember hearing from my elders about how time flies by faster each year and I think that I’m finally starting to grasp what they were talking about. You get busy in your day to day life and quickly zip through the years without stopping to smell the roses.

For Technicians, this is even more true. While each day brings a different challenge in terms of the actual repairs being made, it can get monotonous going into the same shop each and every day. Other than test runs, Techs don’t make it out of the shop very often and this can often lead to boredom. If you pair that with poor leadership, you get a very unmotivated and unhappy employee. There are even cases where there’s fine leadership but the goals set from a corporate level don’t hit home with the Tech. For this reason, I highly recommend that all Techs figure out what is important to them and to set a solid goal for it.

Why Set Goals?

While a Technician is often stuck with things they can’t control such as their Manager and their environment in general, there are some really powerful things a Tech can do on their own to change the course of their career. Too often, I think that we let things outside of our control consume us. My plea to each and every Tech out there is to not let somebody else control your happiness. It’s very easy to place blame for unhappiness on an irresponsible Manager, a dirty shop or selfish coworkers. I want 2018 to become the year that we stop being victims and take control of what you want in your life and career. My wish is that Techs take this seriously and continuously drive themselves to be better Technicians and people. Simply put, I want 2018 to be the Year of the Technician. I believe that having a good feel for where you’re at in your career and understanding where you want to go can help you do this. Once you know this, goals are simply a way to drive performance…regardless of circumstances outside of your control.

Understand Where You’re At

The foundation for setting goals that have huge impact is understanding where you’re currently at. For this, you have to truthful with yourself. It’s easy to paint a picture that looks better (or worse) than what reality is. As a Tech, numbers can be your friend with telling a true story. It’s easy to get into the mindset that Management is trying to screw you over and this makes you discount the value in those numbers. Regardless if Management is screwing you over or not, they’re more than likely going to be consistent in the way they handle you and therefore, you should be able to use these numbers as a baseline. If Management doesn’t currently share numbers with you, it would be worth your time to sit down with them to explain why you want them.

You may be asking yourself “what numbers?”. Typically, your shop should be generating some type of performance numbers regardless of their size. Some examples of numbers that can be used as baselines can be efficiency, productivity, rework, labor sales dollars per month and many others. Your Management may already be setting some of these goals for you but I feel like it’s important to have goals outside of them. In order for this to work, it’s critical to figure out what means the most to you and find a number to set as a baseline. Ultimately, you’re competing against yourself on a daily fight for self improvement.

On top of this, not all goals need to be related to your day to day duties. Maybe you want to learn more about soft skills that can lead to a promotion into the office. If that’s the case, you’re going to want to brush up on some training classes or books. Even in that case, it’s important to tie a number to it. A great example of this goal would be to “Read One Book on Self Development per Month for 2018″.

 

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time” – Zig Ziglar

 

Understand Where you Want to go

Another key to setting goals is to understand what achieving the goal will mean to your development. You should know where you want to be in 5 years prior to setting your yearly goals as annual goals need to drive your long term desires. If you’re goal is to work your way into a Service Management role, you might want to pick up a book or two about Management. If you’re goal is to become a Shop Foreman, you better know how to answer difficult technical questions. At this point in the goal setting process, it’s also key to understand who you are as a person. Do not lie to yourself here. If you don’t like to deal with people, a move to the office is not a smart move for you.

Use the SMART Method

I was taught this a long time ago and it is still very effective. As an acronym, each letter means something and makes it very easy to remember. I’ll briefly dive into what each of them mean but the most important thing to remember is that your goals must do everything that the acronym lays out in order to be effective.

 

S – Specific

Nothing vague. You need to state exactly what you want to achieve. Leave the fluff out of this!

M- Measurable

This is why numbers become so important. What would the point of playing a football game be if you didn’t keep score? You need a way to measure whether you’re winning the game or not.

A – Achievable

It’s important that you have full control over your goal. This helps avoid excuses when other people don’t live up to your expectations of them. Tough goals are hard to reach as it is, so make sure that you can actually accomplish what you’re setting out to do.

