Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
One secret great business owners know about turning good techs into great techs has nothing to do with providing them with more technical training. It also has nothing to do with how much you pay them or how their pay plan is structured.
Like most shop owners, they know how to recognize good auto repair techs. They’ve also come to recognize that good techs have similar skills and abilities. But what makes a good tech a great tech? Let’s look at one trait that differentiates the great techs from the rest.
Once an auto repair technician has mastered his trade, additional technical training only provides the latest tech information, which results in only incremental improvement and adds very little to his value for your business. The secret every great shop instills into every one of their technicians is that cars don’t pay them… people do.
Most auto repair shops have adopted the following three criteria for hiring good auto repair technicians:
- Attitude — A good “can-do” attitude is essential and, while it can be caught, it can’t be taught or bought. A good attitude can endure and overcome the daily challenges that are part of work and life itself.
- Aptitude — My dad used to tell me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him swim on his back.” What his silly observation meant was, just like horses aren’t designed to swim on their backs, some people simply don’t have the aptitude to do certain things. Some of us aren’t blessed with technical and mechanical instincts.
- Ability — Unlike attitude and aptitude, ability can be taught and even bought, but it can’t be caught. Sure, some ability can rub off by watching others, but it’s important to either hire mechanics and techs with ability or provide some sort of training or apprenticeship program to make sure their ability matches your auto repair shop’s technical needs.
There’s nothing wrong with using these three criteria for hiring auto repair mechanics or, for that matter, hiring any employee. And any mechanic who has all three of these criteria in his toolbox will most likely be a good mechanic.
Most repair shops focus their training primarily on ability, to develop and advance the mechanic’s earning capacity as well as add to his value to the business. Because auto repair technicians often get paid based on the quantity and quality of work they produce, it makes perfect sense to provide ongoing training that focuses on increasing their production capacity by increasing their mechanical skills and knowledge.
Unfortunately, at a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the return on the investment of time and money in technical training only provides small incremental improvements. The return on the investment becomes negligible.
If you want to turn a good mechanic into a great mechanic who’ll make a huge impact on your business, teach him how to work better with people. Think about the great mechanics you’ve seen over the years. I’ll bet almost every one of them was also a people person.
Can you think of any who were truly great over the long haul who conducted themselves in an isolated manner, closing themselves off from the rest of the team, and not thinking about the customer’s best interests? Sure, we’ve all encountered the grumpy mechanic whose expressed desire was, “Just leave me alone and let me work. I’m not here to make friends.” Even though these types did good work, that didn’t make them great for the business, or for the team either.
Unfortunately, most people-oriented mechanics have learned and developed their people skills almost by accident. They’ve never been exposed to training that focuses on developing their people skills.
Fortunately, unlike mechanical skills, people skills can be acquired by observing other people. In other words, they can be acquired through their upbringing or some other environmental factor as they progress through the various phases of their lives.
Maybe they got it from their family, a teacher, a former employer, or some other person who made an impression on them. In any event, no matter how they got it, they were blessed with one of the most valuable skills they could bring to the workplace. What’s more, it likely was what consistently gave them the edge over other technicians.
Imagine if all your shop’s mechanics were more skilled in getting along with people… all people: fellow employees, management, customers, suppliers, and more. Imagine an auto shop environment where the mechanics are so aware of each other’s needs that they look for ways to help their teammates.
Imagine having no concerns if a customer wants to talk with the mechanic that’s working on her car. Imagine an environment where people come first… not car repairs. The good news is that the entire shop’s productivity would explode in this kind of cooperative customer-centric environment.
Because each of your employees may have not had the good fortune of acquiring people skills, it’s up to you to give them that opportunity. There are many resources for this kind of training. Consider these possible choices:
- Don’t discount the influence of books and magazines. Many auto repair mechanics like to read. So give them the gift of books. Among the most famous of many are How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie and Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.
- You may need to look no further than to our own Jim Cathcart for help in this area. Most all of Jim’s many books, webinars, and live presentations focus on the core principle of building better relationships. I’d start by visiting www.cathcart.com. You might not need to look any further.
- Consider providing audio books — especially for those with fairly long commutes.
- Offer to pay their way to attend personal development seminars or leadership seminars that tour your area.
- If you typically send them to industry conventions, such as the ATRA Powertrain Expo, encourage them to attend a couple management sessions.
- One of the best methods would be pull everyone together as a group and watch any number of webinars or YouTube videos that are available online today. Many of them won’t cost you a cent. Encourage open discussion as you all enjoy pizza afterward.
If this all sounds a little farfetched or too warm and fuzzy to you, maybe you need to check your own people skills. Perhaps you and your shop could use a tune up or even an overhaul in becoming more people oriented. If your shop seems to be lacking in this vitally important aspect of your business, maybe you’re part of the problem.
Over the last 20 years, the automotive aftermarket has become more and more customer-centric. Study after study has shown that the most successful shops are customer-centric.
Your business has internal and external customers. The internal customers are your employees and the external customers are the folks that trust your auto repair shop to repair their vehicles. The best results are achieved in shops that care about people and that includes internal and external customers.
So, if you want to turn good auto repair mechanics into great mechanics, teach them the one secret all great auto repair mechanics know: Cars don’t pay them… people do. Without people, all you have are some tools, equipment, and a building.