I do not and cannot expect a service manager or shop foreman to recognize every undercurrent that may circulate through a service shop or tire dealership, but keeping a finger on the pulse of the shop helps maintain a favorable, productive work atmosphere.
Some owners, managers and foremen stubbornly disregard signs of discontent because they believe techs are natural-born complainers. Supposedly, every tech's gripe is groundless.
Experience has shown that this erroneous assumption often allows discontent, mistrust or other issues to build until workers' emotions boil over like an overheated cooling system.
That's why a timely huddle or team meeting is a golden opportunity to hear workers' worries. A savvy boss allows techs to vent instead of prejudging them and their worries.
After listening closely to employees' concerns, he or she can make informed, reasonable judgments about these issues.
The owners and managers I respect the most have stressed that listening to their techs is the very least they can do. A boss owes the shop's crew an "open ear."
In some circumstances, an owner or manager can resolve issues at the conclusion of the team meeting. Other times, solving problems requires additional analysis.
Where necessary, capable bosses set a date for a follow-up meeting in the immediate future. They react as quickly as practically possible because the workers deserve a prompt response.
The sooner a manager or foreman reacts, the sooner he or she gets the service department back on track — techs fully focused on their work.
What is more, prompt responses to employees' concerns build trust and foster mutual respect. Those are intangible but invaluable things in any business.
My trusted colleagues also stressed two potentially overlooked advantages of a team huddle in the service department — immediacy and privacy.
To me, immediacy means timeliness. For example, when you react right away to a misstep or accident, you enhance the seriousness of the incident.
They explained that this is particularly apparent when a shop foreman or service manager calls a full halt to all activity among the bays. Naturally, techs are groomed to hustle and then hustle some more.
Every day, techs face looming deadlines: Fix each vehicle correctly and finish the job on time. Lateness is as welcome as lawlessness.
Consequently, something very serious is afoot whenever the officer at the helm orders the ship to "full stop."
Plus, managers mean business when they gather the crew for an impromptu huddle. Eye-to-eye discussions carry much more weight than impersonal office memos or emails.
Savvy bosses said that privacy is an important element of any spontaneous summit you hold with your techs. For example, gather the techs together in an area of the service department where the meeting is out of earshot of co-workers and customers. (Some managers also have huddles out of sight of everyone else.)
For one thing, respected bosses always praise in public but reprimand in private. A huddle may involve a combination of things such as praise, scolding, training, encouragement, etc.
But a meaningful manager-tech meeting means just that — managers and techs.
Furthermore, privacy tends to promote candor at a juncture where a manager or foreman needs honest disclosures from employees.
An effective manager cannot resolve issues and motivate — refocus — dispirited workers when he does not know what really ails them.
In conclusion, do not underestimate the value of a spontaneous tech huddle when you think the situation warrants it.
In the short term, it may be somewhat painful, but over the long term, it will be productive.