Street-corner philosophers say the ham-and-egg breakfast best exemplifies the issue of commitment. The pig and chicken are both committed to the meal, but the pig is totally committed to the project. A recent conversation with ``M.D.,'' an aggressive-and successful-young shop-owner, reinforces why commitment is a foundation on which prosperous businesses are built.
According to M.D., all successful businesses-especially those in the precarious automotive repair trade-rely on mutual worker-employer commitment. Autumn, when many owners and managers are planning next year's activities and budgets, is the perfect time to evaluate both sides' commitment to the enterprise.
First, from a business standpoint, bosses should recognize employees for what they are: individual profit centers. Usually, there's one per service bay. Obviously, owners and managers must commit money to creating and growing each individual profit center.
Second, from a practical and humanistic viewpoint, the operative word is individual. Depending upon their education, ability, experience and area(s) of expertise, different profit centers cost more and grow at different rates.
Third, building successful profit centers costs so much money today that bosses must level with themselves and their workers.
``...Ask yourself if you're comfortable investing $60,000 to $100,000 per year in this profit center's salary, benefits and education. If you're not completely comfortable with the idea, the commitment-his or yours-may be lacking,'' M.D. noted.
If there's any reluctance on your part to invest in a technician/profit center, resolve the issue now instead of later. Confronting doubts now may be painful and awkward, he said, but the uneasiness is nothing compared with the anguish of counting losses from an unwise investment later on.
He encouraged bosses to verbally clarify the commitment up front. ``With the amount of money at stake, you cannot assume that everyone is a mind reader. Sit down with each tech individually and ask him what his plans, goals and worries are,'' he said. ``Explain that you need to know his level of commitment to your business before you invest in his future.''
The tech's response may be a timely eye-opener for owners and managers. For example, forgotten problems such as broken or outdated equipment or crowded working conditions may leave techs feeling uncommitted because these things make the boss appear uncommitted to his own business.
Sometimes, all a lackadaisical technician needs to motivate him is the reassurance you want him to grow and prosper professionally and personally. Just remember that this message isn't convincing unless you deliver it yourself.
Besides motivating and reassuring worthwhile workers, this candid approach may serve notice to malcontents and troublemakers. A good example is the type M.D. calls ``soldiers of fortune''-unloyal techs who'll switch jobs for another buck-an-hour of wages.
``I tell the staff that if the raises or bonuses they want aren't available today, they'll be available tomorrow-provided everyone works toward the productivity goals we agreed to. In other words, they grow along with the business and vice-versa because that's part of a mutual commitment business philosophy,'' M.D. said.
Defining employer-employee commitments gives the boss a prime opportunity to state or reemphasize the company's commitment to its customers. Openly clarifying the store's business philosophy gets every worker pulling in the same direction toward improved customer satisfaction.
What's more, clearly restating store ethics tends to ferret out undesirable workers. The stronger the store's commitment to legitimate repairs and efficient work procedures, the more unsettling the situation for unscrupulous or careless workers. It may make them so uncomfortable they bow out on their own, saving the boss the effort of weeding them out.
``Commitment and attitudes must come from the top. Not enough owners set the example themselves, then tell their people point blank to follow their example,'' M.D. said. ``This is about earning the consumer's trust. If the boss himself doesn't seem committed to an ethical business philosophy, why would the people under him adopt it?''
To me, M.D.'s insights on commitment are similar to asking for the order when selling service: You don't really know the customer's true thoughts until you actually ask for the order. Likewise, you'll never know if the team you have is the one for the long haul until you ask them.
I'll conclude this discussion of commitment in my next column.