By Joe Marconi
Your lead tech is not performing up to expectations. Shop production is slipping and you’re not sure why. You hear through the grapevine that some of your employees are wondering when they will get their next pay raise. After a few agonizing weeks of pouring through reports, you make the decision to give across-the-board pay raises. Almost immediately, you see a boost in production. The shop is more upbeat and all is well. Your decision appears to be correct. Three months later, your shop is once again struggling to meet its sales and production goals—and morale has slipped, too.
I have seen this scenario all too often. And, while there are times that we need to give pay raises, if your shop is struggling to meet its sales and production goals, increasing pay to improve business is not the answer. The reality is you have deeper issues.
Let’s address employee compensation first. You must pay people a competitive wage with the opportunity to earn more. There should be incentives in place to reward your employees for reaching their personal and team goals. And, there needs to be a process in place where your employees understand how and when they will get a pay raise.
However, in terms of long-term company growth, a focus on pay alone will never be the formula for success. In other words, throwing money at a problem is a short-term fix. It’s putting a Ban-Aid on a more serious injury that requires much more care and attention.
About 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz was struggling with its customer experience at many of its dealerships. In response to this, Mercedes decided to increase pay incentives, implement new policies and training programs. No improvements were realized. Mercedes top executives could not understand why customer service was not up to company expectations. After all, this is Mercedes, a car company that represents quality and sophistication. Why were their dealer employees so indifferent?
A senior leader at Mercedes recognized the problem and stated, “Pride in the brand was not quite as strong as we thought, the level of engagement with work was not as deep as we thought.” Mercedes finally realized that until the employees at Mercedes genuinely cared more, no amount of money, policies or training would make a difference.
Understanding the need to get front-line people more engaged and take pride in their work, Mercedes began to invite its dealer employees to spend 48 hours with the model of their choice. To experience not only the amazing performance and mechanical attributes of the vehicle, but also that they can turn heads as they drive through their neighborhoods or when they drive into the little league parking lot.
Mercedes also built its Brand Immersion Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014, where hundreds of employees go each year to spend time getting to know how the cars are built, gain a deeper understanding of the brand, the history of Mercedes and experience the legacy of the company. According to Philippa Green, brand immersion trainer for Mercedes-Benz, “The ultimate goal is to engage their hearts and minds around the brand. We’re teaching them about our legacy.”
As business owners, we track KPIs, set goals, work on marketing and refine our business plans. We also ensure that we provide our employees with adequate training and a well-equipped environment. These are the essentials of our business. However, we must never overlook the importance of your employees taking pride in their work. And, pride comes from employees knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you do for your community and for the industry.
Giving people pay raises can motivate them. But the bounce you get from that is short-lived. Once people have gotten over the excitement of the raise and made the financial adjustments to their lifestyles, the raise is long forgotten. If there are no other intrinsic motivators, then shop morale, production and employee engagement will fall right back to where it was before the raise.
Anyone who knows me and has read my articles, knows how much I preach about leadership. The theme of this article also has its roots in effective leadership. You, the leader of your company, have the power to transform the people around you. Focus on the person, not the position. Recognize when your employees do things that are from the heart. Promote your company’s brand, vision and legacy. These are the keys to a long-lasting company. This is what will improve morale, not a pay raise.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on March 1st, 2020
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By Joe Marconi
As shop owners, we sometimes feel that we need to answer every question and handle every situation. While you need to be proficient as a business owner, you also need your employees to think for themselves.
Empower your people to solve problem. Ask them for their opinions and don’t be too quick to jump in on every situation. The more you jump in and solve their problems, the more they will rely on you. This is not to say you don’t have their back; but a team functions best when everyone takes ownership of their position and takes responsibility to take care of problems.
Will employees make mistakes? Yes. But there isn’t a shop owner on this planet that has a perfect record at making decisions. We all make mistakes.
As a shop owner; teach, mentor and coach. Include your employees in on decisions that relate to their job position. When employees feel you trust them, they will begin to solve their own problems. This will set you free to work on the things that will bring you greater success.
