When you have been working with shop owners and their businesses for more than 40 years, you see lots of change. The one change I hate to see is when a shop that was admired by everyone in the area slips into half as good as what it once was. It typically happens very gradually, with the owner blaming everything including the bathroom sink. The reality is most owners are working so hard in the business they actually don’t know what is happening to them. I was listening to a rather long but worthwhile story from Kim Hickey, an ATI coach and former shop owner, explaining how it can happen to anyone.
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Kim began with, have you ever been sitting somewhere, relaxing, just enjoying doing nothing and then you overhear someone say something so ridiculous, it just makes you almost jump out of your skin? And try as you might, you just can’t keep your mouth shut about it? That’s how she moved into this story.
The other day I overheard a group of women chatting about Easter: who was coming for dinner, what kind of pies, blah blah blah. It was then that I heard something that made every part of me nuts. A few of the women were speaking about the Easter egg hunts they were planning, and where they were going to hide eggs, candy, etc., when one woman started to reprimand them. She proceeded to tell the others that they could not just randomly hide candy, eggs, and prizes because if they did, there would be no way for them to ensure that every child participating received the exact same number of eggs, the same exact amount of candy and the same exact amount of prizes. She continued to speak and say that if all the children did not all get the same exact kind and amount of loot that it could lead to hurt feelings and possibly causing that child to grow up insecure.
She had a plan that would spare the world from these children who could be permanently and psychologically damaged by getting shorted at an Easter egg hunt. Her plan was to color code each egg and basket. Each child would be assigned a color and they would only be permitted to hunt for the eggs of their assigned color and put them in the basket of their assigned color. Each set of colored eggs had the same number of eggs and the same prizes and money in them. It was then that I was reminded why it is so difficult to find employees that want to work. Not only is it hard enough to find people that want to work, they want to get paid, applauded and praised just for showing up. Ta dah! I’m here today! Where is my reward?
Are You Leveling the Playing Field?
While her intentions might have been good, her plan was not. Her plan (which is unfortunately one of too many plans designed with the intent of leveling the playing field) stripped and robbed the participants of being victorious. It robbed the children of the thrill of the hunt. It robbed them from being rewarded for excelling. It robbed them of learning that if you plan better, work smarter and try harder, you will be rewarded. Is it any wonder with plans like these that so many people lack problem-solving skills, competitiveness and the drive to improve themselves? It is because of well-intentioned ideas like these that people are just about encouraged not to work hard for anything, and instead expect and demand that it will just be given to you.
If there were any long-term damages incurred as a result of a child participating in this Easter egg hunt, the damage would not be insecurity, it would be lack of motivation. To that woman, it is just an Easter egg hunt. In reality, it is a learning opportunity. It is a thinking game. It is a venue to learn how to strategize and outsmart your opponents. It forces you to figure out how you can stay two steps ahead of everyone else. It is a lesson in planning.
I still can remember going to bed the night before my childhood Easter egg hunts and laying out my plan of attack. I would mentally check off all my cousins’ strengths and weaknesses. As I lay in bed too excited to sleep, I would picture the layout of the yard and decide where I would start. I learned very quickly that you don’t start at the first cluster of eggs where everyone else was. If I did that, not only would I be outnumbered, but I could possibly get trampled because I was smaller. I wouldn’t have had a chance.
I also learned quickly that being greedy is not good either. If you ran for the giant chocolate or stuffed Easter bunny, you wouldn’t have room or hands to carry anything else, so while the big kids were each grabbing a huge stuffed or chocolate bunny, I was grabbing lots and lots of eggs and smaller things. Some even had money in them.
I could not be more delighted with how shortsighted my cousins were. They always went for the path of least resistance. They looked for the shortcut. I don’t know about you, but I would take many eggs filled with money over a stuffed bunny any day. Because my cousins were bigger and stronger, I had to use my head. I had to think things through. I learned to weigh my options. Had someone just said here is a yellow basket, go fill it with the yellow eggs, I would not have had to do or learn anything. Instead I would be waiting for my handout. I would not have had to earn the number of eggs I got; I would just have been given them for no reason.
As my cousins watched me each year, they started getting a little smarter. They started to spend a little time trying to come up with a better plan. They began sizing me up and looking for my weaknesses. They learned they had to run a little faster, plan a little better, try a little harder. They learned not to underestimate me regardless of my age or size. I learned I had to make adjustments to my strategy every year. Because the people playing evolved each year, the game evolved each year. Because the game changed, I had to learn how to change my approach. If I didn’t learn to change my strategy each year, I would not have been able to continue to be victorious. I learned that I could never rest on my laurels. I had to evolve, be aware of all my opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. It taught all of us so much!
Setting the Bar High Enough?
You should use the same skills you used as a child hunting for eggs in running your business. When you are putting together pay plans and reward programs for your employees, are you creating ones that encourage them to work smarter, try harder and continue their education? What are you doing to set the bar for them? How are you helping to motivate them to become better versions of themselves?
What about you? Are you aware of your competition? Have you taken inventory of your strengths and weaknesses? Are you evolving? Have you been staying current with the latest technology and keeping abreast of what is new in our industry?
How much research have you done on learning about future trends in your field? Do you just try to knock it out of the park and oversell instead of going for consistency? Do you ever take a walk around the neighborhood your shop is in and randomly stop in stores and ask where the best automotive repair is and see what answers you get? How often do you pull up at your shop and peruse the parking lot, walk through the front door, sit in your waiting room, stand at your counter? When was the last time you looked honestly at your shop like a customer does? Is “cutting edge” a phrase that is used to describe you by your peers?
Get Back in the Game
If you answered no or I don’t know to any of the above questions, you could be in danger of being left behind without even realizing it. In today’s world, maybe at schools and during Easter egg hunts you can get away with doing the minimum and still get a reward, but in the business world — the real world — that doesn’t happen. You won’t get a shiny new trophy just for showing up and not putting in any effort, you will get a shiny new out of business sign to hang on your door.
So, you want to test your strengths and weaknesses against your competition on marketing, sales techniques, pricing, technology, people and culture? We have a diagnostic worksheet you can use to write down your thoughts on these subjects to assess whether you are staying the best shop in your market. For a limited time, you can find our worksheet by going to www.ationlinetraining.com/2015-03.