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Success Starts at the Top

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Even in ancient times the notion of teamwork was a difficult process. Take, for example, "The Iliad," Homer’s story about the ancient Greek King Agamemnon and Achilles, his best warrior. In the story, Agamemnon cares more about proving his power than he does about motivating Achilles to capture Troy, and nearly loses the Trojan War because the two men can’t get along.

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As business people, we have all been talking about teamwork for a long time. But it seems that there is always more talk than there is developing a team and having it succeed on a day-to-day basis. It makes one wonder if the old adage “One for all and all for one” has taken on a new, one-way street meaning: “All for one,” meaning the manager or owner, but not “one for all,” the employees.

From a strategic point of view, Don Hutson, president and CEO of U.S. Learning, defines leadership as, “the art of using persuasive skills and/or power of position to influence the attitudes and behaviors of others towards exceptional service.” Hutson has been motivating and training business people for over 30 years, and believes that at any time, an employee can be a burden or a resource toward your vision. He teaches business owners that they need to keep employees on the resource side, which will improve performance and attitude.

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If you do what you’ve always done, Hutson believes that you won’t get the same results. He refers to business today as “the new normal,” meaning that we need to differentiate ourselves from the past and train our employees to have a customer focus in order to build a strong team that is better than the competition’s.

From the tactical side, Bill Jarvis, owner of Midwest Tire & Auto Repair in Schereville, Ind., a four-store chain, believes strongly that success does start at the top. “It’s very, very important. Your employees are an extension of you and your business philosophy. If you don’t have the right team, you can’t relay the right message to your customers,” he says.

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Larry Stoddard, regional vice president with American Tire Distributors in Lincoln, Neb., concurs with Jarvis. “As a leader, I need to set an example of responsibility,” he says. “The people you surround yourself with define you. Every one of my people needs to step up and be accountable, but it all starts with me.”

Stoddard says that effective leaders direct people and manage systems and processes, which may be where many managers get confused. Ultimately, people are judged by their performance, and by empowering his people and keeping them focused, Stoddard has led his region to a third straight top performance award within the company – which means he’s doing something right.

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“I don’t want robots working for me,” Stoddard says. “I try to identify the strengths of my people and focus on improving on that foundation and fitting them into the right job and the specific market.”

Putting Together a Winning Team
Recruiting and selecting good people is key to building a winning team. Hutson feels that the most viable indicator of one’s potential for success is their track record. You need to ask questions, probe for details and look for clues to become informed about their past successes and failures. And it has to go beyond just the answers to the questions.

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“When interviewing a potential employee, you have to find out about the whole person,” he says. “You need to know who the person is, their values and beliefs, as well as their communication skills in order to get some sense of what they’re like as a person. Their personality needs to blend with yours, or they will never fit into the position.”

Wayne Rudolph, owner of Rudolph’s Tire Pros in Yoakum, Texas, feels that good people are still hard to find, even in a down economy with a rising unemployment rate. “Rural markets can be slim pickings,” he says. “We believe that you have to look at a prospect’s background for integrity, and then be willing to invest in training them to fit the position.”

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Rudolph says that prior to working at his shop, his current office manager used to work at a veterinarian’s office that closed. They offered her a package to grow and provided the necessary training, and she has become an integral part of the organization.

Jarvis tries to promote managers from within his organization. He places ads when needed, but also has some unique ideas. “I stay in touch with the unemployment office,” he says. “I tell them what I’m looking for and give them the job criteria and pay level. When someone comes into their office that appears to be a fit, they put the two of us in touch. It helps me find good people and helps the community at the same time.”
Jarvis also looks at the competition, and in these challenging times, will contact businesses that are closing and asks for referrals. “Most businesses want to help their employees, and many are willing to recommend someone instead of having to lay them off. Plus, it saves them from having to pay the unemployment.”

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Don’t be afraid to go outside the industry. In sales, the selling process is basically the same no matter what the product. By expanding your search, you may find a great salesperson without the baggage that comes from years in the tire business. But be willing to set up the required training to get them up to speed. Jarvis pairs his new salespeople with his experienced sales staff and managers to help with the necessary training. They provide years of knowledge to help the person grow, and they reap the benefits of extra commissions while the new employee is learning.

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When looking for a service writer, an automotive background surely helps. Perhaps the ideal candidate is already somewhere in your shop – a mechanic who is older and can’t do the physical aspects as well as when they were younger, or just a person that’s looking to expand and grow. Sometimes a partially disabled technician fits the bill. They may have been hurt on the job but still like being involved in the industry or with the company. There also seems to be a trend in hiring more female service writers. With 65% of tires and service being purchased buy women, the fit would seem natural and may offer opportunities to help boost that aspect of the business.

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Technicians and tire techs have offered a unique set of challenges to businesses over the last decade. Let’s face it, this is a dirty business and working on vehicles is tough work. The pendulum has swung somewhat over the past year with the economy, and there are more qualified technicians looking for jobs in the marketplace than most of us can remember in recent times. Now may be the time to consider adding staff or replacing mediocre employees.

Consider working with local high schools and trade schools to find future talent. Build relationships with the teachers, and allow students to work in your shop part-time while they are going to school, all while offering to grade them for their efforts. When they graduate, you then have an inside track to get the cream of the crop.