Article: Diversity Of The Mechanic - - Mechanics knowledge background has evolved just like the cars ... Now if the rest of the population would. . .By Gonzo
Diversity in Mechanics
The days when nearly every driver was aware of what was going on under the hood of their car has faded into the history books. Not only has the driver lost touch with the inner workings of their automobile, the car itself has become more “user-friendly”. There’s no hand crank to twist, no choke lever to pull out, no manual brakes, and anymore, hardly no one rolls a window down by hand or uses a clutch to shift the transmission.
Less and less effort is required by the driver to operate the vehicle. What was once a series of steps you had to accomplish to start a car has now become automated to the point all you have to do is push a button and the car starts. Gone are the cold morning starts where you had to pump the gas pedal, crank the engine, then listen to the motor to see if the fast idle had set or not. But, you always had to be careful that you didn’t flood the cold engine, and if you did… that brought on a whole other set of tasks the driver had to accomplish correctly.
It’s not just starting the vehicle that needs less driver influence, even parallel parking has become a hands free procedure. Now, with all the cameras and radar systems attached to the car there’s hardly anything to do except be a passenger. Even then, you’re basked in a climate controlled cocoon with atmospheric controls such as lighting, massage chairs, heated seats, and soothing background music all the while computers and sensors are controlling every movement.
Growing up around car repair shops might have made a difference as to how I look at these complicated thing-a-ma-jigs they refer to as the modern car. They’re not just a ‘car’ anymore. In my youth it was nothing to see a gang of dads leaning over a hood when something went wrong. Today, there’s not a whole lot to see. It’s all plastic covers with various caps and knobs for adding fluids and if you’re lucky there might even still be a dipstick under there too.
Diagnosing and repairing the modern car isn’t quite the same as it was back in the day all the dad’s would gather around the fenders. Even though the operation of the vehicle has been somewhat automated the repair side of things has gone other way. Parts swapping, guess until ya get it, and the old ask your uncle Bob what’s wrong with your car is as out of date as the crank start. But, I still find it rather amazing how the engineers and designers managed to “dummy-down” all the possible problems that possibly could happen to a little check engine light on the dash. Can you imagine what it would be like if they didn’t?
Service lights, warning indicators, and digital messages inform the driver of the severity or condition of the vehicle. Although, most of the information that appears on the digital screen is more of a generic message or sometimes even displayed as a short message telling the driver of the condition of the vehicle without actually telling them precisely what’s wrong. Even if it did, who would understand it? Surely not the driver (in most cases), that’s left up to the service technician.
You know ‘that’ guy. The one that overcharges you for those repairs you don’t understand or even care to know because you’re far above the educational requirements of a certified mechanic. Of course, anyone who’s been around the business for any length of time will tell you that the days of the grease jockey recharging your air conditioner by slappin’ a can of Freon in your car so you can whiz off to work are about as far gone as 2 ply tires. That’s where diversity between mechanics and the technical advances start to show through.
The technical training for a good mechanic with advanced skill levels can exceed the requirements of most 4 year college degrees. The big difference between the academic degree and the technical school degree is still greatly debated. To me, the requirements of the educational programs differ only in the fact that in an academic setting you’re required a certain level of English, math, and the other various ‘general’ skills for graduation. The trade schools generally don’t have those academic requirements for graduation. The big problem is the non-car aficionados (general public) don’t want to admit that the family car requires a college degree to keep them in tip top shape. So why would the guy changing the oil need to have a degree?
There’s a very good possibility that a shortage of technicians qualified to work on the modern car is drastically going to increase in the next decade or so. Of course, ask anyone in the business now and they’ll tell you the average age of the professional mechanic has slowly been increasing to well over 50 years of age. That might have a lot do with the startup requirements put on the new technicians coming into the field. To many times a young mechanic gets into the business with those wild eyed ideas that they can fix anything that rolls into their service bay, only to find out their skills sets lack a lot of the required knowledge in understanding the complexities of the modern types of problems their facing.
