The role of the manager in employee engagement

March 15, 2019
It’s time for your managers and you to build relationships with all your people and create trust so that they can accomplish their goals by working for you over decades, not just a few years.

If you have ever lost a good employee and wondered what you could have done to prevent it, I suggest you keep reading this month. Great techs and advisors are very difficult to find and expensive to replace. There is a tremendous amount of information out there today on hiring and recruiting but very little on how to hold on to them for decades. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the millennials who represent almost half of the workforce need to be treated very differently than Generation X and Y associates. In the future you are going to realize these folks will be more interested in landing a job based on the way it feels versus the way it pays! If you have been reading our articles you know I let the ATI coaching staff write the articles, because I feel they are closer to where the action is, coaching shop owners every day — 1673 to be exact. This month I feel a need to write this one myself based on training I have been receiving recently that I believe will help every shop owner in North America and Canada. I tried it out on my very first 20 Group I created 15 years ago to see if they felt it was as important as I thought it was, and they agreed unanimously. These guys are very successful veterans; we call them our Mastermind Group. Also, our coaching staff believes it to be one of the biggest problems facing shop owners today, and we will now be teaching it at ATI.

Engagement vs. disengagement

Let’s begin by looking at the national averages on employee engagement. Actively engaged employees represent only 5 to 15 percent of our workforce, engaged typically run at 20 to 25 percent of employees, somewhat engaged 35 to 50 percent and actively disengaged 5 to 15 percent of your employees. The last category are the ones that have already quit but they haven’t told you yet! I am sure you have had this happen if you’ve been in business any length of time.

If you would like a few sample questions to help you deliver better one-on-ones with your people that will force you to ask the right questions to help you deliver better employee engagement, simply go to for a limited time.

Disengagement looks like gossip, no focus, tardiness, low productivity and initiative. Engagement looks like people loving what they do and looking forward to coming to work. Highly engaged shops have 40 percent less turnover, 21 percent more profitability and average 20 percent annual revenue growth. Even if you are comfortable with your current numbers you know the labor force you need to maintain and stay the best is hard to find and recruit into your business. You cannot afford to lose any of the good ones.

Answers to the Tech Shortage

BoltOn Young Technician Working

If there’s a tech shortage nationwide or just in your shop, JB Burkhauser is here with how to address it - nationally and locally.

Solve Your Tech Shortage

Another problem coming your way is the economy, which I am preparing ATI members for as we speak. The general economy is going to slow down in the second half of 2019. The segments already in decline that will affect you are the North American light vehicle and heavy duty truck market. All of us old guys know that when vehicle sales slow down the repair market and average vehicle age increase. We used to like this period; then we realized the cars they are not selling will not be coming out of warranty and into our shop someday! This means a Phase B Accelerating Growth Repair and Maintenance segment while the general economy goes into Phase C Decelerating Growth. Don’t worry about a real 2008 recession just yet; that will be rearing its ugly head in mid-2022 and 2023 if my economists are on target. In an accelerating growth market you have to focus on your quality control, maximizing profit margins and workforce development. Pay attention to training and retention so you don’t have more cars than employees!

Culture vs. engagement

I know many of you have really been working on culture and have realized it is a very important asset to help people want to work at your business. The problem is your people can be culturally aligned but not engaged! Culture is how things are done around your business. Engagement is individual, between each person and the company.

Also, employee satisfaction does not necessarily mean engagement. Employee satisfaction is just an attitude, but employee engagement is a behavior!

New models for confronting disengagement

Most management theory was developed around companies that were built and prospered in an era of labor abundance. Leadership has evolved since we started teaching it at ATI 20 years ago. Leadership 101, I will call it, placed emphasis on the role of the leader within a workplace hierarchy, with specific regard to rewards and punishment. Leadership 201 was more focused on relationships but still relied on hierarchy, and the leader came across more like a disciplinarian than a trusted colleague. Leadership 301 now is more focused on the whole workplace ecosystem, including the quality of social interactions necessary to create a positive, safe and productive work environment. Does the leader do things to employees or with employees? Now, I will be 69 by the time this article gets read and I can remember many, many years ago smart teachers and mentors suggesting owners shouldn’t get involved in their people’s personal lives. Too much drama! Boy have times changed!

The role of the manager in engagement

Owners should drive culture while the managers drive engagement. While a shop might have a great culture that owners have worked years to create, if your employees work under a manager who is not using Leadership 301 skills, your people are not going to feel the positive impact of the shop’s culture. Managers must create the conditions where people want to come to work by creating a safe environment to communicate. They must give validation and recognition while listening well. They need to lead by example while encouraging and mentoring others. If you are wearing two hats, owner and manager, you have a lot of work ahead of you so let me try to help get you started.

The ATI model is to first help you understand what employee engagement looks like. Next, you need to measure it, which we will be doing for all our ATI members in 2019, because if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. But for now, just assume your shop is average and there has to be some employee disengagement that needs fixing.

So start aligning your people by two-way communication, not one-way. Quite often surveys suggest employees want more communication while owners feel like they are sharing their vision and goals completely. The problem is you are not always letting your employees communicate what they want and need.

Then there is the subject of growth and development. Do your employees feel you’re investing your time and money in helping them grow? Are you interested in helping them get where they want to be in their life? If you are not, I bet there is a shop owner or manager out there who is willing to put forth the effort.

Are you and your manager delivering the recognition needed to continually motivate them to succeed? Recognition is much more than monthly or annual awards! It needs to occur daily when your people are doing things right and succeeding in their job.

It’s time for your managers and you to build relationships with all your people and create trust, so they can accomplish their goals by working for you over decades not just a few years. I realize they are not all like us and that makes it more challenging than befriending the ones that are like us!

If you want to break the habit of being yourself you could take a course on the science of the brain or you could just take a suggestion from an ole guy named Chubby, who was academically dismissed from the University of Maryland in his fun-loving younger days. “Where your mind goes your ass will follow!” I am sure I will take some heat for that famous quote; however, simply begin focusing your mind on two-way communication, growth, recognition and trust with your people.

If you would like a few sample questions to help you deliver better one-on-ones with your people that will force you to ask the right questions to help you deliver better employee engagement, simply go to for a limited time. Give it a try, you’ll be happy when you see 40 percent less turnover and 21 percent more profit!

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!