Training takes dedication and action from all

March 4, 2016
Training your team must be a dedicated effort to provide the best customer service possible. How? Ensuring you are ready to successfully tackle any problem that comes in the door before it arrives. 

Training your team must be a dedicated effort to provide the best customer service possible. How? Ensuring you are ready to successfully tackle any problem that comes in the door before it arrives. This journey will focus on a critical element of becoming service ready with a deep dive into the topic of training and how your shop’s commitment to an ongoing training program for your team is the lynch pin to your success.

We should not dwell on excuses, but focus on creating a detailed action plan and standards of performance that will allow you to incorporate an ongoing education plan your entire organization can commit to with confidence. A solid training plan will make your team more efficient, effective and create an environment where staff enjoy coming to work because stress level is reduced. But before we begin, we first need to understand what the typical training plan looks like in today’s automotive shop.

The vast majority of shops today have no training plan and no commitment to training whatsoever. In fact, if their techs attend training it is usually the result of a training organization or parts supplier reaching out to sell a class in their market. Or a product supplier offering free training and a slice of pizza to give your team insight into the benefits of their specific product without discussion around theory, operation and diagnosis. The value in all these training platforms varies. For this discussion let’s consider that there are some very good quality training courses offered by organizations with skilled instructors that have your teams’ education interests in mind.

The issue our industry faces is the tremendous lack of commitment to even the “good” programs. In a future issue we’ll discuss the structure and organization of aftermarket training available in this country. By the conclusion of this series, I hope to have painted a picture of what a structured ‘Technician Career Development Program’ might look like and how we as an industry support that endeavor. But today, let’s focus on commitment. Commitment by you as a shop owner and commitment by your team as valued partners in your business.

Commitment: it works both ways                                         

Commitment in this context has two stakeholders you the shop owner and your entire team as business partners. As a shop owner, you must understand you hold the keys to both. You must commit to yourself and your team that creating a structured, ongoing training program has value to the organization and your customers. And if right now you don’t believe that enabling your team with new skills that position them to be ready to service your customers’ needs has value, stay tuned. Second, you must gain commitment from your team by setting standards of performance for training in your organization.

Let’s take a look at a couple of common statements made by shop owners who either aren’t committed to or can’t gain the commitment from their team.

“I don’t send my techs to training because if I do they’ll leave and go somewhere else to work.”

This excuse always perplexes me. The fear of training and losing your team is a warning sign that there are other issues with your business model that warrant discussion. Understanding the goals of each of your teammates is core to engaging them as team members, rather than employees who come and go. Most owners who would agree with the above comment have little to no idea what is important to their teammates. What they’ll find – if they simply ask – is security, stability, personal growth, time with family and a sense of accomplishment and recognition are usually ranked above money. Sure money becomes a topic in cases where a conversation hasn’t occurred and understanding isn’t sought. If you have the belief that training will cause your team members to leave, please heed the words of workplace guru Zig Ziglar, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.”

Hopefully, you recognize that I’m going to lay out the common reasons for not making a commitment to training and work towards helping you create a plan to combat these excuses. In most businesses, leaders fear change that doesn’t come with a roadmap for success. The goal of this author is to help you create that plan and to encourage you to follow it to fruition. In future installments we’ll discuss how to create a roadmap you can follow and metrics that you can use to measure success. Once we have you committed, and I mean that in the most professional sense, we’ll discuss roadblocks and enablers to gaining commitment from your team.

“I can’t get my technicians to attend training” is the most common statement I hear from shop owners who want to invest in growing their team’s skills but have no control of their business. This statement is a warning flag. Maybe shop owners aren’t hiring the right attitude or aren’t onboarding their team correctly. In any case, the owner has lost control.

The automotive industry is full of some of the most amazing people. People that really care about other people. People that work hard each day to make a living and to serve their communities. Sure there are a few bad apples in every industry, but you won’t find another industry that cares more than this one. Our industry deals with extremely technical issues on a daily basis yet we are the most uneducated industry of its type. We have no standards that determine what is a good or bad repair. We have no standard that ensures consistent performance. Consider the scary thought that anyone with a technical vocabulary, a big red tool box and the ability to fog a mirror can get a job as an automotive technician. And consider that the same technician can someday decide to open their own business and provide services to the public that deal in the safety of others without meeting any standards beyond a business license or insurance.

We as an industry have fought against establishing standards for ourselves in order to retain our independence. But it is that very lack of standards that creates the perception of incompetence and untrustworthiness we fight every day. Let’s not wait for the industry or government to set our standards; be an active participant in creating standards of performance for your own business and team.

If you can’t get your techs to attend training, you either have not set standards of performance for your company or have not communicated those standards to your team. For example, if you want to ensure your average technicians stay current with new technologies in the systems they service, that technician will need to attend 40 to 48 hours of training a year. If you determine a standard, arrange to provide your team with access via a quality program that visits your market on a regular basis (at a cost that is affordable and that you agree to pay), then you’ve set the standard, right? No! Your commitment is not fulfilled until you communicate this standard to every one of your teammates and any new teammate that you hire. Gain your team’s agreement and commitment that as part of their employment with your business they will attend every event you prescribe for them. Now you’ve set a standard instead of a goal.

Commitment from your team is achieved when your team agrees with, and agrees to meet, your standards. Commitment also comes when team members fully understand the consequences of not meeting a standard. A commitment to training is no different than expecting your team to come to work every day. 

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