That brings us back to that college grad again. They’ve spent a ton of money on their education, and some may never pay those loans off for years, if not decades. Technical college fees remain low in comparison, and with luck, the average educated technician will have their tuition fees taken care of long before the college grad has theirs paid off. Here’s something else to think about, while a lot of college grads take on temporary jobs like a waiter while their waiting for their big break into that six figure job they’ve been trained for, most grads of the tech schools are out working in the very field they’ve been trained for. They might be the college grad on the lube rack, but he’s there, in his field of choice getting his hands dirty and working towards his ultimate goals. Chances are, the mechanic will be at that very restaurant having lunch while wearing their rental uniform covered in the days grease and grime and the waiter…. well, they’re still working for tips.
The real issue for the mechanic’s world is the acceptance of the educational level required and the respect that the mechanic deserves as well as being compensated for said education and skills needed. I do believe, in time, the shortage of trained-qualified technicians will turn into an increase in wages across the board. Which is just what the industry needs to draw in those new faces to the service bays. All this can start back in high school. Somebody needs to tell the school guidance counselors that being an automotive mechanic is a trade with high expectations and compensation, not a last resort job for those undesirable individuals that didn’t pass their SAT’s.
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Article: Drain the Swamp - Sometimes you're asked to repair a car...not count the alligators along the way.By Gonzo
Drain the Swamp and Count the Alligators
Occasionally the customer has more confidence in you than you do yourself.
The old farmer tells his hired hand, “Get down there and drain that swamp today.”
The hired hand says, “Looks like there’s a heap of alligators in there.”
“Don’t ya never mind about them gators, you just get that swamp drained!” the old farmer explains.
Some days I feel like the hired hand. I’ll get a job in, and I already have the feeling there is going to be a whole heap of alligators between me and draining that swamp. This time around it’s a 2004 Nissan 350z with a non-functioning convertible top. The top was up, but wouldn’t move, other than unlatching the rear (5th bow) window section of the top.
Jim is an old customer who loves his little Z car, and was well aware of a few of the alligators lurking under that deck lid. How did he know? Easy, he already tried to get it repaired at a convertible top shop, but they weren’t up to the task of taking on this alligator infested swamp.
Jim’s only comment to me was, “I don’t care how many problems you find, just get it working for me.”
After gathering all the TSB’s, wiring diagrams, procedures, and any other bits of info I ventured out into untested waters to see what I could find out. All the test procedures started out by checking pin-out voltages and resistances at the convertible top ECM, and guess where that is?… under the very same deck lid that isn’t moving… hmm, imagine that. The trunk is the only option. You’ve got to crawl in there and find the cables to release the deck lid manually.
You could tell somebody else had already been working on it; the emergency cables were nowhere to be found. I looked like some sort of contortionist trying to get down into the small little opening at the bottom of the trunk with my bore scope. I had to wiggle it around in there, until I found the very thin wire cables that would release the latches. (They were pushed back under the lining of the storage area, which is not accessible from the trunk area) Ugh, I haven’t even moved the top yet and I’m already swimming with the gators… what could be next?
Once I got the deck lid up I could then remove the interior trim and test the ECM to see what needed to be done. The output voltage for the 5th bow actuator motor was coming out of the ECM, so unless the wires are broken or disconnected the motor must have failed. Ok, now crawl out of the storage area and wrestle my way into the passenger compartment, then pull the trim piece on the back window up to expose the 5th bow motor. The motor brushes were shot. Lucky for Jim, I just happened to have some brushes that were a perfect fit. Might as well replace the brushes and see if it will work.
