Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2013   by Murray Voth, TACT

Competence, Confidence and Hope

One of the wonderful things about human beings is our uniqueness. None of us are the same and we each bring our unique gifts, talents and ways of seeing and being to the groups and communities we are part of. This human experience also brings...

One of the wonderful things about human beings is our uniqueness. None of us are the same and we each bring our unique gifts, talents and ways of seeing and being to the groups and communities we are part of. This human experience also brings challenges when working together in groups and when dealing with change. Because we are so interdependent, when we face change in our group, or are working together to solve a problem our different ways of doing and seeing things can often get in the way. Historically, the common model of dealing with this reality was autocratic leadership. The boss, the king, the ruling powers dictate how things are done and we just do them. In our modern setting and specifically in business, that type of leadership is outmoded. Many  no longer follow blindly and want to know why something is being done or changed; they want their opinion to be heard.

If we look specifically at the model of an automotive shop as a business, many of the owners I work with long for the days when they could yell, “Jump!” at an employee and the employee responded “How high?” With today’s extreme shortage of qualified technicians and service advisors, most owners are actually afraid of their employees and lack the skill required to build and maintain a cohesive team. Owners and managers feel that if they push too hard, or try to change things too fast that the employees will leave. This then sets up a different dysfunction; with some long-term employees acting like subversive dictators within the business.

How to Create a Positive Work Environment

So how do we create an environment where the positive human attributes like curiosity, creativity, caring and all the other unique positive features of each one of us can be brought together for the good of the group? We need to understand that what makes us unique also creates some challenges. One of which is our learning style. Some of us learn by seeing (or reading), some by hearing, some by watching and some by touching, or usually a combination of the above with one dominant style. Another is our decision making style. Some of us make decisions using data and information, and some of us make decisions using our intuition or our emotions. With these challenges in mind, I have created an outline I think will help business teams, managers and employees, become more effective in solving problems and dealing with change.

The outline we are going to work with includes knowledge, application, desire and perseverance. By using these principles you will be well on your way to building an effective self-directed team and no longer needing to be a “Boss,’ but rather a coach and a cheerleader.

The two general areas that I am going to apply these principles to are solving a problem or dealing with or creating change in a business. In both circumstances we need to acquire knowledge and information. These include facts, statistics, ideas, systems and designs related the problem or change at hand. We may react emotionally to such facts or statistics, but in-and-of themselves, they are just concrete pieces of information. The fact a shop needs a 60 per cent overall gross profit to generate benchmark net profit and retained earnings does not take into account how you or your employees feel about it. If we use a technical example, there is pretty much only one way to rebuild an engine successfully. I emphasize this because too many times when we are facing a change or a problem to solve we let our emotions and reactions stop us from proceeding. We need to learn how to learn. Find the information we need, or find someone who can help us find the information we need and learn it. When it comes to technical issues, many technicians turned shop owners have no problem finding information, but when it comes to human resources challenges, for example, they just fly by the seat of their pants. There are many good online courses on how to perform employee reviews, interview prospective employees or to deal with difficult people.

The next step is application. Once you have learned the information, or method, or system required to make the change, or solve a problem, you need to learn how to apply it. It is one thing to learn air-conditioning theory in the classroom, but entirely another to perform an actual evacuation and recharge on a vehicle. Likewise, when it comes to a management issue such as employee reviews you will need to apply the theory to reality. This may involve a role-play with another business associate or senior employee in order to get some practice. Another way to learn how to apply knowledge is to teach the concept to another person. In the process of teaching, you will find that your ability to apply the knowledge will increase, especially when you are dealing with skills that are not as tangible as diagnosing or repairing a vehicle.

The third principle I will be discussing is desire. Do you or your employees have the desire to make the change or solve the problem? This principle is the most complex. Sometimes the cycle of change starts with desire. This could be the desire to reduce stress or improve profits or solve a problem. In this case, your desire pushes you to find the information you need and to learn to apply it. In many cases you are made aware of new information that you need to learn to apply, and then you must want to make the effort to learn and change. This is where many people and businesses stall. The first reaction to a challenge or to change is emotional. What about this and what about that? What will people think? This looks too hard. I’ve never done this before.

Being a Good Manager Includes Managing Yourself

In order to be an effective manager and leader we must develop the ability to manage our emotions and reactions, and start by doing our research. Find the information and resources, learn to apply them and then jump in. Your confidence will be much higher when you have the pertinent information and have developed the skill to apply it. Too many times we approach a problem without enough data to be effective or make a decision without all the facts and wonder why we stumble or fail. When we have hope that we will be able to make a change, and develop the confidence through competence our desire will become more deeply rooted. No one is good at anything the first time they try it. By following the sequence of knowledge, application and desire you set yourself up for greater success.

The last topic I would like to cover is perseverance. My observation of the human condition is that of all the attributes being discussed in this article, perseverance is the most powerful. The ability to keep at something till you succeed, pushing through the boredom, the hard work and discouragement, ultimately give you the foundational success that is true and lasting. True success is when you yourself know that you accomplished something without feedback from any other source. Perseverance is the ability to keep trying even after you have failed. It feels bad for a while, sometimes a long time, but eventually we get a glimpse of hope that we can accomplish what we set out to do. Maybe we did not have enough information, maybe we did not understand the information well enough or how to apply it. In my case, I tend to get impatient with the learning process. I want to jump into something too soon. What I have learned to do is slow down, make sure I understand the concepts I am working with, ensure that I have applied the concepts in a practice session of some sort, and then implement the change. This sounds corny, but we have to practice the right things.

So whenever you are confronted with a challenge or the need to respond to change, or need to make a change in
your business or your life, break the process down into three parts. What knowledge do I need, how do I apply that knowledge, and do I have the desire to apply that knowledge. When you break the process down this way for yourself and your team, you will begin to develop a sense of competence, which will then give you confidence, which in turn will give you hope. It is hope that is the cause of perseverance.

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