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Developing and Motivating the Team
Building a team is about more than just surrounding yourself with good people. That is certainly the foundation to build on, but employees want to grow. At one time or another, every one of us was an employee. If you think about what motivates each of us, money is certainly important, but in many cases it’s not the driving force for why we go to work every day. “It’s more than money, it’s feeling appreciated and secure in a position,” says Jarvis.

Rudolph feels a bit different: “We pay our people more than they can earn elsewhere. I believe that you define the job responsibilities up front, tell them what is expected and hold them accountable.”

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Additionally, he believes you need to make your people feel important and not talk down to them. “It’s essential to retaining good employees and helps build a mutual respect,” Rudolph adds. “Family fills in where needed at Rudolph’s, and we run a lean crew. Their turnover is low and people seem to stay and do their jobs as expected. Our sales staff up front has been with us over 35 combined years, and our tire techs have each been with us for at least four years.”

Stoddard believes that you need to challenge employees. He defines objectives up front and keeps his staff focused on achieving their goals. “You also need to weave some fun into the business schedule,” he says. “We set up contests between the team members to keep things interesting, and stress the fact that everyone can win.”

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Stoddard also believes in the continued development of his people. He subscribes to several online newsletters, and shares the articles with his employees to help them grow. He also passes out business books and articles at meetings, and, on occasion, has been known to follow-up with questions to make sure the information is being read and retained.

Independent dealers can do the same thing with their staff. Look for interesting articles and short books that will help your employees build their knowledge and keep on top of current business and marketing trends. In addition, talk to your suppliers about training programs that will help your people grow. Tire manufacturers and distributors, parts, oil and battery suppliers, as well as marketing groups and associations, provide training and development programs on just about every type of subject, and in numerous venues. Many of the programs are conducted for customers at little, if any, charge. Don’t be afraid to invest in training your people. Building a team requires an investment, and the price you pay will pay dividends for years to come.

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Over the years, I’ve heard dealers say that they are hesitant to spend the money to train employees because they are afraid they will leave. Hutson responds by asking, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” If you are considering spending money to develop an employee, don’t be afraid to ask them up front for a commitment. You may ask them to help pay for the cost initially, and then over time refund the money to them based on performance and fulfilling their commitment.

Being a Good Leader
Some managers get it, but most don’t. Only a few are natural “people persons.” Most are technical experts promoted for hands-on achievements and not for being warm and fuzzy in their dealings with others. While most managers like their job, they hate managing people because they have no idea how to oversee and motivate employees. To succeed, discover what employees really want from a boss and then learn how to give it to them.

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Hutson says that key attributes of innovative leaders include:
• Having a compelling leadership style
• Being a skilled team builder
• Keeping an upbeat perspective about the business and dealing with your employees – stay positive because employees feed off the boss’s attitude
• Being held accountable for results – sharing credit for success while taking the ultimate responsibility when things go wrong
• Working on developing people skills
• Working to persuade, rather than demand things from staff
• Establishing goals and remembering that there are no unrealistic ones, only unrealistic time frames

The way employees are treated has a lot to do with whether they stay or leave. A manager may be an excellent administrator who gets things done, but if the staff views them as cold, insensitive and task-driven, they may rank lowest in nearly all areas related to employee interactions. As a result, the business may experience high turnover and repeatedly lose top performers.

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These same employees deal with the lifeline of your business – your customers. If they are not happy and don’t respect you as a manager or owner, that may reflect in their attitude at the counter and end up costing you business.

Understanding what people want is essential to being a successful manager. Treat people like human beings: celebrate birthdays, learn about their lives and what makes them tick. Rudolph believes that you need to help your employees where needed and go beyond just being a boss. “It means getting involved and being a friend or father figure at times.”

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People tend to be happier and more productive when they work for more than just a paycheck. Ask your people what they think, and let them take ownership of their ideas. Be sure to give credit where credit is due.

Trust people with projects that challenge them. It gives them a chance to shine and grow. Ask them to help you find ways to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Provide training where needed and support their ideas. Show them that you have their backs when projects fail and the going gets tough.

Be accessible and set aside time regularly to connect with your employees. Show your interest, and turn off cell phones and e-mails so they get your undivided attention. When you don’t, you send the message that you’re preoccupied or indifferent.

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Respect the information your people share in confidence, unless, of course, it crosses a legal or ethical line. Nothing damages a relationship faster than a manager who betrays an employee’s trust. Don’t be afraid to admit your shortcomings – own up to your mistakes and be able to laugh at yourself. Letting people see that you are human shows self-confidence and builds trust. In short, care about your people.

“Building a great team takes a collective intellect,” says Hutson. “Remember that all of us are smarter than one of us.”

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According to a recent study from Walker Loyalty Reports, employees want:
• Honesty: 91.5% want honesty and integrity from their manager.
• Fairness: 89.2% want their manager to be fair and hold everyone to the same standard.
• Dependability: 81.2% want to be able to count on their manager.
• Collaboration: 77.4% want to contribute ideas and solutions.
• Appreciation: 74.4% want their manager to appreciate them for who they are and what they contribute.
• Responsiveness: 73.9% want their managers to listen, understand and respond.

 

What they don’t want:
• Friendship: 2.9% want their manager to be a friend or companion.
• Conversation: 14.2% want to have interesting conversations.
• Emotional support: 25.4% want emotional support from their manager.
• Cheerfulness: 28.8% want a cheerful or happy manager.
• Humor: 29% want their manager to be fun loving.

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