I gave it a try. With a flip of the control button the 5th bow swung up into perfect upright position, but the top wouldn’t move. What now!?!? Back to the ECM and check the stop switches and motor voltages to the top. This time the alligator is in the ECM. Inside the ECM I found the circuit board lead to the top motors was burnt in two. Ok, fix the circuit board and try again. The top moved smoothly through its folding process. As the top closes the 5th bow actuator has to rotate in the opposite direction, so it will sit flush inside the convertible top storage compartment. As the bow moved to its next position the whole thing quit again. Oh come on… enough already… more alligators?!?! Yes, more alligators. Another trip back to the ECM, this time I found the stop switch for this position wasn’t working. Somebody had bent the micro switches so far out of whack there was no way most of them were ever going to work. By now I’ve called Jim at least a dozen times to keep him informed of what I was up against… his only answer, “Keep draining the swamp” Ok, Ok, I got it… I’ll put my waders on and crawl upside down and sideways to get this thing working… but…man these alligators… they’re everywhere.
If you counted the different movements from completely up to fully down there are 12 separate electrical/mechanical operations the top has to go through, AND they all have to work in the correct sequence. One micro switch out of position and something else begins to move at the wrong time.
I thought I was done with my alligator counting by the time I had the last micro switch in place, but the first time I got the top to fold up and drop into the storage area, it would stop about an inch or so from completely going down. Seriously? More gators on the prowl? What did I miss this time? I went thru all the electrical and mechanical diagrams again… Nothing, every step was correct, but there had to be something missing. Then I found the answer on one page. One short reference to some elastic straps that connect the 2nd bow to the 3rd bow. These straps spring the 2nd bow towards the rear of the car to allow for clearance, so the canvas and all the linkage arms can drop that last inch or so into the storage compartment.
I did some more searching and found the part number 97150-CE01B “strap, elastic, convertible top”. I called the dealer and gave them the number…
“Yea, it’s a good number, but we’ve never sold any.”
I’m shocked. From what I found out lots of these convertible tops had the same problem. I figured they would have changed hundreds of these. It looks like it’s a common alligator in this part of the swamp; seems to me every top should probably have these replaced with the new part number, (know somebody with one?… give them that part number).
“Well, get me a set of them.”
Once the parts came to the shop, installing them was a piece of cake compared to everything else I had to do. At least now I could see the bottom of this swamp. No more alligators, no more swamp to drain… I’m done. I found 20 different problems in the top mechanisms and electrical components. That’s a total of 20 alligators that were lurking in this swamp. What a job!
It took a lot of effort to solve all the problems that I found. It didn’t matter much to Jim how many things needed taken care of, the smile on his face as the 350z top worked like new made all that gator wrestling worthwhile. I almost gave up on it several times, but Jim insisted that I keep at it… I’m glad I did.
So the next time I take on one of these gator infested jobs, I know exactly what I’m going to do. Ignore the difficulties, and do just like the old farmer told his hired hand to do.
“Drain the swamp, and don’t pay no mind to all those alligators”.
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So, What’s Wrong With Your Car?
It’s the typical question asked at the service desk of automotive repair shops across the country. You’d think the answer would be simple, you know, just tell the service writer what ails the car, but no… that’s not the typical answer from the do it yourselfer.
When asked, some people have a hard time keeping things simple. Their answer isn’t really an answer, it’s more of a statement of the things they’ve done to their car. Now why is that? How come when the service writer asks, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” the answer is, “I changed the battery, the alternator, and I rewired everything under the hood.” Which sounds more like what they did to the car, rather than what is wrong with the car.
It troubles me to hear things like this over and over. All I want to know (as the mechanic about to service the issue) is what is wrong, not what you’ve done. Believe me, any mechanic worth his salt will figure out what you’ve done to the car. What he lacks is the reason you’re here in the first place.
I’ve even tried to rephrase the question, “So, what brings you here today?” That doesn’t seem to work any better. It’s like some unwritten law of responses; the DIY’r type customer has to begin their dissertation with what they’ve done and not the actual problem that brought them to the repair shop in the first place.
Now, if the service writer starts the deliberation with, “In as few words as possible, tell me what is wrong.” It doesn’t seem to help at all, and if the question asked is, “So, what did ya do to it?” that only puts them in a defensive mode which doesn’t improve the answer or any further forthcoming information. Ya just gotta stand there and listen intently and with unbiased interest in their tale of tales.
