All Day Music!

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If your crew has been working together for any length of time, you have undoubtedly developed natural rhythms for interacting with each other during the course of each business day. I call this interaction the music of the crew. The little nuances, habits and responses each of you has with one another enables your entire team to act together as a single cohesive unit.

Your customers may notice after you do the initial engine start, you and your lower-bay tech have a safety procedure you follow ensuring there are no leaks and everything on the bottom side is double-checked. What they might not notice is how each of you makes efforts to be in the precise location to keep those procedures flowing smoothly.

Calling a lower-bay tech over to complete the bottom-side safety after an initial start-up may not seem like a big deal. But, when it goes smoothly and everyone is in the proper place to make it happen without having to call out for the lower-bay tech to come over to the bay, it’s the difference between everyone just doing their job versus everyone working together to get their jobs done as efficiently as possible.

When you get a team to this level of competent performance, the satisfaction level of each member goes up. The customers often notice how smooth and efficiently your crew goes about their procedures and will make comments about what a great team you are.

Don’t downplay this part of the job. It is a big reason why customers come back to you. It demonstrates skill, integrity and consistency and gives the customer confidence that they chose the right shop to work on their car. No doubt, when customers make genuine, heartfelt comments about what a great team you are, it is an uplifting moment for everyone involved. Everyone likes it when others notice an exemplary effort on their part.

If you leave it up to individual crew members to randomly develop “music” amongst themselves as they learn and progress though their job experience, they will soon develop music of their own.

Unfortunately, if you let them develop habits on their own, you will find the music they play is not necessarily the tune you want to hear. And it probably won’t harmonize well with the music being produced by others in your location.

The thing about music is, it must mesh together perfectly to work well. If the band is playing radically different pieces of music, the result is a jarring mess. They must all be on the same page and playing the same piece of music.

As the owner or manager of your shop, you are the conductor or bandleader of your musicians. You must decide what piece of music is going to be played, and you must ensure each musician within your ensemble knows how to play his piece well, in tune and in rhythm with the rest of the group.

This is obviously accomplished through training — teaching the crew members the specific functions and expectations of every nuance of their respective job duties. Just teaching them the basics and letting them figure it out through hands-on experience may work acceptably for a few people, but most will not become excellent employees that way.

In music, the person who has the natural talent to just figure it out and achieve greatness without a lot of training is called gifted.

Those artists who achieve great skill through technical training and effort are called virtuosi.

You cannot develop a gifted technician. They come pre-loaded. If, and when, someone is naturally gifted in automotive and customer care comes to work for you, you’re indeed one of the lucky few in the industry.

Through effort and dedicated training, maintaining and retraining, you can produce an entire shop full of virtuoso employees.

The key to remember is you will never get a crew full of virtuoso employees by accident. The best you can hope to achieve without effort is to be lucky and get some decent employees and enjoy reasonable success.

But is that why you get up every day and go to work? Hoping to find some luck, ending up with decent employees and enjoying a reasonable success?

Back to the music metaphors for a moment. My age will show here, but it works for the purposes of this demonstration.

The early-to-mid-1960s was a period in time of radical change in popular music. The Beatles come to mind when someone asks about a popular band from then. The Beatles had many hit records. They had some luck, no doubt. However, they also had skill. Though they started off green and simplistic — maybe even barely able to really call themselves a professional band — they soon developed artistic ability and skills beyond their peers. They could eventually each be considered a virtuoso.       

But what about The McCoys? Does anyone remember them? They had a couple of hits, too. They had some good luck and a record of theirs caught on with the public. But what happened to them? The members of that band did not possess whatever drive it took to continue to persevere against the odds and keep making popular hit music. They were soon forgotten. Luck and will only take you so far. Skill, drive and determination will take you to the top of your game.

To train your crew to perform the way you want them to requires some work on your part. You must first decide exactly how you want them to do their jobs.

How do you want them to wear their uniforms? Giving them a uniform is not enough. If you do and say nothing else, sooner rather than later you will absolutely end up with an employee who is wearing his uniform in a way you don’t like. If you confront him, he will counter with, “I’m wearing the uniform, what is the problem?” You must also tell them exactly how you want them to do each thing you teach them. Don’t downplay the importance of teaching your employees how to do seemingly mundane things around your shop.

For instance, here are some of the little things I teach my employees to do in exactly the way I want it done:

·       Static cling stickers: Never hand them to the customer, always apply them straight (and wrinkle-free) in the correct spot. Don’t leave fingerprints on the sticker.

·       Shop towels: Never hang them out of a pocket and don’t refer to them as rags.

·       Pens: Every employee should have a pen in their shirt pocket at all times.

·       Slang: We don’t say “diff,” “tranny” or “t-case.” Instead, we say “differential,” “transmission” or “transfer case.”

I readily admit when these seemingly minor and inconsequential rules are explained and enforced with new employees, they almost always act a little surprised and confused anyone would even care about such trivial things.

However, once they have become accustomed to them and have developed habits accordingly, they react strongly when a new employee starts and violates one of the rules.

Excellence is found in the details, and once those details have been mastered, it makes a big difference in how effectively your shop performs.

When training your crew members, always include the information and knowledge of what other crewmembers are going to be doing while this crew member is doing his duty.

Explain to them why it is imperative they get their particular procedure done is a timely and efficient manner so the other members of the crew can complete whatever task they are working on.

Every function of every task within a lube shop is directly connected to another employee’s ability to complete a task. There are no stand-alone duties in a lube shop. Every action is a team effort.

Rock on, and make it happen!

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

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