Building your team and culture from the techs up

by | Nov 23, 2023 | 1 comment

Regina, Saskatchewan’s Joe Taylor believes owners sometimes forget to include individuality in their desire to improve the performance of the business. 

Just like the approach popularized in the film “Moneyball,” treating your team like individuals, each with their own set of talents, is the road to overall success. That success may be eluding shop owners who try to get everyone marching to the same drummer.

At least that’s what Regina, Saskatchewan’s Joe Taylor thinks. The automotive service veteran has owned a shop, been a tech, has experience as a service adviser, and even spent time at the parts counter.

He believes owners sometimes forget to include that individuality in their desire to improve the performance of the business. Taylor recently sat down with with Indie Garage founder Andrew Ross to share his views with readers.

From my own personal experience, a lot of shop owners come from a good place. They have good ideas when they get going, and want to create a certain culture; they want to create a team environment. And sometimes there’s not enough open lines of communication.

Some shop owners can really get stuck in their lane: “This is what’s worked for me for 20 years. I know how to run a shop. I know how to make money. I don’t need to try a different website. I don’t need to try a different program.”

And sometimes they’re not open to new ideas or new perspectives that new employees, especially experienced ones, can bring to the table.

What has maybe frustrated me about [business] articles in the past, is when they bring up technicians as metrics within the shop: three licensed techs, each producing 120%. This is what’s ideal. And the shops that I’ve been at that have been really successful, that’s totally not the case. It’s not three guys at 120%. Sometimes there’s one guy at 200% and one guy at 80%, and everybody is doing different things.

And some of those things pay really well and produce big labour hours. And some of those don’t. Some of the diagnostic things – like I’ve done in the past – they pay terrible!

One shop owner once said that diagnostics is just bragging rights; it doesn’t pay the bills. But at the end of the day, it’s part of being a well-rounded shop.

It’s great that you can hammer out brakes and ball joints, but if you don’t have a guy who can diagnose that noise in the first place in a timely manner, you’re just going to be throwing a lot of parts at it.

So, it’s a little bit like a baseball team or a hockey team. You’ve got different guys who’ve got different strengths. And if you can hone in on those and ask guys on a personal level what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, and figure out where their heart is, you’re going to naturally excel, because they’re in their happy zone.

And the complete opposite is true. If you force a tech into a spot in the shop that he doesn’t like and where he doesn’t feel comfortable, he’ll start to sink, and he won’t just start to sink with the labour hours. He’ll start to personally sink, and you’ll frustrate him.

I’ve seen shops where that starts to creep into the culture, and eventually that tech ends up leaving, and he might be the best brake and ball joint tech you’ve ever seen – but you kept giving him too many check-engine-lights, and you frustrated him right out the door.

At a good well-rounded shop, when I was an apprentice and I was coming in, I knew I was sweeping the floor. I knew I was busting tires, and I knew I was doing oil changes, and I knew that was the natural progression.

I focused on being really good at tires – and then you start to get too good at something, and then that’s all that you’re doing. And they don’t want to give you something else. Why would they? You make them so much money on tires!

And so I’ve had to go through way more jobs than I want to admit to, but sometimes I did that to move my career forward, so I could go somewhere else and I could be the brake tech at this next shop, or I could be the alignment guy.

If a shop is running properly, hopefully the owner sees that somebody is good at something, but you kind of pepper it with other stuff – especially apprentices and younger techs, you try to bring them upwards every step and see what it is they like to do. And your tire guy can become a great alignment guy!

But you really have to be careful. Dealerships are terrible for pigeonholing people. The alignment guy will be on the rack for 20 years.

It’s bad for our industry, for getting new people and for keeping old people.

I found the guys that are doing what they like, the guys that love to do a brake job or love to do a clutch, they just naturally do things fast and they do it very well. They take a lot of pride in it. If they’ve done something several times, they’re making good labour on it, but they’re doing really good work as well. It’s top-notch quality, because they really like it and they’re taking pride in it.

I think it’s so important. You can’t complain in this industry about there not being enough people, and not being good enough people, if you’re not trying to do something about it. 

I do like the analogy of a baseball team. Sometimes owners shouldn’t expect everybody to be the pitcher every day. There are going to be people that are more diagnostically minded and are not going to hammer out the brake jobs.

I’ve worked in shops where almost every day we’d look at the appointment scheduler and we’d be like, oh, this is a Joe job. This is a job for Bob, this is a job for John.
And before the cars even came in, we already had picked what we thought we were going to do.

When you’re in that team environment, you know that other people have your back. You can create a culture where you share knowledge, especially if you have one or two older people. Somebody can say, “I’ve done that repair before. If you want to do it, I’ll show you some quick tricks on it.” 

It really brings the place up on a teamwork level, and on a productivity level.

Hear the whole conversation on The Great Canadian Aftermarket Podcast!

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