Experience shows that traits such as teamwork and loyalty are reflected in a stronger bottom line for any business — including tire dealerships and service shops. Simply put, a happy workforce usually outperforms a miserable one.
Regular readers may recall that I've been reporting on the automotive repair industry for a long time. During my travels, I hear everyone from owners and managers to technicians and tire busters emphasizing a positive work atmosphere.
More often than ever, it seems, they acknowledge that the workplace should be as pleasant as realistically possible. After all, employees spend more time at work than they do at home. This is an unavoidable aspect of earning a living for people in service industries such as auto repair and tires. (You can't do this work at home.)
Some owners and managers I encounter have built traditions around events such as Christmas parties, summer picnics and gatherings tied to specialized local events. But others have established routine team meals.
These are, for instance, monthly or twice-monthly events where workers and managers meet informally. Sometimes, these are dinners at a private dining room in a local restaurant. Or the meals may be deli-style buffets set up in the break room of the service shop or dealership.
The concept is meant to encourage workers to get to know each other better in a casual, relaxed setting. The better co-workers get to know each other, the more likely they are to look out for each other — sharing solutions and ideas, as well as resolving problems as a team.
As one manager explained it to me, team meals help foster the theme that “we” is more successful and less stressful than “I.”
Make no mistake, you can lead a horse to water but it may not drink. Some workers may not warm up right away to group events such as team meals, but experience suggests that these meals are as good an opportunity as any for less-outgoing employees to feel more involved with the entire team.
As a rule, the more involved workers think they are, the more valuable they feel to the business as a whole. It's much tougher to motivate the troops when they don't believe they're valuable to the business.
Recently I received an additional, heartfelt endorsement of the team meal approach. My colleague Jimmy is a capable, well-respected technician at an East Coast repair shop. Though we had worked together many times, I didn't know that he had been the lead technician at a local new-car dealership. However, I did know that this dealership had once thrived before declining and closing its doors.
During my last visit, Jimmy broached the topic and noted how much the staff lunches benefited the workforce at his old job. Informally but steadily, he said, the group meals became a quasi think-tank for this dealership's large service department.
“Once we got to know each other better — over the course of several group meals — we fell into trading info and tips amongst each other. After a while, it became a matter of professional pride to offer a solution at the staff lunch,” he explained.
However, ownership changed the dealership's management team. Word spread throughout the facility that profits had to rise from good to great. Wherever possible, costs had to be cut.
When the boss stopped the team lunches, morale sank. “We tried our best to cope with the cost cutting. But it was surprising how much morale sank after he stopped the team meals,” Jimmy explained. “We really didn't appreciate how much those lunches meant until they were cancelled.”
Regular group meals are just one way to boost morale and cultivate employee loyalty. I welcome hearing your input on team-building ideas such as meals, as well as other ideas that have worked at your business.