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Motivating Managers

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue of Transmission Digest.

If you are sitting here reading this article and your manager is upfront burning the shop down, keep your seat. I started out as a manager but, most of my career I made a living managing transmission shop managers. They are a group that require from time to time, shall we say, a little motivation. There are  ways that I know of to do that and I am willing to share.

The big three are....

  1. Chew them out,  
  2. Pat them on the back
  3. Use your sense of humor but, get your point across

 Most importantly, you need to make some rules and enforce them or they will make up their own rules and end up managing you. Reduce to writing your shop policies and procedures. Trust me on this one.

Managers are a fun and challenging group to work with. They posses a gamut of skills and personalities. They can make you rich or break your heart. A lot of your success will ride on who you recruit to be your manager. Pick the right one and you are halfway there. The other half is training. I have found that if they know what you want them to do and how you want it done , they are easier for me to manage and motivate on a day to day basis.

I  had a manager that worked for me that I would call every morning at 7:15 and just chew his rear end out for about five minutes. If I did that every day he was good to go. If I didn’t , he could not function. He would lay back and let the shop run him. I tried bein nice to him by patting him on the back. No good. He started taking advantage of me. I tried being funny and having a good time with him and he started taking time off. It was only when I chewed him out that we were both happy. He just needed somebody to get his motor running first thing in the morning and I was happy to accommodate him. Works for me. He was easy to manage once I figured him out, and one of my top producers .

Another manager was a vietnam veteran.  I was a little timid about chewing him out. When  I tried to joke around with him he would stiffen up start looking at me funny. So, I tried patting him on the back to motivate him. I would compliment him on things that he was doing well to reinforce his good behavior. If he had a good sales day I would be the first to compliment him. If he had no customer complaints I would point that out in front of the owner . If he recorded all his leads I would take him out  of the shop and eat lunch with him and tell him how important he was to the company. Stuff like that. He ate it up and that led to more good behavior. He was on fire after I figured out his button.  He was always trying to impress me after that. What a manager he turned out to be, looking back on him today.

The most fun I ever had in a shop was with a guy that you could not pat on the back and get anywhere. He saw right through that stuff. When  I tried to chew him out it made me feel bad. So, I went to the back up technique and tried humor with him. He thought I was kidding and did not respond the way I had hoped.. He was presenting a real challenge to my management skills.

 He had a very dry sense of humor and saw the world in a much different light than most of us. I figured out he key to his lock one day.  I brought  him in my office and closed the door. We told a few jokes and talked about the latest gossip to set the stage.  Then, I  stopped and got real quiet for a moment . Then I handed him a list of instructions and told him that I was going to turn him into a fine white powder if he did not conform to my way of doing things . While he was reading the list  I got up , turned the light off, walked out of my office and locked the door leaving him sitting in the dark. . It took about 30 seconds and he  yells through the door for me to let him out and I yell.back " Are you going to comply? " He replied, " Yes, if you promise to buy lunch".

The moral of this story is....Using your sense of humor to manage and motivate only works when you end with clear concise instructions and a firm commitment from the manager.

  1. In summary
  2. A chew out motivates by fear. That is a lazy man's style of management and creates a hostile environment.
  3. A pat on the back motivates by positive reinforcement. That takes a little more effort and creates a positive environment.
  4. A sense of humor motivates by speaking to their lighter side . It requires a good sence of humor and creates a fun environment.

The pro  uses all three when he manages managers. For example, I would take a guy that I was managing by positive reinforcement  and go into his shop and chew him out just to get his attention. Then I might go out in the shop and kick over a trash can, stomp the trash on the floor for about 15 seconds , then get in my car and leave. They thought I was crazy. They may have been right. But, it has been my experience that it is not a bad thing if managers think  you are crazy. It keeps them on their toes arround you.

The point is, you can mix up the management techniques and keep them motivated. When one is not working , go in and try another technique until something works.

There are other techniques to motivate managers. Food comes to mind. I know managers that would walk through fire for a cheeseburger.

 Money is another driver.. There are  guys that would upsell their own mother in order to make a bonus check.

Time off. This is a big one. I remember when I was a manager , I would quit in order to get some time off. We were working 60-70 hour weeks with no vacation for 3 or 4 years and time off was more important to me than money...for a little while.

Titles. Some managers like titles. That makes them feel important. Make up a title and give it to him . It doesn't cost you anything. Make him the chief of sales, the president of production, parts commander,  the service director.... yes... that’s it . The SERVICE DIRECTOR .   If it makes him feel good it is no skin off my back. I am glad to help him out. He is motivated now. My job is done.

- Contests. Challenge them. Be creative.

An example would be :

I want my parts costs to be below 25%. Everything below that I will pay out to the shop. The manager will receive the parts money in the form of a check and decide how to spend it. I did this one time and I saw mounts that had been misordered and left in the cobwebs at the shop - get sent back to the parts house for a return credit. Flywheels were next , then the builder started telling the manager to sell it for more and it caught on fire from there.

I only paid it quarterly because I was in a war for employees with my competition. If employees left before the quarter was up ....they lost all their parts money. That was the game. That was the challenge. It worked. It Saved me money and slowed down employee turnover.

Training is a another great way to motivate managers. They get all hopped up when you train them .This is where you are tested. Here is what I know about training in nut shell.

  1. Be prepared.

(Note to self ......It helps if you know what you are talking about. You might get your teeth knocked out if you say the wrong thing - When I told you they were a challenging group , this is what I was referring to)

  1. Tell them the truth and they trust you.
  2. Give them hope and they follow you.
  3.  Tell them a story and they remember forever.

Now I am done. So, get up and go see if the shop is completely burned down now. If there is anything left, you might use one of these zingers to start putting out the fire. It is your shop. Get with your manager and go manage it.

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