Snr VP Business Development
Several years ago a shop owner from New York, a personal friend of mine, called me and began telling me about some tough employee issues, poor production, and stagnant sales. He was working some crazy hours, said he could not take time away from the shop fearing that all would go wrong if he left. I asked him why he felt that way. He said the last time he took a week off the shop sales plummeted and he found himself putting out fires the first days back from his vacation. He had gotten to the point that if he was to take another vacation he would just close down for the week and give all his employees a paid vacation. From the way things were going it would cost him less and he would not have to deal with the aggravation.
I told him not to make any drastic changes because I was already planning to come to New York and I would pay him a visit.
I did not tell him when the visit was going to be so that I would get a truer picture of what was really going on. The day I arrived I stood outside of the shop and just observed for a while; my friend did not know I was there. Within a short period of time one of the employees stood out. His actions were about as far away as you could get from being called “good for the business”.
I walked up to the counter where my friend was working – he was writing his own service at the time – and I asked him to introduce me to his techs. The first two guys where personable and social. The third one (the one I had observed) was a tiger. I had my friend turn the shop over to his lead tech, the tiger for a while so we could go up to his house and talk. We sat down and I rattled off a list of things this guy was doing and how he was behaving in the business. When I was done my friend looked at me as said, “that is exactly what this guy (the tiger) is like, how did you get that out of a handshake?!” I told my friend that even though I had never met this guy his personality traits are not new to me. I’ve seen them in other shops I’ve worked with. I asked him if he wanted some help straightening out this problem. Since it seemed insurmountable to him he eagerly agreed.
It took a couple of weeks to work out a careful plan to remove this tiger from his shop because my friend was convinced he needed this guy! The day my friend let him go he called me sounding like a schoolboy who finally got his first date. “HE’S GONE, HE’S GONE! I feel 10 years younger and I feel like 100 lbs has been lifted off my head! The lights actually look brighter in the shop and the other techs are smiling and having a great time throwing out all of his junk!” The very next month the shop did more production with just two techs than it had ever done with three.
I have always found it amazing how one person in a business can hold down the whole shop. And it always seems to be that key guy the owner feels he must have! He’s the guy who knows his stuff, he can tackle the hard jobs, the ones that other techs shy away from, but he does it at a price. This is the guy that puts owners between a rock and a hard place.
One of the responsibilities of an owner is to create a safe and friendly work space. People need to get along with each other and they usually do. But you have no chance of creating a good team if you have a tiger in the mix.
Another problem with a guy like this is it makes it hard to recruit new team members. Word gets around and techs know who is working where. A shop also loses good, hard-working, personable guys with a tiger around. No one wants to work with him except maybe other tigers — Great! Now you have two of them.
Long ago I worked in a dealership and we had two of these characters. They tore up the production lines and made everyone’s life miserable. The service manager did not know how to handle them and the owner ignored the problem. Ultimately they drove off all the other good techs and then left together leaving the service department woefully undermanned.
Knowing how to read people and hire the right people the first time is a skill owners must have. It is just too painful and costly not to know. Having trouble in the production area? Too many upsets and noise? Look for the tiger—he’s the one in the bushes with fangs and claws ready to pounce on the next unsuspecting victim.