Savvy bosses always clarify what they want from workers at every level of the business. Clarifying expectations is vitally important because ultimately, uninformed employees cost the company money.
Uninformed workers are not as productive as informed ones; anything that hampers productivity hurts profitability. So when in doubt, effective bosses personally present their expectations at team meetings.
For me, the topic of bosses' expectations has been a recurring theme during my time reporting on the automotive repair industry.
I regularly meet tire dealers and service shop operators who wonder aloud why workers don't do what they're supposed to do — let alone do it in a timely manner.
When these bosses recount their woes, I hear one assumption upon another. For instance, they compare various workers to themselves or to one of their exceptional employees.
"Why isn't Tim as steady, reliable and thoughtful as Jerry," a manager asks me. The answer, readers, is very simple: Tim is Tim — not Jerry. Therefore, a boss should expect Tim to behave like Tim unless he is coached to do otherwise.
My reply may sound trite or sarcastic. However, many tire dealers and service shop operators don't seem to grasp how different one person can be from the next one.
It's foolish to assume that any two people with a crew are wholly alike in temperament, training, innate skills, etc. In fact, think how much easier a manager's job would be if every employee shared the same traits with each other.
For example, a guy like Tim may possess exceptional manual dexterity. He may be the go-to person when a co-worker cannot remove a component in an awkward location.
On the other hand, Tim may struggle when he needs to think through the potential causes of a problem before reaching for the wrenches.
In other instances, a boss may have a very talented worker who sometimes suffers bouts of lateness.
Or maybe a capable employee's mercurial behavior has begun to frighten co-workers. From one day to another, for instance, they don't know if the kindly Kim or nasty Kim will show up for work.
At some point, a boss has to recognize when certain workers really don't recognize what he or she expects. Acknowledge that these problems are hurting morale and productivity.
Tell the staff what you want and then coach workers accordingly. Perhaps list your concerns on a notepad or in a document in your computer. This list is the outline of a heartfelt talk to your team members.
Plan a team meeting with mandatory attendance. If necessary, schedule work around this get-together.
Feed the crew and try to keep the atmosphere as relaxed as practically possible. Then calmly cite the items on your outline without mentioning specific names — without "calling out" the actual offenders. Typically, everyone on the staff already knows who the troublemakers are anyway.
For example, remind everyone that "on time" really means arriving early enough to change clothes, ingest the necessary coffee and donut, organize the tool cart, etc.
Perhaps it's time to restate that professional behavior does not mean scratching the painted surfaces of vehicles or getting grease on steering wheels and seats.
Technicians may need to hear that they're expected to do homework and/or consult with the shop foreman whenever they're unsure of proper diagnostic procedures.
Or, the boss may have to explain that a civil tone of voice and courteous demeanor are essential elements of a welcoming work environment.
Abrasive, threatening speech has no place in the business. Unexpected problems do occur in the course of a day. That's life. But diatribes, insults and temper tantrums never solve problems more effectively than calm, polite discussion does.
Finally, clarify that repeat offenders will be cited and disciplined. Don't let anyone think they weren't warned — and warned as a group — about your expectations.