R – Realistic

If you’re a Tech and your goal for the next year is to become the President of your company, you’re probably not being all that realistic. Maybe in special cases but not in most as it takes a lot of experience and training to get to the point to where you’d be competent…but that’s also the point. Even if your long term desires are that grand, using realistic steps to consistently gain traction on your overall goal is important.

T – Timely

Deadlines spur action. Meaning that having a date put down on paper should have some bite to it. Lot’s of people fall into the trap of  “This year, I’m going to do “name that goal here”. Put a date down and religiously pursue completion of your goal prior to your deadline. If it’s an annual goal, break it down into months, weeks and even days to ensure you’re consistently pursuing your goal.

 

If you’ve read this far, I can tell that you’re probably pretty serious about making your goals come true. This isn’t just a line of corporate BS either…this stuff works.  There is something about a goal that is written out that works. Do NOT wait for Management to do this for you.  Put it down on paper and good things happens.

There are a couple of things that the acronym doesn’t cover but that I highly recommend.

Make sure your goal is visible – The only way that you’ll continually stick with your goal is to have it slap you in the face on a consistent basis. Post a note on your toolbox, set reminders for yourself in your calendar or whatever it takes. Consistency day in and day out are going to be what make big things happen for you.

Tell someone – Find somebody that will listen to you and not judge you. Make sure to explain why the goal is important to you and ask them to hold you accountable to it.

Make it hurt – You should reward yourself for a job well done and make it painful for yourself should you miss out on your goal. Been eyeing up that new Snap-On box? Good. Put a goal down and DO NOT buy it until you meet the goal.

I’ve written other articles about how important it is for us to change the perception of Technicians and Mechanics. Properly setting goals that blow away what the shop is asking you to do is a great way to drive this positive perception.

 

Thank you to everybody that made 2017 such a great and memorable year for us. I really believe that we’re helping to push the industry in a positive direction and am hopeful that this continues. We have so many great and talented people in this industry, and I admire so many of you for what you do. As for my last message of 2017…Don’t settle in 2018. It’s time to take charge of how people view us and command the respect that Techs and Mechanics everywhere deserve. Let’s make 2018 “The Year of the Technician”.

 

Cheers!

 

Jay Goninen

Find A Wrench & FindAMechanic.com

There is no question that finding Techs is getting harder by the day and almost every shop that I talk to is hunting for people with the same skill set.  While the demand is on a constant trend upward, the trend of people entering the work force is headed the opposite direction. I recently read that each day, 10,000 people are retiring and only 6,000 are entering back in.  To put this in perspective, we are losing 4,000 people a day…and that means that we’re losing nearly 1.5 MILLION people each year. It’s not only going to be tough to find skilled people to find these roles, it’s going to be difficult to find workers for any job.

This puts even more pressure on shops to do a great job in selling themselves to potential employees. The tide has changed in a sense that there is simply not enough people to fill every available seat. This puts a lot of leverage in the hands of the Technicians to choose a shop that fits their personal style and a business that best allows them to reach their personal goals.  Because of this, shops need to be on their game when trying to sell their job opportunity to a game changing employee.  In working with shops every day, I’ve been able to see where great shops are able to knock the socks off of candidates. What’s funny is that most times, the things that stick out are very easy to implement and execute yet very few shops do it.  You can easily stand out from the crowd by doing the following and none of them cost anything except time.

