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Problem shop owners / Problem employees

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the December 2001 issue of Transmission Digest.

This year my articles have been about the relationship between employees and shop owners, with the focus on advice regarding recruiting and hiring. This month, I will end the year out with an article regarding problem employees and problem shop owners in the work place and give you the acid test to determine if a situation is a problem or just and annoyance.

Nobody wants to talk about problem shop owners. However, there are problem owners out there. It's probably not the smartest thing I have ever done to point that out, because transmission shop owners are my customers. However, somebody needs to talk about it. Because, whether you guy's want to admit it or not, shop owners can cause as many problems in the work place as employees do. So, I'm going to take a run at it in hopes that maybe this article will bring some of you out of denial and make your life a little easier. So here we go.

I can't even begin to cover all the problems people create at work in one article. So, I will touch on a couple of the most common problems for employees and shop owners. Let's look at a few example situations and try to do so with a sense of humor. Hey, I saved this article for Christmas time so we can laugh about it, forgive each other and move on. Let's start with the employees and then finish with the owners.

One of my shop owner members out in Indiana called the other day and told me he had a manager that was always late for work. Not real late but, late. He wanted to know if I had any ideas on how to get the manager to show up on time every day. I said I sure do. You take money out of his pocket every time he is late. The shop owner asked how do you do that? To get the ball rolling, if you have him coming in at 7:30, tell him he now has to be there at 7:00 if he wants to keep his job. Every time he is late, send him home and manage the shop yourself that day. Then, at the end of the week, you take one fifth of his pay for the week out of his check for each day he was late and was sent home. The shop owner asked me what if he gets mad and quits? Then, you manage the shop until you find a manager that will show up on time. Problem solved. You can not be an effective shop owner if you walk around on your tipie toes all day long worrying about people quitting.

You have to ask yourself, when you have an employee problem, is it really a problem or does his behavior just annoy me? The shop owner mentioned was concerned about loosing the employee because he was a great salesman and did a good job when he got there. Well, of course you have to weigh the consequences before you take action. The first thing you do is to decide if the employees behavior is an annoyance or a problem. There is a difference and there is a way to decide. I can personally take being annoyed by almost employee behavior. However, I can not afford to take it if the employee's behavior financially affects my business or adversely affects my other employees. That's the acid test.

This one is a no brainer. The first hour of the day is the most important hour of the day. New leads are coming in, warranty work is showing up, customers are calling wanting a status report on their cars already in the shop and the employees need to be lined out for the day. If the manager is not there, I am losing money.

Also, if the manager is late, that sets a bad example for the employees he is managing. You can not expect them to be on time if he is not. Next thing you know everybody is showing up for work when they feel like it. All because the manager can't get his butt up in the morning and get to work on time. This employees behavior goes past being an annoyance to me personally and is adversely affecting my employees and ultimately, my bottom line.

Now, this situation has failed the acid test and has to be addressed. As a shop owner, you've got to be willing to act on it immediately. Otherwise you will always have employee problems in your shop. If you do not address the problem, then you become the enabler that allows the problem to remain in the shop. Sure, it makes it hard on you and it makes for a long day if you have to manage the shop on top of your other responsibilities. But, if you are afraid, or not willing to do what it takes to keep the shop profitable, you are in the wrong business. You've got to be able to make a decision and be willing to back it up if you want to play this game for very long.

I called the shop owner in Indiana today while I was writing this article to follow up on his manager situation. He told me the manager had not been late one time and that the manager had a lot better attitude. He's happy. The managers happy. Everybody's happy. All because the owner stepped up to the plate and did his job. I am sure the other employees are glad he did. That was an employee problem and it got solved. Now let's look at an employee annoyance example.

I had a manager work for me years ago that would argue with me all the time. I don't think he could help it. He was a good manager. He could sell Porky Pig a ham sandwich and the customers loved him but, he argued with me every time I said anything to him. It was like he was on a mission. So, I got enough of it and I took him into my office and closed the door. I asked him why he felt obligated to argue with me every time we had a conversation. He said that he did not argue with me. So, without saying a word, I reached in my drawer and pulled out an employee warning form and wrote him up for arguing with me. He read it and wrote, on the bottom of it, that he did not agree with the warning. So, still silent, I pulled out another warning and wrote him up for arguing with me, about arguing with me, and told him to sign it. We both started laughing and he signed it. That is the best example of an employee annoyance I can remember. His behavior was not an employee problem. It did not fail the acid test. It was the employee's behavior that annoyed me personally.

In the interest of saving time, along with the fear of lost future income, I will only give one example of a problem shop owner and distinguish between an annoyance and a problem in this single example situation. Having only one type of problem owner to choose from, it would have be the shop owner with amnesia and excessive greed in the pan. That combo is pretty common out there.

I went into manage a shop years ago that was doing 4500.00 a week. First week, we did 10,500.00. I worked there about a year. I cleaned it up, organized it and hired a whole new set of employees then, low and behold, the place was averaging 10,000.00 a week. About that time the owner started saying things like, I made more money than he did. Or, this shop should be doing 15,000.00 per week. Then he crossed the line and said: I'm not making any money. Couldn't we do something different like sell them parts, clean them up and re-use them like other shops do? Well, we did something different. I gave him his keys back and he went back to doing 4500.00 a week. Lesson learned? Never forget where you came from and dance with the one that brought you to the dance.

As an employee, I had to decide whether this was an owner annoyance or an owner problem. The acid test for me was: Am I being fairly compensated? Is my work respected and appreciated by the owner? Am I required me to do anything that is unethical or illegal? Those were the big three for me.

In the above example, I was making good money and the whining about him not making any money or me making more money than him was an annoyance. Him saying the shop should be doing 15,000.00 a week told me that my work was not appreciated and it showed disrespect for the improvements I had made in the shop over the last year. Amnesia was setting in on this shop owner.

That's where the situation started changing from an annoyance to a problem and it ended when he asked me to compromise my personal integrity by lying to the customer and committing fraud - Excessive greed in the pan. The owner didn't know it but, he had just failed the acid test and graduated from an annoyance to a problem.

I remember, it was tough to leave a year's work behind and go start all over at another shop but it had to be done. As an employee, you have to be ready to make a decision just like the shop owners do. You have to be willing to pay the price and make the right decision regarding your career when the time comes.

In closing, remember that everybody has problems. It's how you deal with them that makes the difference. I would encourage shop owners and employees to take the acid tests before taking any action. Ask yourself if it is really a problem that is a deal breaker or is just an annoyance? The best thing to do is to sit down and identify what the problem is and come up with a solution together. Most of the time we can resolve annoyances before they become problems if both parties take the time to do that, and want to. Well, until next time, take care of each other out there and Merry Christmas!

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