I often wonder if the whole thing is a pride issue with some of these guys. Maybe what they are really telling the service writer is more in line with how they tried to fix it but failed, rather than actually trying to explain the problem they can’t solve. Somehow the mere explanation of all the individual parts that were changed is supposed to inform the mechanic of things they shouldn’t assume are the problem.
There are those who finish their story with, “and, everything checks out good.” How’s that ever happen? If everything is “good” you wouldn’t be having a problem.
From the mechanics point of view, “everything” has to be rechecked under the guise of the proper identification of any components replaced, the quality of those components that were replaced, as well as checking the wiring. Once all that is confirmed then the mechanic can check the signals and voltages. It’s one of the many things that separate the DIY’r from the professional. A pro will diagnose things rather than simply change parts. A systematic list of diagnostic procedures isn’t that hard to follow, but understanding the results can be.
Apparently that’s where I find it hard to follow some of these DIY’r logics. They’ll come up with some goofy name for a part or symptom based on their background or something they’ve overheard. None of which have anything to do about automotive repair or cars in general. But, you’ve gotta listen to their story, no matter what they say.
I’ve found over years of being behind the service counter, you should never ever interrupt or correct their explanation. Just let them get it all out, and then hopefully work back to “So what’s wrong”. I’ve been tempted more than once to stop them in the middle of their story, hold my hand up and say, “I didn’t ask you what you did. I asked you what’s wrong.” I’m not sure that would go over that well.
While they are well on their way of their next novel and spilling their tool box of parts they’ve changed in verbal form, I’m trying to keep up with it all by writing as much of it down. Usually, I’m crossing off things as their explanation goes further into the story about how they don’t want you to check that part (because it’s new) or that particular part they just mentioned was changed years ago and hasn’t been a problem since, but for some reason (which they’re not sure of), it suddenly has become extremely important to inform me about it. By the end of the story I’ve gone through a blank invoice on both sides, a scratch pad, and ran out of ink in the pen.
To top things off, a lot of these home garage repairmen insist on waiting, or in a lot of instances want to watch. This for the most part, can be just as frustrating for the mechanic as listening to their saga. Most shop insurance policies frown on having a customer in the shop area due to the numerous pieces of unusual and dangerous types of equipment, let alone getting in the way of the process of diagnosing the problem. If you want to watch, go find a You Tube video on the problem, the repair shop is not an educational outlet for the uniformed.
Sometimes, the DIY’r is pretty sharp and might actually have a working knowledge of their car. It’s rare, but there are a few who really could tackle their problem without consecutively changing the alternator five times in a row. Let’s face it, car repair isn’t rocket science, but as the technology proceeds into even more data lines and computer systems it might as well be. Which to me, means an even wider gap between the DIY’r and the professional mechanic, and probably a whole lot more unbelievable stories at the service counter.
Will the question at the service counter change? Will the answers from the DIY’r get to the point before the service writer has to break out a second scratch pad or a new pen? Probably not. There’s something about fixing your own car that brings out the mechanic in all of us. Whether it’s a pride issue or to save the cost of a professional mechanic, DIY’rs will still give it a try with little to no information. Just wing it and see what happens.
Don’t worry, they’ll still sell parts, and they’ll still sell tools, as well as the good ol’ free code read at the part stores. Oh, and there are manuals at these parts stores too, but you don’t need those. They are for someone who doesn’t know about cars, not somebody like yourself? (I’m being sarcastic, of course) So there’s plenty of opportunity for a new “So what’s wrong with your car?” moment at the local repair shop.
When stumped, they’ll find a pro to check their car out. And, I’m sure they’ll still tell the service writer their entire story about all the parts they’ve changed, all the books they’ve read, and how many You Tube videos they’ve watched, without ever getting to the “what’s wrong” until the very end. It’s just the way it is.
But I already know what the service writer is thinking after they ask, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” and the answer turns into a long winded story. Yea, he’s got a pretty good idea what’s wrong with the car...you worked on it first.
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