Since the summer of 1973, the year I graduated high school, until 1980, my goal was to become a world-class mechanic. On October 1, 1980 I put the key in the door for the first to my own repair shop and was ready to rock the world. “Bring it on”, was my motto, “There’s nothing I can’t fix.” Only to find that less than 10 years later I would be nearly broke; financially and emotionally.
The problem? I was a great mechanic, but not so great business man. While I could fix just about anything that rolled into my bays, when my business broke, I didn’t have the skills to repair the damage that would almost lead to my demise.
Failing has a great way of teaching us valuable lessons. I learned the hard way that the skills of being a mechanic have nothing to do with the skills of running a business. So, in the early 90s I switched gears and began my quest to learn the skills of running a business. I wasn’t totally ready to weld shut my tool box, but I knew that things had to change or I would not have a business to worry about at all.
Perhaps the hardest thing to change was my mindset that the business and its success were solely dependent on me. That no one could do as good a job as I could. I had this crazy idea that I was the best at trouble shooting, the best at repairing cars, the best at road testing, at selling, at speaking on the phone, at doing the books, even cleaning the bathrooms and fixing the roof.
To change meant that I had to give up control, hire and assign others to help and do the work that I thought could only be done by me. Little by little I handed over the reins to others. As I hired new people, I wrote job descriptions, policies and procedures.
Specialized training was implemented to teach each person to be responsible for their particular position and slowly but surely, it began to work. The tasks that I once thought could only be handled by me were now the responsibility of others. We became more efficient and we were finally growing.
Then came another turning point. Now that I was on the sidelines more, I could see things that I could not see before. This is where another awakening comes into play. I could clearly see when and how others failed at their jobs and I was not too diplomatic on how I told them how I felt. I managed my staff by the principle of “My way or the highway”. This, of course, was positioning my business on a collision course with disastrous consequences.
To make matters worse, I drilled into everyone’s head; the numbers and processes that were crucial to our success and made it clear that everyone is responsible to maintain certain productivity and sales numbers. If not, I would have to replace them. After all, I had a business to run; and numbers and profits were the only thing that mattered, right? Well, not exactly.
As I pushed for more sales and productivity I also pushed my staff farther away. Moral was suffering and we had a tough time meeting our goals at times. No amount of reasoning could reach the minds of the people around me. Until it dawned on me that my focus was on profits and process, not people. My relentless stream of numbers, stats, systems, procedures and reports was compromising the spirit of my business. I had forgotten that you should never put profit before people.
I knew that we had most of the building blocks in place; the only missing piece was culture. I stopped holding “numbers” meetings and starting having “people” meetings. At these meetings I asked for everyone’s input and to tell me what is right with the company and more importantly, what was wrong. I listened and changed our focus from a numbers-driven business model to a people-driven model. Lifting moral and creating an exciting and enjoyable workplace was the goal.
It took months, but the turnaround was dramatic. I had to put aside my hunt to find mistakes and mishaps and began a new mission to find people excelling and catching people doing things right, not wrong. I started a practice at the beginning of each week, which I still do today, to create a written list of each employee and write next to their name, something that I could praise or thank that person for. Throughout the week, I will make it point to speak to each employee in a sincere and positive manner.
Soon, all the issues we had reaching our goals were vanishing. By taking care of people, by recognizing their hard work, by thanking people on a daily basis, all resulted in higher sales and greater profits. I learned that when people are recognized and feel that their contribution to the shop matters; things begin to fall into proper order.
I still work on the numbers, the systems, the policies, the procedures and everything else a shop owner needs to do. I set goals and establish deadlines. But, what I won’t do is forget about people. Helping people around me and getting others to achieve their personal success, is my focus. No one is an Island, and leaders need great people around them. Do we still have challenges and problems? You bet we do. That will never go away. But, we are far better off today than we once were.
As shop owners, our lives are filled with daily challenges and maintaining a positive attitude tests our fortitude and character. There will be those days when you will question is it all worth it. After all, who gives us a pat on the back when we need it? Remember, we have chosen a life to lead and help others. And while it may seem difficult to see at times, helping others prosper and making others feel good about themselves will truly become our own pathway to success.