Hankook Tire America Corp. is working with the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) on the school’s Design Innovation 2020 project.
Most independent tire dealers get into the tire and automotive service business because they enjoy fixing vehicles or selling things. Many probably started working for a larger chain or their father/mother/grandparents and got pretty good at fixing and selling, so they thought, “I’d like to be my own boss doing this.” And they scraped together enough cash, took on enormous debt, and hung their shingle outside.
As their customer base grew, they found they needed help, and they set out to hire the best service techs and salespeople their town had to offer. As business grew, they spent less time doing the things they originally loved and more time managing the “HR” side of the equation. Like other independent dealers who have more than five employees and three bays, they quickly discovered that the “HR” side consumed a great portion of their week.
Handling personnel issues is not glitzy, glamorous, or exciting. It certainly doesn’t result in the rush of adrenaline that a good sale or a successful mechanical diagnosis generates. Some find human resources to be repetitive, and even boring. But knowing how to manage the HR function properly is critical. Let’s look at four major HR areas, which I will call “buckets.”
Bucket No. 1
The first major bucket is your hiring process. Ages ago, you could put a “help wanted” sign outside your store. Someone would eventually inquire, and you’d eyeball them, ask a few questions, and hire them on the spot. Many times they’d start working that day. You would never do that today, I hope. You wouldn’t get a response email from an online job website, and then read it and hire the person, right? When hiring, make sure that you engage in the following practices:
The questions written out ahead of time must be based on actual events in the candidate’s professional past. Don’t ask about how they think, how they feel about something, or about hypothetical futures. In other words, avoid questions beginning with, “Where do you see yourself in three years?” or “What would you do if you found money in a customer’s car?” or “How do you feel about doing oil changes?” or “Do you like working on cars?” These and similar questions fail to get at what’s important: Does the interviewee have the needed skill set and right frame of mind?
If you focus on the candidate’s history, his or her attitude toward that skill will show. If you ask a candidate directly about his or her attitude, most will be aware enough to provide an answer that “should” be said. When you ask about recent experience, the candidate will focus on recalling specific details, and his or her attitude will shine through in the answer.
If you haven’t kept up with recruiting and interviewing people, you will likely be desperate to fill an open position, which will lead you to put a halo on the very first person who responds to a help wanted ad. Don’t fall down that hole. Hiring is easy. Termination can be difficult and costly. Be difficult up front, ask the tough questions, and maintain your brand’s high standards. Would you let this person work on your mom’s car? Would you let this salesperson present an estimate to your neighbor?
Bucket No. 2
Training is the second bucket. You’ve created help wanted ads that speak to interested candidates, including the current 80-million-plus workforce known as millennials (see sidebar for more). You conducted interviews, asked good questions, and made your choice. Do not do what your grandpa, who started your dealership, did. Grandpa most likely adhered to the adage, “He’ll figure it out or he won’t. We’ll see in a few weeks.” That philosophy no longer serves a purpose. First, you’ll burn through good people quickly, and waste time and resources bringing people into the company. Second, you don’t have spare candidates to burn through in this market, where talent is a rare commodity. You must have an onboarding process — otherwise known as formal training. And that on-boarding process should include these few steps:
Walk the employee around your facility. Show him or her where the changing room is, as well as the lunch space, the fire extinguisher, the eye wash station, and the location of the cameras. Spend time with the new employee. Don’t make excuses that you don’t have time. You don’t have time not to do this. You’ve invested significant resources in obtaining this person. Don’t squander it. These are the requirements of running a successful business in the 21st century.
Training a new employee properly can take months. It seems like a lot of time, but the reality is it isn’t, and I’ll tell you why.
Humans can only absorb so much information at a time. Overload goes in one ear and out the other. Training should be limited, focused, and progressive. Teach in blocks, or break skills down to the component level. And very importantly, don’t move onto the next skill until the person has mastered the current one. This may inadvertently tell the employee that what they are doing now is acceptable. If you think training this way takes too long, I will argue that training the wrong way not only takes years, but it can cost you dearly in mistakes.
Bucket No. 3
The third bucket is career path transparency. Create milestones. You don’t need a ticker tape parade down Main Street every time a wiper blade is sold, but make sure you celebrate success.
First alignment performed (with printout!) by themselves? Announce it and applaud. Complete a manufacturer’s e-learning course? Announce it at the next meeting and celebrate.
The more positive reinforcement associated with completing steps, the more likely the employee will continue acquiring a skill. However, praise must be genuine and from the heart. Honestly congratulate employees on their success. Make eye contact and smile. Clap. It’s not rocket science, right?
Conversely, do not tolerate employee aversion to required training. Employees who refuse to take required training must be shown the consequences of their actions. No merit raises, no spiff eligibility, or any other equal-tiered punishment is required after an employee refuses to comply after having been given a few chances to make the effort.
Allowing the employee — any employee, not just new hires — to continue without penalty sends a strong message that training, growth and skill building are always optional. Employees usually choose the path of least resistance.
