Motivating talented but obstinate workers is a daunting challenge for most owners and managers. This year, try a quieter, subtler approach: Lead these people by example instead of bulldozing them with your clout. Several years ago in this column, I cited a military officer's philosophy that you manage things, not people. Instead, successful bosses lead people, and the most convincing way to do that is by setting the standard.
Whether you're pushing papers or turning wrenches, keeping your work area clean during busy periods can be difficult. Yet, some managers discovered that cleaning out their offices or work areas with a vengeance got the attention of the resident ``Pigpen'' in the service department.
Ridding the office of piles of needless paper and trash made it easier to look Pigpen in the eye and challenge him to tidy up. It even forced Pigpen to make good on his dare, ``The day you straighten up this place, I'll do the same to my workbench and bay!''
A thorough tidying-up also provided a rationale for finally forcing careless technicians to follow procedure. ``Now that the service desk and office are clean, they're going to stay clean! No grease prints on the counter and all paperwork must go in the proper bins,'' the conquering manager announced.
In another case, a manager embarrassed workers into keeping the shop cleaner by tackling the most dreaded chore in the service department-cleaning the shop drain. A combination of poor design and poor maintenance allowed shop debris to clog the drain, creating a pool of vile-smelling liquid around it.
When the odor became overwhelming, someone would grudgingly poke through the dank liquid and open the drain long enough to remove the standing water.
One day the manager put on rubber gloves, removed the drain grate and patiently cleaned the drain more thoroughly than anyone before him. The man solved a shop problem and earned his troops' respect without uttering a word. Thereafter, techs willingly kept the shop spotless!
Readin' and learnin'
All too often, the techs who need training the most fail to attend as many classes as they should, managing to get by mostly by stealing tidbits of information from the more knowledgeable techs near them. They won't attend clinics or read books until their ignorance reaches their wallets in the form of needless comebacks and incorrect diagnoses.
I have urged managers to attend as many technical clinics as practically possible, then use this knowledge to communicate more effectively with their own techs as well as with doubtful car owners.
A manager's position is generally regarded as a non-technical one. But today, smart managers realize technical know-how is part of ``walking the walk, talking the talk'' of automotive service.
Furthermore, managers who attend technical classes set an important example for the entire service department. Without saying a word and risking an ugly confrontation, the manager shows uncooperative techs that in spite of all his responsibilities, he finds time for classes.
He also shows he's willing to learn helpful information not strictly required by a job description. Plus, sheer ego can motivate some techs to get schooled when they discover a manager is better-versed on a topic than they are!
The same holds true for reading, and managers can set the example by combing through technical articles in auto service trade magazines, looking for solutions to problems they know the techs encounter in the service department.
Some managers coyly and casually reveal their newfound knowledge to astounded techs during shop bull sessions or lunch breaks. Or, they photocopy articles, highlighting areas that address a tech's diagnostic or repair dilemma, and place a copy on each toolbox in the service department.
Both approaches are relatively low-key ways to convey two points: First, the manager isn't as dumb as he looks; second, the mouthy tech who claimed he couldn't solve certain problems could indeed have fixed them had he been reading trade magazines regularly.
It remains a mystery why leading by example seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of successful managers everywhere. Try the technique-you'll be amazed at how well it works.