AKRON (Oct. 24, 2005) — What's the biggest challenge a tire dealer or service shop operator may ever face? It may be the task of instilling a positive work attitude in a promising new hire who was raised to distrust the boss and to do as little work as possible.
In my last two columns, I've been discussing the apparent dearth of work ethic we cherish. Last time, I argued that too many parents knowingly or unknowingly have taught their kids an unrealistic sense of entitlement. That is, the world basically owes them because...well, it just owes them—period!
The story line is supposed to be that every succeeding generation in America should have it easier than the last, including doing less hard work for more money.
However, the best bosses I know claim that an equally big—possibly bigger—challenge is coaching a young person who came from an “anti-work” household. That is, an offspring of baby boomer parents who think that work is a necessary evil as opposed to a rewarding career. They were taught that owners and employers are objects of distrust and scorn.
Overall, baby boomers may have been born into the greatest standard of living ever. Consider the job and educational opportunities boomers had, not to mention the cost of housing, energy and transportation they encountered. All told, it was a pretty good time to grow up.
Certainly, part of growing up in the 1950s and '60s was the expectation that people who were talented, reliable and hard working would find job security with some sort of employer, large or small. My recollection is that folks worried more about issues such as automation than the risk of jobs leaving the country or disappearing altogether for any reason. Loyal employees put in their time and were supposed to retire happily from the same company where they started.
Gradually the business world changed and with it workers' attitudes. By the early 1980s, corporate raiders and leveraged buyout specialists were turning our white-picket-fence world upside down. They decimated many of the relatively stable companies from which hard-working baby boomers had hoped to one day retire. As the country moved more and more toward a service economy, countless basic manufacturing jobs went overseas.
Consequently, thousands—perhaps millions—of my generation found themselves out of work or forced into job relocations that they despised. Understandably, many baby boomers never got over the indignity of unemployment, the upheaval of relocation and/or the stress of starting a new career in an entirely different field.
Predictably, some developed a deeply rooted bitterness and disappointment that they passed on to their kids. Many of these same kids are now prospective new hires for your tire dealership or service shop.
Bosses hire these young people and wonder aloud what ails them. Depending upon their job description, it's soon evident that they make the absolute minimum amount of effort to get by and hang onto the job. No matter what, they're heading out the door at the stroke of closing time. They'll never take a broom to their work area unless they're forced to do so. The modern paradigm for these kinds of workers is that jobs can be here today, gone tomorrow. Work is not a career; it's a place where you punch a clock.
In previous columns, I've quoted my colleague Paul Grech, a San Francisco-area shop owner who's been doing business at the same location for 35 years. Having watched the dot-com boom and bust of recent years, he has emphasized something every tire dealer and shop operator should: Automotive service jobs are desirable simply because these jobs can't be shipped overseas. Considering the technician shortage this industry faces, we're undervaluing the career opportunities we can offer younger people, he said.
So if you're trying to motivate a younger person who seems soured and distrustful, lay out the opportunities for everything from service writer and general repair technician to diagnostician and service manager. Challenge this person to tell you how many of these jobs can be successfully exported overseas.
Lastly, review the incentive programs at your shop or dealership. If you don't have any in place, challenge yourself and your managers to create incentive plans for everyone from tire busters to diagnosticians. You'll be glad you did!