  1. Have an Onboarding Process
    1. It’s easy to say that you don’t have time to complete an onboarding process but it is extremely important to put one together. You look so much more organized to an individual if a process is laid out in advance. You should develop a checklist of what needs to be covered should the recruit decide to choose your team.  Always know what your next steps will be!
  2. Clearly Communicate Goals and Objectives
    1. A common complaint from employees is that they don’t know what the expectations are for them and then get chewed out because they aren’t producing.  As Zig Ziglar once famously said, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time”.  The same goes for your employees and potential employees.  More and more, potential employees are looking for expectations up front to ensure they can meet the standards that are set for them.
  3. Understand what the candidates aspirations are
    1. We’re seeing this more and more as the younger generations come up and I can’t say as if I blame them. Most employees want to have the opportunity to grow and if they feel like they are going to have limited opportunities with your company, they are going to head for greener pastures quickly.  The average tenure for a Millennial is around 4 years. Rather than be surprised when they leave, sit down with them a few times a year to understand what they want for their future and what they are looking for. I personally feel like this needs to be scheduled ahead of time or it won’t happen.  And it needs to happen multiple times a year because their wants and needs can sometimes change frequently.
  4. Be transparent in communication with them
    1. Simply put, if they feel like you’re hiding something from them, they will never trust you…and when you’re trying to get somebody in your doors, it means they won’t come work for you.  Most potential employees can feel if there is a struggle in the shop or they might have heard about a strife from somebody outside the company. If there is something unique about your company, be up front with them.
  5. Prompt Responses
    1. This may be my biggest pet peeve. Many times, we’ll work our tail off trying to track down that perfect employee for you. We’ll gauge the interest of the employee and work with them to see if there might be a fit even prior to sending the candidates info along to a dealership. We’ll go through our entire process and then have to beg and plead to get any type of communication from the shop.  First off, you give the candidate the impression that you really don’t care about them.  Not a great way to start.  Secondly, you make them question whether that would be a shop that they can see themselves growing with.  If you’re that unorganized when courting someone, how are you going to treat them after they’ve been there for 5 years? This is something that you can easily control and it speaks volumes about your business.
  6. Clear next steps
    1. Clearly identify what the next steps in the interaction are going to be. Who calls who and when. When will you make the decision on whether to offer the position or not? Put yourself in their shoes and understand what they might want to hear.
  7. Think of yourself as a Recruiter
    1. And lastly, many of these candidates hold all of the leverage and your mindset has to change from what you’re used to. Think of yourself as a College Football Coach.  If there is a big time recruit coming out of High School, you’re going to send letters, attend their games, get close to their families and do anything that you can to persuade them to come play football for you. In this scenario, do you think that you’d struggle to return their calls or not make them a priority?  Of course not. Your livelihood depends on you winning games and this individual will help you do just that.  Well, it’s no different in the service game.  Great Techs are your path to winning this game and I can confidently say that you won’t without them

 

Each of these ideas cost nothing more than your investment of time but can have a huge impact on how your business is perceived. With that being said, I encourage you to implement each of them into your business right away.  I should also mention that this just isn’t for people you’re trying to recruit into your business. Most of these should be used with your current employees as well, as this shortage in skilled workers is only going to get worse and employee retention is as difficult as ever.

If your serious about putting your shop in a position to win, these steps are needed. After all, you’re most likely going to have to answer the question of “Why would I work for you”. The points listed above should help you with your answer.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a consistent trend where shops will magically turn their best Technician into a mediocre and ineffective Manager. In the process, they not only lose their top producer in the shop, they are stuck with inferior management.

The story typically starts with a retirement, firing or resignation of the prior Manager that leaves a huge hole effecting everybody in the building. Calls aren’t returned, appointments are double booked and nobody has a clue as to what’s going on. As frustration levels rise, it becomes apparent that this job needs to be filled right away. As most businesses do, upper Management starts to look for internal options to fill that hole. The obvious choice becomes clear. “The Lead Tech”.

After all, The Lead Tech knows the business. He’s worked on everything that comes in the door and understands the technical side to answer questions. On top of that, he’s known most of the customers for years and has the respect of the people in the shop. The answer couldn’t be more obvious.

At the same time, The Lead Tech starts to ponder the changes that he’d make should he ever wind up in that seat. “The shop would be a hell of a lot cleaner, I’ll tell you that”, he’ll think. He starts to dream about the thought of running his own shop and instead of being “The Lead Tech”, he’ll now be the “Top Dawg”, the “Boss Man”, the “Leader of the Pack”. He’ll make the changes he’s always thought were needed and all will be right in the world.

