Think about the expression, ``You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.'' You'll never really know if you don't try leading him to the water, will you? Tire dealers and service shop operators often gripe about the quality of employees they're dealing with today. I'm convinced that if bosses do nothing to ``grow'' better people, they'll continue wallowing in the mediocrity they now criticize.
What's more, they'll never know the real potential of their workers (or their dealerships, for that matter) if they do nothing to develop that potential. If you want a loyal, motivated workforce, try cultivating those qualities yourself. In other words, buck conventional wisdom by leading them to the water yourself.
Some bosses encourage but don't require workers to attend business or technical seminars to gain knowledge that directly applies to improving the dealership's profitability. At the other end of the spectrum, some large companies cheerfully pay for classes that are personally gratifying to the employee but don't directly impact the business.
What both techniques have in common is that workers must have the initiative to take instruction off-site. In some service shops and dealerships, that initiative is sorely lacking. Therefore, consider bringing education of all kinds into your dealership on a regular basis.
In my last column, I described a workshop banner displaying company goals and values at an Oregon toolmaker, Darex Professional Tool Corp. ``Lunch to Learn'' is another Darex practice that could benefit Tire Business readers. The company uses this program to bring its horses to water—broaden its crew's education—by bringing the information in house.
Every Wednesday, Darex workers can enjoy a company-sponsored meal in the lunchroom along with an informative presentation of some kind. The topic could concern Darex' primary business of tool-sharpening equipment for a variety of different industries. For example, a supplier might explain a new manufacturing process or technique for the workers.
Sometimes, Lunch to Learn programs concern financial topics that overlap work and home life. Employees have heard presentations explaining retirement plans and discussing personal investments. At the same time, the topic may be pure fun, such as a co-worker giving a slide show on his month-long vacation in the South Pacific.
Although the program is not mandatory, most people do attend. Workers enjoy the informal atmosphere Lunch to Learn provides.
While a lunch break doesn't give speakers or teachers much presentation time, on the other hand, 60 to 90 minutes per week is better then nothing at all. And if the topic really excites employees, the boss has the option of bringing the speaker back for additional, more-detailed classes on that subject.
You say your dealership can't spare lunchtime for educational programs like Lunch to Learn? Perhaps you can't afford not to invest an hour a week in its future. Think about closing down the service department for an hour at noon on your slowest day of the week. Make it shop policy and tell service writers to schedule work around this educational hour. Doctors don't hesitate to tell patients when they're unavailable and you shouldn't either.
The best leaders will tell you commitment is a two-way street. Give some to get some.
An ongoing educational program could convince basically worthwhile but doubtful workers that you respect and value them.
Last but not least, don't underestimate the value of business and financial topics to your crew. Several years ago, I told you about a colleague who steadied his best tech's see-sawing productivity by steadying his pocketbook. He did this by opening the tech's first savings account and teaching him to deposit part of every paycheck. Having money on hand by the next payday ended the worker's feast-or-famine anxieties, refocusing him on being a top-producing tech.
Remember that a worker's overall mental health and attitude exert the most influence on your store's bottom line. Education—even if an hour weekly—helps build his or her self-esteem. It gives personnel something extra to look forward to every week. These are the seeds that grow loyalty and commitment.