Establish hand-in-hand financial and HR-related rewards. Examples include: for every ASE certification you complete, you get a $xx.xx increase in base pay, and for certain ASEs you get a promotion (example: from general service to maintenance/repair tech to diagnostic tech to lead tech to master tech.)
On the sales side, it could be a progression from service advisor to professional service advisor to assistant manager to service manager to store manager. It doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, the less complicated, the better. Yet it must be spelled out, and employees need to understand that increased pay is a reward for following the path laid out by the owner and management. It’s simple, yet sophisticated.
Bucket No. 4
Discipline is the fourth bucket. Over the years of working with tire dealership owners and managers, I have found this area to be the single biggest challenge affecting the work environment.
Too often, the issue of employee discipline is avoided at first, with various reasons, like “I’m just too busy,” or “The employee’s skill set is too valuable to risk challenging their attitude,” or “It’s not a big deal,” and others. But little things have a cumulative effect.
It’s like a clogged artery. A few French fries here and there are not a big deal, but a few years of eating fries with every meal and your arteries clog and you could be a candidate for a heart attack.
The best recipe for employee discipline is addressing issues right away. Many times, a simple statement will be enough, such as, “I have to let you know that this behavior is unacceptable around here. Just don’t do it again, and we are fine.”
Then shake hands and maybe engage in a follow-up conversation once and again (everyone has their hot buttons) and it will never build. But when ignored, the beast grows.
And the consequences and emotional toll of a later conversation can become very dramatic. Soon enough, the employee could realize that he or she now has the owner over a barrel. The owner can’t lose the skill the employee brings to the table but can’t stand the employee’s bad behavior or attitude — and neither can the other employees. If the owner continues to allow the bad behavior, the good employees leave, and a doom cycle starts to appear. What should you do if you let bad behavior go on too long?
In addition, there must be something that you, as an owner or manager, can do. Since you were both part of the problem, have the employee think of something that you can change.
It could take the form of communicating with the employee more frequently or helping with some other issues. The only rule here is you can’t take responsibility for the behavior off the employee’s shoulder. It’s the employee’s burden to carry. As management, you can only offer to assist and support — not do it for them.
Those are the four buckets of managing people in today’s environment. Get wickedly proactive in seeking talent, interview hard, connect early, train heavily, and hold people accountable — while showing them how they can advance and gain personally from doing things the way you want them done. ■
(See the charts below for additional information.)
Are Millennials Truly Unique?
Good management bridges generational divides
In my article, I mentioned “millennials.” What often comes up in management conversations is how to deal with members of this demographic. First, how do you define a millennial? Generally, millennials were children when 9/11 happened.
Experts always disagree about the exact year one generation starts and another ends, but each generation has several key moments — many times tragic, yet well-known — that occur when they are young, and tend to define how members of that generation see the world. The boomers lived through the assassination of President Kennedy. They also lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. They experienced the moon landing. These events were reported on TV, which taught the boomer generation that being connected to technology is important. The Cold War, which they also lived through, showed them how important establishing and maintaining competitive advantages are.
Which generation came after boomers and immediately preceded millennials? Gen Xers, of which I am one, are a smaller, more often overlooked group. Gen Xers receive less press than boomers and millennials, yet also were exposed to tragedy, such as the AIDS epidemic and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Many Gen Xers grew up in households where both parents worked, often late, and generally learned to be self-sufficient. Some Gen Xers can be suspicious of big companies and big government, which is one reason why some of today’s most prolific entrepreneurial leaders have grown out of this generation. Some of these entrepreneurs also have grown those self-started companies into massive global corporations, but that’s another story.
It’s safe to say that millennials have probably surpassed boomers as the most wrongly written about and over-analyzed generation. How do you manage a millennial? By managing. At the beginning of my accompanying story, we talked about how you may have started your business because you loved selling or fixing things. But somewhere along the line, you decided to be the boss. The boss fixes people, not cars. The boss sells a culture and a set of standards, not wiper blades.
You manage millennials the same way you’d manage anyone else: by making sure they step up and do the actual job you’re paying them to do. Be selective in who you allow to wear your uniform. Lay out the path and provide the tools to get there. Get out of the way of the good ones. Step in and help the ones who struggle. Learn to speak their language. People so often say, “Gee, the young people today are so different.” They’re not. They are trying to figure out the world — just like we were at their age.
When I bring up this point, usually there is someone who says they have an employee who reacts in an overly sensitive way to discipline and then they lament this person’s entire generation. There were overly sensitive people in the 80’s, the 70’s, the 60’s and so on. You get the point. And if for some reason this is truly an issue for you, it can be solved by changing your interviewing process to include questions like, “Tell me about the last time you were disciplined by your boss — or, if just getting out of school, your teacher.”
The fundamentals of HR, or personnel management, haven’t changed. What has changed is how to find good employees, where to find them, and living up to their high expectations of what a boss should and shouldn’t do.
Adapt and live up to those standards. You’ll be happy you did.
Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry (www.cardinalbrokers.com). To contact McCarron, email him at email@example.com.
Hankook Tire America Corp. is working with the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) on the school’s Design Innovation 2020 project.
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