Great Employee Performance Isn't An Accident

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Think of great performances and consider how they came to be. Do you think following Mike Powell’s world record-setting long jump, — an astounding 29 feet, four and a quarter inches — he said to himself, “Wow, that was a happy accident. I didn’t plan on that happening!”

From the time Powell was a small child, he would jump as far as he could. Much to the dismay of his mom, he’d jump across the living room floor. In fact, over the course of his career — through college and the Olympics — Powell practiced and planned every part of the long jump process countless times over.

As a fast lube operator, if you believe your employees will accidently provide every customer with great service, magically keep your facilities in first-rate condition or services will be completed on every vehicle by fate, then you, my friend, are visiting from another planet.

In this world, reality has to be dealt with. Every part of Powell’s long jump process was made up of numerous behaviors: his run, strides and even planting his foot on the launch board. He practiced all of those elements over and over. No differently, the performance of every one of your employees is made up of a variety of behaviors. If they’re to be completed with excellence, they must be practiced. In your fast lube operation, world-class service, facilities and technical expertise won’t happen by accident.

The real key is want. Powell wanted to do well. Once again, the parallel with your employee’s performance is inescapable. Your employees will never perform their very best — in any aspect of your operation — out of a sense of obligation. Your employees performing their jobs to the best of their ability will only occur when they’re performing because they want to, not because they have to.

In this column, we’ll provide the next step in the process that leads to employees performing at their very best by choice, not by manipulation, fear or force.

Creating a “Want To” Environment

Building an environment where employees perform at their best because they choose to is a process that begins with your behavior. As the owner/operator of a fast lube, you are the creator of the environment your employees work in. Whether the environment is casual, strict, comfortable or intense, the tone that exists is one you set. If you want the atmosphere in which your employees perform to change, your daily behaviors — which create that environment — must also change.

The following is a true account of how changing the work environment begins: Before the new manager arrived, Albert was used to casual work expectations. Albert was running late — as usual — even though he was aware it was the new manager’s first day on the job. Albert thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Albert’s regular behavior of being late to work and his thoughts on the possible consequences for that behavior provide some pretty clear insights into what the work environment was like prior to the new manager’s arrival. It was an atmosphere of low performance expectation. Being habitually late was acceptable, and it was an atmosphere where the employee was not anxious about keeping a job he really enjoyed — because he didn’t.

On his first day at this fast lube, the new manager, Jim, arrived to find one new employee. That was his entire crew. And, as always when you’re understaffed, customers were arriving. However, in this case, Jim did not permit the work environment to be dictated by a less than ideal situation. Quite the opposite, Jim put specific behaviors into action to create the atmosphere he wanted for his employees and his customers.

Increasing Positive Behaviors

Like any other performance, successful fast lube operations are built on productive behaviors. To improve results, unproductive behaviors must change to productive behaviors. Owner/operators, and in this case a manager, have the task of coordinating and implementing the necessary behavior changes. It’s all part of a system. First, specifically identify the behaviors. Second, deliver definitive undesirable consequences. Third, deliver definitive desirable consequences.

Now, let’s see how Jim applied these three steps: The first specific behavior Jim identified was the fact only one employee arrived on time and was ready to work. Rather than ranting about being badly understaffed, he looked at his single staff member and said, “Justin, looks like it’s you and me. Thanks for being here on time! I really appreciate it! I’ll work the lower level and come up top when you need me. We’ll get these cars out together.”

In this case, Jim implemented two important steps. First, he specifically identified a behavior he wanted to positively reinforce. The behavior was arriving on time for work. Second he reinforced the behavior by saying, “Thanks for being here on time! I really appreciate it!”

Those may seem like small steps, but we’ll see over time what those steps can lead to. Note: Jim was in the habit of looking for positive behaviors to reinforce, even when under pressure. When he identified a positive behavior — in this case, being on time — he immediately reinforced it with a comment.

Eliminating Negative Behaviors

About 25 minutes after Jim and Justin had finished servicing the first two vehicles, Albert walked in. He was unshaven, moving slowly and looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. Albert looked across the bay at Jim, and Jim glanced back. Moments later, Albert took his place on the bay floor. Over the next 40 minutes, they worked through the rest of the services.

When the last customer had driven away, Jim said to Albert, “Please join me outside.” As Jim and Albert stood together in the parking lot — out of earshot — Jim said, “Albert, I need you to know a few important things. First, it’s important to my family and I that this business is successful. Second, it’s important to me that everyone who works here feels the same way. If you want to be here, I need you. But from now on, I need you here on time and ready to work or you can’t be here.”

In this situation, Jim implemented two important steps. He specifically identified a behavior he wanted to punish and eliminate — arriving late for work. Then, he punished the behavior by making the comment, “If you want to be here, I need you. But from now on I need you here on time and ready to work or you can’t be here.”

Some important points to note are: Jim did not embarrass Albert in front of others. He never became abusive, but he clearly communicated being late was unacceptable. Equally as important, Albert was needed if he wanted to be there. Finally, Jim noted and dealt with the behavior right away.

Great Employee Performance

Powell practiced every part of his record-setting long jump because he wanted to, not because someone was making him to do it. Albert, Justin and your employees will never perform at their very best because they have to, but they will because they want to.

PAUL HALOULOS is a trade marketing manager for BP Lubricants USA, Inc. He may be reached at: To learn more about Castrol products and programs in general, please call 888.CASTROL or visit:

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