Now, lets fast forward to a year after “The Lead Tech” takes the job. He’s miserable. In the process of getting screamed at for the third time today by an angry customer, he is getting frustrated by the line of Techs waiting out his window for their next job to be assigned. He stares over at a stack of work orders that have yet to be closed and can’t stop thinking about the list of customers that haven’t paid their bills. He starts to hear the grumblings of his former buddies in the shop, too. This is no longer fun. Simply put, he’s overwhelmed and starting to question his decision.

The scenario that I’m describing is all too common.

So, where is the disconnect and why isn’t an employee as great in a role that’s perceived as similar? It’s because the roles themselves couldn’t be any different. One position is rewarded for putting the blinders on and the other has to be a leader with the ability to multi task. From my experience, I’ve noticed a few traits that I view as needs when a Tech makes the transition to the office. As I describe these characteristics, I’m also offering some recommendations that have helped me or I’ve seen help others in the past.

  1. Personality – This may be the biggest barrier to overcome for some. In the shop, a Technicians focus is on fixing whatever is in front of them. I think that the Service Manager position is often the toughest position in the entire business and the transition is one of the more difficult. The ideal person to take on such a role is unique, and sometimes rare. They need to be able to handle difficult customers, answer technical questions, manage a staff and sell work.  If inept at any of these, “The Lead Tech” will struggle to succeed with the transition. Identifying strengths is important for both the employee and employer.

Consider using some form of personality assessment test such as the DISC assessment to truly identify strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, you might want to consider taking this yourself to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Another resource is the book Strengths Finder 2.0. If you buy the book, they give you a link to take your own test. Understanding what drives them to do better and what drives them crazy can be very beneficial in your relationship with them.

An even easier way to evaluate if their performance would translate is to just watch them interact with their co-workers. Try doing this in a not so obvious way, too. People are smart and they can turn on the charm when you’re around. Get past this by being very involved with the Service Department…even more so than normal. The other people in the shop will tell you all you need to know on whether they are respected or not without you even having to ask.

2. Education/Training – The overwhelming majority of Service Managers have very little formal training. Scheduling, departmental planning, conflict resolution and sales techniques are rarely taught. Most times, the new Service Manager has plenty of talent but friction is caused when there is a perception of disorganization or that the individual isn’t “smart” enough to do the job. In my experience, they have been put in that chair because they were really good at something. The training offered needs to support the needs of that person specifically and they need to be ongoing. A lot of businesses are good at training for the first month. The best Dealerships and Shops continue that training every year, and lots of times, it’s focused on soft skills or areas where they may have not received training before.

There are a variety of different training programs that are offered by manufacturers you represent but you may want to look outside of that. Many Universities and Trade Schools offer classes that can help enhance leadership and management classes. It’s also important that the newly crowned Manager find a mentor to assist in answering questions and guiding through obstacles. I recommend this being somebody other than a direct Manager, although the Manager needs to know of the relationship to avoid confusion.

  • On a side note, do not force a mentor on an employee at any level. I’ve tried it in the past and it never seems to work…especially if they don’t like each other. The relationship needs to be organic.

3. Ability to have tough conversations – In any management position, there’s going to be tough conversations on a continual basis. Having the patience to listen to people’s problems and make decisions that could ruffle feathers are things that are tough to simulate until you’re in that position.

Consider reading the book Crucial Conversations or attending in person training. While nothing can substitute for experience when it comes to having that difficult talk with an employee, having tools to use during the conversation can be game changing. This is especially the case for somebody that might not be comfortable in tense situations.

4. Organization – I’ve worked with lots of Technicians that are great at what they do but are terribly unorganized. It’s really easy to spot this as well. Check out their toolbox and work area. Do they take pride in their areas of ownership? How well do they write up work orders?

Although this isn’t just limited to Service Managers, I once spoke with a hiring Manager who used to walk applicants out to their car and take a peak to see how clean it was. He said that it spoke volumes about their organization and, although I never tried it, always thought it was a great idea.

There are lots of other qualities that you could pick out but these are the most common traits that I’ve seen amongst people that have made a successful transition from the shop to the office. Have some people been able to cut it while missing out on some of these? Of course. I’m simply stating what has worked for me in the past as I hope it can increase your odds for success.

