Today, a tire dealer's long-range plan must include a sincere commitment to the personal and professional growth of his staff. The rationale is simple: Happy employees make productive, reliable and content workers. In my last column, I described a mutual commitment business philosophy. This means workers grow along with the tire store and vice-versa. Savvy bosses at successful shops define ``vice versa'' as keeping good workers happy-period.
``When problems at home hamper a talented technician's pro-
ductivity, those problems jeopardize your sizable investment in this man,'' a shop owner told me. ``To me, trying to help solve the root problem at home is a risk worth taking. Usually, it's something you can work out for him.''
Managers who adopt this concept admit it's sailing uncharted waters because the outcome is uncertain. What's more, it defies conventional thinking by forcing them to do what they were trained NOT to do: get involved in the personal lives of workers. Nonetheless, here are some success stories.
Not surprisingly, money worries can pressure the best technician into a prolonged mental funk. It often surfaces as a series of unexplained, unprecedented procedural mistakes resulting in needless comebacks.
When he saw these danger signs in a stellar employee, a Minnesota shop owner realized it was time for a heart-to-heart talk. The young man told him his wife was pestering him to turn more hours. A run of bad luck had put the couple behind their bills-and fearful they would end up, like their parents, managing money poorly.
Once the owner determined that money was the real root of the problem, he established a payback schedule agreeable to both parties and paid off the tech's bills. Then the star technician he used to know reappeared every day.
The experience taught the owner a lot, not the least of which was how much integrity the young man had. ``I found he was an unusually proud kid from a tough family background that made him almost fanatical about maintaining a clean credit record. Look at the big picture-after the thousands I already had invested in grooming this guy, this loan was fairly small potatoes,'' he said.
Over the long haul, this loan proved extremely cost effective by restoring normal productivity right away. Plus, it saved the business the potential cost of hiring and training a new worker to replace a moody, unproductive one.
``It's a fact of life that houses break and kids get sick. But when these things affect someone's performance, small business owners have much more latitude than big companies to create solutions and get that worker producing again,'' the owner commented.
In Texas, an alert shop owner finally traced a top technician's terrible mood swings to his wallet. The owner was stunned to learn that this seemingly mature adult had never had a checking or savings account-nor any clue on how or why people create budgets.
To stabilize the man's output, he had to stabilize his mood. This meant driving the worker to his bank where bank personnel opened an account for him and worked out a budget for him. That raised his self-esteem and eliminated the desperate, ``down'' periods caused by an empty wallet.
In another situation, a shop owner co-signed a loan so his best technician-a reliable, veteran employee-could buy a home. This gamble paid off handsomely by demonstrating the business' loyalty to and faith in its top producer.
Not only did the tech's self-esteem improve because he finally owned a slice of the American dream, his loyalty and commitment to the business that made it happen also skyrocketed!
However, curing money troubles is often easy compared to solving workers' personal problems.
An Illinois owner/manager was confronted with an outgoing young worker who, for the first time in his life, had a few bucks to rub together. Unfortunately, the hard-earned money went toward a fast car and frequent nights out on the town. Hangover-related lateness and mistakes became common occurrences.
Instead of inadequate funds, the root problem was insufficient self-esteem. The boss finally had to tell the fellow it was time to grow up and recognize the other talents and traits that defined his self-worth. Being ``one of the boys'' in a hard-drinking, hard-living crowd wasn't really necessary.
Keep in mind, any decision to intervene should be made on an ad-hoc basis-every situation is different. If nothing else, show your commitment to the worker by convincing him to seek appropriate counseling about his problems.
As one boss summed up: ``Solv-ing their problems may not be easy, but it's usually better and cheaper than firing and rehiring.''