by David Rogers

As published in MotorAge Magazine

It’s no secret that we’re facing a technician shortage in our industry.

I could write an entire article on why we’re facing this shortage and how to overcome it, but the truth is, finding and retaining quality employees has always been a challenge for shop owners.

While there are some amazing things shops are able to do using technology to make employees more effective and efficient, the keys to finding and keeping those employees is unchanged: we have to create a culture that quality employees want to be a part of, we have to hire and train the right way, and we have to empower and incentivize them to become a valuable part of our team.

These goals all work hand in hand. Building a culture of success and a team of winners both start with the same first step: finding employees who want your shop to succeed.

Lay the groundwork early

This starts with the very first stage of the hiring process.

During the hiring phase, it’s critical to effectively screen your candidates as thoroughly as possible. The biggest thing you’re looking for? Character.

You can teach someone how to change a tire or an air filter, but one thing you can’t teach an employee is how to be a good person – an honest, hard-working person who will be an asst to you and your shop.

Quality people are an invaluable natural resource, and just like drilling for oil, you need to put in a good amount of time and effort to obtain them!

You should always use a set of written questions when conducting initial job interviews – you need to have consistency in what you’re asking the various applicants you’re sorting through. The more questions you can ask, and the more you’re able to learn up front, the better.

In addition to learning about their work history and experience, you’ve got to look for red flags.

Do they waver when you ask them about having an up-to-date ASE certification? Red flag. Are they reluctant to explain why they left their previous job? Red flag. Do they immediately ask about your recreational drug use policies? Red flag.

The more interviews you do, the better you’ll get at identifying who will be a motivated, hard-working staff member and who will be a liability.

Remember – be selective. When I was hiring tech at Keller Bros. Auto Repair in Littleton, Colo., I’d typically interviewed one out of every 10 candidates and hired one out of 100. Obviously, not everyone has that luxury in their market, but you should be as picky as possible.

Train, train, train!

Once you’ve hired a new employee, you should spend as much time as possible training them doing the first couple of weeks. A new employee needs to learn both the what and why of your processes and procedures.

You need to explain the reasons why your shop does things a certain way, especially if they’re veterans of other shops and have picked up some bad habits at some point in their career.

For example, at our shop, we do a thorough inspection of every car we service, no matter what the car came in for. The reason? If that customer gets in an accident after leaving our shop, we could end up liable (the law has proven this time and time again).

Some techs don’t want to do more work than they absolutely must, but this is a policy we insist on. Teaching that new tech why you have your policy, how that policy protects them, and even how that policy increases their paycheck are all critical parts of creating motivated team players.

For service writers, making sure they fully understand your shop’s policies and procedures is even more important.

Having an advisor who works on the front lines of your business not completely aware of your shop’s procedures will cost your customers and money. I’ve seen it time and again in hundreds of shops.

Your shop’s communication flow and policies need to be made crystal clear. What are the shop’s hours? What time should employees clock in and out? What is your dress code? What is the policy on cell phone use during business hours? All these things need to be issued in writing and discussed with new staff members on their very first day.

Disciplinary guidelines should also but outlined early in an employee’s tenure with your shop. How many strikes an employee receives, what the penalties are for various offenses – all these things should be clearly expressed.

Just as important is enforcing those policies and procedures. The second you see an employee breaking policy, it needs to be corrected. It helps your team understand that your policies aren’t suggestions – they’re a critical part of making sure your shop runs efficiently and safely and makes everyone money.

(Em)power up

In addition to having your policies and procedures outlined and explained meticulously, you need to establish a culture of employee empowerment that new hires can buy into once they’ve been trained properly.

Measurement is a key part of this. Measuring your team’s performance helps you retain good employees, plain and simple.

Imagine playing a game of football where you can’t see the field and don’t know the score. You probably wouldn’t play, would you?

This is how winners think. They want to be measured. They want to be held accountable. In no small part, because measurement should go hand in hand with an incentive-based pay plan that rewards their achievements.

There’s a big caveat here: incentive-based pay plans aren’t something to play with lightly. Incentivizing the wrong number or using the wrong benchmark can ruin an employee and destroy a shop.

Set a good example

If honesty, integrity and dedication are the traits you’d want your employees to have, you must show them yourself. Be open, direct and fair with your staff and they’ll follow your lead.

If things do start to slide, you need to take ownership of the cultural changes that are harming your shop’s productivity. Recommit yourself to staying more on top of the day-to-day happenings of your business and make sure this is broadcast loudly for all to know.

Good leadership, good hiring/training procedures and good measurement/incentive systems are the keys to finding, hiring and retaining a motivated team…now motivate yourself to make it happen!

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