What about the people that have already made the transition from the shop to the office? Are they S.O.L? Not in the least…in fact, they now have the opportunity to do an assessment of their skills and try out what they learn right away. My advice to them would be to take a proactive approach to self development. Read books, take classes online and do whatever you can to better yourself. A lot of times, this isn’t natural for somebody coming out of a shop but if they grasp the impact it can have, it will change their perception of self improvement. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what they are and to adjust accordingly.

In the book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” by Robert Sutton, he lays out “The 11 Commandments for Wise Bosses”. For a new Manager (or any Manager for that matter) looking to assess their skills and trying to find some direction in their new role, here are the 11 Commandments as described in the book.

THE 11 COMMANDMENTS FOR WISE BOSSES

  1. Have strong opinions and weakly held beliefs.
  2. Do not treat others as if they are idiots.
  3. Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say.
  4. Ask a lot of good questions.
  5. Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance.
  6. Do not hesitate to say, “I don’t know”.
  7. Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone.
  8. Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong.
  9. Do not hold grudges after losing an argument. Instead, help the victors implement their ideas with all your might.
  10. Know you foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses.
  11. Express gratitude toward your people.

 

In conclusion, the transition to Management can be intimidating and overwhelming. It’s important that all parties involved remember this as you start out. Your title may change overnight but you don’t magically become a Manager. It takes patience as there is going to be a lot of learning along the way. Understanding this is going to be the key.

Have any stories from your experience to share? Feel free to share in the comments section or email me directly at jay@findawrench.com. Thanks for reading!

How often have you heard the statement that money can’t buy happiness? It’s an age old phrase that has been used for generations. Pay your dues, collect your check and live a simple life as this is the American Dream.

The only problem is, it doesn’t matter if it buys happiness or not. Money is still the number one factor in determining whether a potential candidate will make a switch to a new position. Regardless of what anyone says, the first thing a potential candidate asks when we contact them is still, “what does it pay”. I wouldn’t say that money is a factor for just the candidates, either. In discussions with shops, they make sure to prioritize how much they are willing to pay a Technician to make sure that they aren’t committing to something more than they can afford. In both cases, it may help to place yourself in the other persons shoes to understand what their priority is.

I’ll start with the perspective of the candidate. In many cases, these candidates are needing to support their families by providing them with insurance and enough money to pay the bills and feed the family. On top of that, they are responsible for purchasing tools needed to do their job. There’s a significant upfront investment involved to purchase these tools. It’s even tougher for Technicians as they start out as they are often making the least amount of money in the shop with the most amount of investment needed. Even with this, if a Tech asks for more money in a negotiation, they can come off as greedy or high maintenance.

On the other side of this, shops struggle being able to maintain any level of profit while having to pay higher wages. Techs see the labor rate and wonder what happens to the money between what the posted labor rate is and what they are being paid. In their mind, it just doesn’t add up. How can a shop make $100 per hour, yet they can only afford to pay me $20 per hour? There’s an $80 difference between the two? From a shop point of view, Techs fail to understand the expense that goes into overhead. Insurance costs haven’t gotten any cheaper, that’s for sure. We used to say that a Dealership that took home four cents on the dollar was doing a great job. FOUR CENTS! To top things off, it feels like none of the employees understand the liability that comes along with owning a business. One bad day and your shop could be the subject of an OSHA investigation and a lawsuit. Scary stuff!

So, what’s the solution? How do we pay Techs what the market values them at while maintaining profits needed to keep a shop in business? How do we get to see each others viewpoint?

This may be an unpopular view but I really believe that a lot of the leverage has shifted from the shops to the Techs. Not all shop owners or dealership principals are going to agree with this but I also think those might be the shops that watch while talented people go to their competitor. When it comes down to it, it’s simple economics in that there is not enough supply to fulfill the demand. The sooner that shops understand that Technicians need to be treated differently, the bigger the advantage that they will have moving forward. Techs are going to (already do) have an abundance of options and this shifts the pendulum of leverage to favor them.

