How to make your team 'un-poachable'

May 5, 2023
Change your mindset and focus on three levers: compensation, conditions, and connections.

As you know, the auto repair industry is facing a technician and advisor shortage none of us has ever seen, making it increasingly difficult to find qualified staff. You’re looking high and low for your next hire to handle the workload your shop is inundated with. But while you’re looking, so is your competition. I’m willing to bet your competition is reaching out to your team, trying to lure them away multiple times a week. It's a vicious cycle that results in a high turnover rate in the industry. So, how do you ensure that your team stays with you and doesn't become poached by competitors? In this article, we will explore some of the factors that lead to employee turnover and provide tips for making your team un-poachable.

The first step in understanding employee retention is to dispel the myth of the great tech/advisor shortage. While it's true that there's a shortage of qualified staff, it's important to recognize that there are still good people out there. The challenges facing you are that the people you’re searching for aren’t actively looking for a change, and you're not the only one on the hunt.

What makes someone poachable? Many techs and advisors feel like they're just a cog in the wheel, a unit of production. They feel unseen, unappreciated, and undervalued. They aren’t aware of whom they serve or the difference they make, and there's no measurement of their success beyond their paycheck. This kind of work environment makes it difficult for employees to feel engaged and invested in their work. And when a team member feels this way, they become poachable.

How much feedback, encouragement, or recognition are you providing regularly? I can hear you now thinking, “I don’t do all that touchy-feely stuff, Rick. No one ever did it for me.” I get that. It was the same for me. But they aren’t you or me, and this isn’t then. For you to have the team you want, it means seeing them, hearing them, and appreciating them. Otherwise, I guarantee you’re seeing your employees as a burden, obligation, or nuisance.  To make your team un-poachable, you need to change your mindset and focus on three levers: compensation, conditions, and connection.

Compensation: It’s more than just competitive pay

Offering competitive pay is essential to attract and retain employees. I’ve been asked recently whether a flat rate or hourly pay plan is the best way to pay a tech. My response surprised the shop owner who was asking. My answer was, “Whichever one they want.” The days of having a blanket pay plan that you use with everyone are over. Being a leader isn’t like playing checkers, where every piece moves the same. It’s a chess game where every piece moves and behaves differently. However, it's important to remember that money is a satisfier, not a driver. Once an employee's basic needs are met, money loses its motivational power. So, while you should offer a competitive compensation plan, you need to focus on other areas to keep your team engaged. When was the last time you looked at your benefits package? According to a recent poll of technicians at the Automotive Management Network (, better health, dental, and vision insurance, no weekend or evening hours, and a generous retirement plan are the top three reasons for leaving one shop for another. Don’t tell yourself you can’t afford these things, because that keeps you stuck right where you are. Figure out how you can afford them, and you’ll be well on your way to nailing the first lever.

Conditions: comfortable, well-equipped and safe

The conditions of your shop environment are the second lever you need to review.  There are three conditions to be aware of. The first is a clean, comfortable work environment. Once again, what was OK for you and me isn’t anymore. There are too many options pulling people from this industry. Working in the sweltering heat or freezing cold with ice falling down your back isn’t going to entice someone into the auto repair industry when they can get a job for $20 an hour stocking shelves at Target.

The second condition is they want to work in an orderly and well-equipped workplace. You’ve seen shops so cluttered you have to “go outside to change your mind.” Not only are those shops dangerous to work in, but the clutter also kills productivity. Keeping your shop neat, where everything has a designated home, makes it easier to find the tools, equipment, and even keys when they need them. Technicians and advisors also want to work at a shop that’s well-equipped with the latest tools, machines, and software. All of this makes their lives and jobs easier, which means more money for all.

The third condition is safety, physical and psychological. Physical safety means equipment is maintained and staff members are trained on the proper use of the equipment. A great example of physical safety is lift safety. Do you have your lifts inspected daily, weekly, and monthly, according to recommendations from the American Lift Institute ( Are all your technicians certified by the American Lift Institute? If an accident ever occurs at your shop, OSHA will want to see these documents. But then there’s psychological safety, a term that encompasses how it feels to work at your shop. You want to create an environment that’s accepting, caring, challenging, fulfilling, and fun. How often does a tech or advisor come to you admitting he or she made a mistake? Or do you find out after he or she tried to hide it? How often does one of your team call you out on something you promised to do but haven’t done yet? These answers are a great indicator of the level of psychological safety in your shop.

Connections create a team instead of just employees

Creating a strong connection with each team member is the holy grail of employee retention. This means getting to know your team members and building a relationship with them. It means being a coach, a mentor, and a friend. Unlike the hiring process, where you’re limited to the amount of information you can ask about, once they’re hired, you want to know everything you can about them and their family. The more you know, the better you can connect. The days of staying aloof and distant from your team members are gone. But it doesn’t mean it has to be complicated or expensive. Something as simple as one of your team coming into work and finding their favorite candy bar with a thank you note for something special he or she did the day before will mean more to him or her than you’ll ever know.

Creating a strong connection means creating a team when many shops just have employees. It means them getting to know each other better. It could be learning something new about each other at the weekly company meeting. It means doing fun things outside of work that they decide on that allow for deeper connections between team members. You might say, “Rick, I don’t have time for this.” I get it. But let me share with you a recent study in which three friends and three acquaintances were asked to build as many Tinkertoy kits as possible within a given time frame. At the end of the allotted time, the group of friends built nine kits, while the acquaintances built only two and a half. What this study clearly shows is that friends work better together. And Gallup Research Group has found that an employee is seven times more likely to stay at a business when they have a best friend at work.

If you’d like a white paper giving you ideas on how to recognize your team doing amazing things, simply go to .

To make your team un-poachable, ensure that each team member feels seen, heard, and appreciated. Money might attract them, but it's the quality of your connection with them that keeps them.

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