Creating an effective, ongoing employee feedback system in a dealership is essential to long-term success.
Creating such a system may be easier than you think. Here's why.
In my last column, I argued that it's human nature to avoid self-examination or self-evaluation. Most people don't enjoy looking in the mirror or looking into it for very long because it can be downright uncomfortable.
But after observing the most successful businesses in the automotive repair industry all these years, I've found that they all share two traits. First, they don't just have bosses bossin' people. Instead, they have leaders who lead. Second, good leaders always establish formal or informal ways to get feedback from their workers.
That said, there have been entirely too many times when I've visited dealerships and service shops where the tension in the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Productivity and morale are terrible, and employee turnover is high. Meanwhile, employee feedback at these under-performing businesses is conspicuous by its absence.
It's a foregone conclusion that finding good help today is difficult. If your dealership offers automotive repairs, you know how tough it is to recruit and retain good technicians. But when things look bleak, remember that the typical survey of American workers shows that job satisfaction always ranks higher than money. What's more, any worker with a pulse will confirm that having the boss' ear-the ability to provide feedback-is vital to job satisfaction.
If you haven't already read Paul Hawken's stellar Growing A Business (1987, Simon & Schuster), I urge you to do so. Despite having no college degree-let alone the hallowed MBA-entrepreneur Mr. Hawken created two successful niche-market businesses, including the Smith & Hawken gardening tool and supplies company.
In addition to describing many of his own management techniques, Mr. Hawken also discusses winning formulas used by other highly successful non-conformist businesses such as Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and the Patagonia outdoor clothing and outfitting company.
Of all the great, practical ideas I found in this book, the so-called ``5-15 report'' is my favorite. This very informal report, which most employees submit weekly, should take no more than 15 minutes to write and five minutes to read. Mr. Hawken says the 5-15 report, which he attributes to the founder of Patagonia, has three elements.
First, an employee penning a 5-15 should describe plainly and simply what he or she did that week. Mr. Hawken argues that this part, which requires each worker to actually evaluate and reflect upon their duties and activities, helps keep workers more alert, involved and committed to their jobs. As time passes, he said, workers should become very adept at defining and describing what it is they're doing for the firm.
What's more, a 5-15 report that becomes boring and repetitive usually suggests the employee needs more challenging work and/or a shift of duties to keep him or her alert and satisfied.
Second, this report should contain a blunt assessment of the worker's own morale and his/her perception of the morale around him/her.
Third, the 5-15 should challenge each worker to submit one idea that would improve his or her job. The idea could also be something that would benefit his or her entire department or the business at large.
Mr. Hawken said he expanded the concept at his company to include this unspoken rule: Act upon all problems, suggestions and ideas in the 5-15 reports within one week. Waiting any longer than that would be ineffective and, worse yet, demoralizing to the employees.
The 5-15 concept would require customizing to suit tire dealerships and service shops. For example, maybe the reports need to be done only every other week. But I believe a good leader could easily tweak the technique to keep abreast of workers' moods, problems and feelings. It would reduce greatly those occurrences where the best technician turns in his two-week notice and the boss squeals, ``I had no idea you were so unhappy here!''
I think 5-15s are a smart, pro-active step toward improving morale and productivity. But it will take a leader to make this concept work.