Before you freak out, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing! This gives a shop a very clear path to dominate their market. Follow me here as I want to make you think. What if you were a clear leader for pay in your market? And when I say “clear leader”, you’ve got a reputation for being the best paying shop around. Do you think that you’d battle the key issues of turnover in your shop and trying to find quality candidates to fill your open positions? I don’t think so.

Take this a step further. Have you ever calculated how much lost revenue your shop has realized in the past year because of turnover and training of new employees? I think that many of you would be shocked at how much money goes into placing an ad on a job board or hiring a recruiting service. Funny thing is those costs don’t even get close to what you’re losing by not having a Tech turning labor hours to turn into billed hours. If you’re managing a shop, do NOT get lazy with this. Calculate those numbers and it will make the few dollars an hour extra that you’d pay a good Tech seem like small potatoes. Regardless, compare lost revenue to what additional money you’d have to pay to get a top of the line Tech.

How about when the shop gets slow? How are you going to pay for that Technician then? Well, any shop that I’ve been involved with that has top of the line Technicians is rarely slow. Word gets around pretty quickly and as time becomes more valued than anything else, getting a job done correctly the first time is going to become even more important. With that being said, let’s just say the shop does get slow by chance. This is a Management issue, not a Technician issue! Take a long look in the mirror as I’m guessing that you haven’t been as proactive in your planning and marketing as you should have been. When you’ve got thoroughbreds in the stable, you better damn well keep them fed!

When you’ve got thoroughbreds in the stable, you better damn well keep them fed!

This brings me to my next question. How much could you afford to pay a top of the line, do anything Tech? Many of you calculate gross margin for your Service Department but have you ever calculated your break even point of a Technician? What I mean by this is, have you ever calculated what the maximum rate you could pay a Technician would be and still break even at your current labor rate? If not, I’d highly recommend that you do this. It is a great exercise in making you think about your wages and to truly know what you could pay somebody. Is it likely that you’ll pay somebody that number? Probably not. But it makes you much more comfortable paying a bit more for a quality Service Technician.

Once you know what the maximum wage you could ever pay a Technician while still breaking even, you can start to work down from there. I’m going to run your through some key things to look at when determining what you should pay a Technician.

  1. Understand what the market is demanding – Do you know what your top 5 competitors are paying? If not, you can start by listing out who those top 5 competitors are and then invest a little bit of time in figuring out what they are paying. Where do you rank amongst your competitors? This is a really easy way to establish a baseline of what you need to pay. I’ll let you in on a little secret. if you’re toward the bottom of that list, you’re making life much more difficult on yourself than you need to.
  2. Know your numbers – Would you ever sell a car, truck or piece of equipment without knowing what you paid for it? I don’t think so. Why in the world would you hire somebody without knowing what they’d need to produce, at the agreed upon salary, in order to pay for themselves.
  3. Don’t pay based on what others in your shop make – This is a hot button topic and it should be. Unless you’ve been in this position, you have no idea what kind of headache is created when a new employee is paid more than a long term employee that’s been there for you over the years. It creates awful moral and doesn’t set the new employee up for much success because everybody hates them. I would challenge shops to think about this a bit differently. If the market is commanding that you pay more for a Tech than what anybody in your shop is making, this clearly tells me that you’re not paying your current employees enough. You can easily turn your head to this but don’t be surprised when you find yourself down a good Technician or two in a month. These guys are not naïve and they know how the market values them. Per the point made in item number 1, why not take the money that you’d give away trying to source new employees and stick it into the ones that you’ve already got? Seems like a much easier way to do business to me!

If you truly sit down and work through the numbers, I really believe that paying your Technicians at a top level will give you a significant advantage. I rarely see a business that doesn’t promote people as a primary factor in why you should do business with them. If your level of pay falls short of your competitors and what the market bears, the primary reason to do business with you fades away.

Keep your eye on the pulse of the employment market. If your shop falls short of that, fix it quickly or you risk being blown out by the competition.