Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2001   by Bob Greenwood

Greenwood On Management: Do You Have a Problem With Too Much Staff Turnover?

Everyone acknowledges the shortage of competent technicians, and staff in general, in this industry, but it becomes really scary when a service provider's shop can't keep the staff it does find. When ...

Everyone acknowledges the shortage of competent technicians, and staff in general, in this industry, but it becomes really scary when a service provider’s shop can’t keep the staff it does find. When a shop can’t keep good people, it not only affects the shop’s general attitude, it affects the profitability too.

Constant personnel “replacement” is not personnel “management”.

Too much personnel replacement is not good for business. It creates a situation where too much time by the shop owner is used in a perceived negative process, rather than spending time working on the positive processes of the business that builds a client base, and profitability. If the business is not moving forward, then the fact is, it is stagnant, or moving backwards.

Consider the following:

In many cases, it is not the staff that is the problem; it is “shop management” that is the problem.

If an employee would leave a shop for a $2 or $3 per hour raise, then the employee does not “see” a future with the current shop that would allow him/her to earn in excess of the amount offered, to enjoy a career. The employee sees the current situation as a job. The owner does not seem to believe in, or have the skill to, create positive employee business relationships.

Due to a shortage of competent people, it must be recognized that dealing with staff members today must change substantially compared to the 1980’s and 90’s, mentality.

It must be recognized that you can buy a man’s time; you can buy his physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of his skilled muscular motions per hour. But, you cannot buy enthusiasm today; you cannot buy initiative today; you cannot buy loyalty today; you cannot buy devotion to the business today. You must EARN these.

Employers today must learn to be supportive, and willing to take responsibility, of thier employee’s long-term “well-being”. The employer, in essence, is stating, “You are not easily replaced, therefore, I am interested in you, and your future, and how working with and being part of this company can meet, or exceed, your personal goals. Let’s talk.”

In the past, you would hear people saying: “Wouldn’t it be great to work for company X or company Y?” You don’t hear that any more because in an age known for “slash and burn”, “downsizing”, and “lean and mean management”, an atmosphere has evolved within the marketplace where the prevailing perception among employees is that there are not too many companies out there that VALUE their people.

As much effort must be made to nurturing your employees as in servicing your clients. This is a role management must be willing to “get their head around”, because if it doesn’t, what are the long-term financial consequences to the business?

An employee-centred management philosophy makes sound business sense. Any corporation, in our industry that wants to succeed today has to care passionately about its business and compassionately about its people because businesses that fail to understand and act on this, will probably fail.

The only sustainable competitive advantage in business today is its people. The competition can copy your technology and latest feature, but they can’t copy the skills, knowledge, judgement, and creativity of your committed workforce. People ARE the edge today.

There is a new “social contract” being made today where companies are asking employees to change, to be innovative, and creative. Employees, in return, are then stating, “well in that case let me try and do it, rather than watching over my shoulder trying to clone me like you, because I am not you. Yes, I will make mistakes, because no one, including you, is perfect, but I will learn through my mistakes and become a much better employee, and person, for it. When you display, and support, confidence in me, in the long run, I will not let you down. Also, for my concerted effort and dedication to the task requested, it is only fair that I am properly compensated.”

All these are key points, and there is no doubt there are service providers who will either agree with them, or argue it is still the employees fault anyway because “they just don’t want to work.” At this point, with statements like that, one must make an assessment as to whether this shop owner is willing to change the way he/she thinks. People are willing to work when they have something positive to be motivated about that creates the desire to work. A good starting point for management is to have a respect for the employee as an individual, and a respect for the skills that they have worked so hard to achieve. The next hint is to display pride in your “team”, and each member, openly in front of the customer/client. If you’re not proud of your team and each member in your shop, it doesn’t say much for management’s ability; after all, who hired them, who trained them, and who pays them?

Today everyone must be willing to understand that personnel management is not a “one time meeting”, but rather a nurturing process that requires on-going discussion and understanding of points of view from both sides over a longer period of time. The over-all benefits to the business, and its bottom line, are enormous. This is truly the expression of “entrepreneurship” where the management of the shop is leading the business, and the “employees” have a strong desire to follow.

As this sample problem has shown, if the owner is not prepared to change, then one must accept that the shop will not grow, and will actually experience serious financial difficulties, if not already there. Entrepreneurs must devote their time to the progression of their business, because they realize that their shop will be one of the few that will be here in five years, coupled with a “team” standing along side with them.

Take the time to learn about your employees. Express, and show, your concern for their future, and I believe you will be amazed at the positive response you will get from the better technicians/staff in the marketplace.

Taking the steps to strengthen your relationship with your employees is good business sense. Strengthen it by having open discussions about the industry, the business, and every individual’s role within the business. It does take time. It does take several meetings. It does take commitment, but the long-term rewards are great. The choice is yours.

Effective personnel management takes creative thinking. Consider that anyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. However, it’s only the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that succeeds.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President and C.E.O. of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. Bob has over 26 years of Business Management experience within the automotive industry, counseling individual shops in Ontario, and has developed Business Management courses for the independent maintenance and repair sector, proven to enhance the shops profitability and grow the business with a controlled, focused procedure. Bob has also worked with wholesale jobbers to do a better job for the installer by providing valuable insight as to the real challenges faced by the retailer today — and challenges the jobber to move to a new level of thinking and operating, where a proven vision for the industry enhances the profitability of both businesses.

E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive industry, preparing analytical operating statements for Management purposes, personal and corporate tax return completion, business management consultation, business management and employee development courses, and industry specific software.

Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637, or by E-mail,

Visit E. K. Williams & Co. on the Internet at and sign up for their FREE monthly Management Letter sent to you by E-mail.

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