Some of the things I’ve helped shops improve over my career are very tangible: better processes, better financial reporting, better use of materials, better estimating.
But one of the key differentiators I’ve seen between good shops and really great shops is more intangible: the ability of the shop’s leaders to develop a loyal, motivated team of employees.
To some extent, the ability to do that may be somewhat innate. Just as someone may be a natural-born “people person” for whom customer service comes easily, I think some people are natural-born leaders who can inspire and motivate others.
But that doesn’t prevent anyone from developing and improving their ability to build an engaged and dedicated team in their business. So based on my belief that motivating employees begins with great management, I turned to a couple of shop owners who have built a motivated, loyal workforce within their business. Over my next several columns, I’ll share the tips and advice they offered.
Motivating employees begins with great management. As a second-generation shop owner, Paul Sgro leads a team of 24 employees at Lee’s Garage in West Long Branch, N.J. He said any shop owner who wants to motivate employees first needs to take a look in a mirror.
“The culture of my company begins with me, and my character,” Sgro said, and he believes that’s true for any business. “It starts with who I am and what I do. That translates to everyone else. If you’re a caring person, and you work hard and plow through, your people working with you will emulate that.”
It’s not about the money. So often when we talk about motivating employees, we’re talking about a pay plan or an incentive structure. The most successful leaders say that’s not their focus.
“The pay plans don’t motivate people,” Sgro said. “I’ve had employees in the past who worked for us that were all about money, money, money. They’re not here any more. The bottom line is that it wasn’t about the money. In their mind it was. But it wasn’t.”
The money may have been their excuse for leaving, he said, but the real issue was they didn’t fit into the shop’s culture.
“What really motivates these people is you being a caring person,” Sgro said. “They want to be treated right. They want to be respected. They want to be empowered.”
Show them respect and appreciation. Jost Garage is a fourth-generation collision repair business in Wall Township, N.J. When I asked Barry Jost if money is what motivates his 32 employees, he echoed much of what Sgro said.