Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2019   by Bob Greenwood

Monkey business

There’s a whole generation of young managers that are increasingly frustrated. Here’s why.

Greenwood’s Garage

A lot of young shop managers want to take a new approach to business.

They’ve taken the time to study the industry and are starting to truly understand their markets. They’re going to classes to learn how to secure business for tomorrow.

For them, change is not an option. It’s an imperative. The problem is they don’t have the power to implement those changes. The real authority still rests in the hands of the previous generation, those who built the business or took it over decades ago and whose notion of how to run things is stuck in an outdated paradigm.

Let me draw an analogy that might make the situation clear.

There’s a cage with five monkeys in it. A banana hangs on a string above a set of stairs in the middle of the cage. Inevitably, a sharp-eyed monkey notices the banana, and decides to retrieve it. As soon as he touches the stairs, however, everyone get sprayed with cold water. In the chaos that ensues, the intrepid monkey is frightened away from the stairs.

Eventually, though, another monkey is lured by that nice yellow banana. Again, as soon as he touches the stairs, everyone gets sprayed with cold water.

By now they’ve begun to associate the stairs with the cruel, cold water, and if another monkey gets interested in the banana, they might try to discourage him. After a few more soakings, they’ll try to physically prevent anyone from going near the stairs.

Now we’re going to changes thing up a bit. We’ll put away the cold water, and replace one of those monkeys with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all the other monkeys attack him when he tries. After another attempt, and subsequent attack, he starts to realize that he’s not allowed to climb the stairs.

Now, remove another of the original five monkeys. Bring in a new one and see what happens. Again, when the newcomer goes to the stairs, he is attacked. Even the previous newcomer has learned the behaviour, and he adds his punishment with enthusiasm.

If you replace a third original monkey with a new one, and then a fourth, and then a fifth, you’ll find that every time a newcomer goes to the stairs, he gets attacked. Eventually none of the monkeys in the cage has ever been sprayed with cold water, but they continue the attacks. They don’t know why they aren’t allowed to climb the stairs. They don’t know why they should beat anyone who tries. But they do it none-the-less. Why? Because that’s the way it’s done around here.

Does this analogy pertain at all to your shop? Your people? Are irrational constraints holding your company back?

The older generation – the ones who still hold authority over the business – are not learning new behaviours. They refuse to change. They’re not keeping up to date with new strategies and tactics. In their minds, they’ve seen it all before and there’s no use changing things up. “Been there, done that” is their mantra. And if you press them, they’ll tell you how many years they have before retirement. They’re not about to shakes things up. They’re sticking with the standard thinking, the old routines. They’re going through the motions that they’re used to.

Meanwhile, profits keep dropping.

It is time to come to grips with this mentality. We need to address this kind of apathy, this reluctance to try something new. It’s time to embrace a new vision based on clear understanding.

Let’s go for the banana!

Want to spark some fireworks? Clip this article and share it with the old guard, the previous generation that is just putting in their time until retirement, the “real authorities” who can’t stomach change. They will react very strongly to these ideas because no one likes gut-wrenching change.

But have your notes ready. Bring a folder full of facts so you can help them see the light. Be prepared to talk things out.

People who are stuck in a rut or living in the dark ages of outdated thinking need to be coaxed into a new paradigm. Time is wasting! If you wait the five years until they retire, that will be five years of lost momentum. Five years of not getting ready for electric vehicles, autonomous cars, hybrids, telematics, connectivity, and new software platforms. Five years of staying behind the competition. Five years of not catering to the changing needs of consumers. Five years of missed classes and new management strategies.

Today’s “real authority” needs to be challenged with facts and ideas. And if they refuse to take action, then you know where you’ll be in a few years: in a very deep hole with little hope of getting out.

This is tough talk, I know. But as an industry, we must start having tough discussions. Too many businesses, careers, and families are being harmed by the inertia of a generation that is, quite frankly, out of touch.

If this article seems hysterical to you, you may be the old guard in your business, the one that’s refusing to change.

If this article makes sense to you, find a way to wake up the old guard. You and your staff deserve a fighting chance to thrive in the future.

They have a right to go for the banana!



Bob Greenwood is an Accredited Master Automotive Manager (AMAM) who offers personal business coaching and ongoing management training for aftermarket shops, focusing on building net income. He can be reached at 1-800-267-5497 or