Running a Shop Leadership

Recognizing Employee Achievement

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Working in quick lube can oftentimes be a thankless job. Long days in the sweltering heat, less-than-patient customers and grueling work are a given in every shop, and no two days are quite the same. 

Steve Sarrantonio, a current franchisee with SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service who owns eight shops in the Carolinas, says that has been a constant throughout his 30 years in the oil change business.

“I remember what it was to be those guys that are coming in now, being a lube tech,” Sarrantonio says. “I was around 19 when I started, and I was doing courtesies, I was sucking dirt, checking tires, cleaning windows, changing oil on those vehicles where the oil filters in this really tight spot where you know you're probably going to get burned day in and day out. 

“It can be really hard to stay excited about those cars rolling into your bay.”

That’s why it’s so crucial, he says, to make sure that shop owners find ways to keep that excitement going for their team and to recognize when an employee does great work. It creates a loop—employers who acknowledge and reward achievement help foster a culture where employees want to do better, which then produces more work worthy of acknowledgement.


Setting a Standard

Sarrantonio says he learned most of what he knows about running his shops from a former boss he had for almost a decade while working at a Jiffy Lube. From some of the larger actions his boss would take, such as inviting the whole team over to his house for Christmas parties, and the smaller day-to-day interactions, Sarrantonio says his boss always made him feel like he was more than just a tech.

“Steve really made us feel like we were part of a family … and it made me, and all of us, work harder for him,” he says.

And while those parties and bigger gestures were always appreciated, Sarrantonio says Steve’s  simple, yet genuine, acknowledgement of a job well done after a long day in the shop is what still stands out to him most. And it’s what he tries to carry with him into his eight shops.

“That's the whole trick,” he says, “letting them into your family. You’ve just got to keep treating them the same way and making them feel part of the family.” 

Dennis Consorte, a small business expert for business consulting website Digital.com, says though calling positive reinforcement for good work a “trick” may not be the best way to describe it, that kind of feedback is scientifically shown to be effective. 

“When you reward your employees for good behavior, for achievement, for bringing value to the company, there’s actually a chemical reaction in the brain that says, ‘Hey, if I do more of this, I’m going to get rewarded,’” Consorte says.

Positive reinforcement isn’t the only method for trying to steer employees toward a more desired outcome or work ethic, but Consorte says it has been shown time and again to be the most effective.

“If you’re only giving people negative reinforcement for bad outcomes, that stress is then associated with work. It creates a stressful environment,” Consorte says. “Whereas when you give people positive reinforcement, they come to work thinking, ‘Wow, I’m so excited about the work that I do. How do I do more?’”


Keep It Real

Recognizing employee achievement doesn’t have to be some grand gesture. In fact, Consorte says those kinds of over-the-top displays can oftentimes have a negative effect on employees.

“Authenticity is important in every aspect of life,” Consorte says. “If you're just going through the motions, they're going to see it … and they're going to know that it doesn't really matter as much to you as it matters to them. So it's not about trying to come across as authentic. It's about actually being authentic.”

Each shop and each manager will have his or her own unique style of acknowledging and appreciating a job well done, Sarrantonio says, but it’s critical that those managers actually make that appreciation clear to their employees. 

To communicate these values, Sarrantonio has a group text message chain with around 20 people—managers, assistant managers, other higher-level staff—where he makes a concerted effort to let each shop know when they’ve done a good job. The text chain involves his entire eight-shop network.

“Every day we're acknowledging ... ‘Wow, great car count’ or, ‘Wow, what a ticket average,’” he says. “We're rewarding and just acknowledging how they're doing.”


Less is More

Bonuses, extra time off and other incentives are more common examples of bigger ways to recognize employee achievement and are important to maintain staff morale, just as larger parties or other team outings are too, but those incentives can’t be handed out every day.

Focusing even just on the smaller day-to-day acknowledgements of good work can create a more engaging and exciting work environment for employees.

“My district manager always says, after every day, ‘Hey, guys, thanks for a great day.’ And he does that to every individual person,” Sarrantonio says. “I think that goes a long way, because even if they had a hard day, it makes them feel appreciated.” 

Consorte agrees that public acknowledgement is one of the most important tools in improving team morale and creating a strong work environment.

“You want to give people public recognition for the good work they do in front of the rest of the team,” Consorte says. “That not only will it feel good at the time, but it'll set the bar such that they're going to want to get more of that public recognition in the field.”

Consorte adds, however, that it is important to strike a balance between not giving enough feedback and giving too much, which ultimately degrades the reward value of the acknowledgement.

“If you do it every time they do good work, it's going to make it predictable, which isn't as stimulating as slightly unpredictable behavior,” he says, “and it's going to make some people worry that when you don't give positive feedback, something is wrong. So you do want to balance it and not necessarily give it every single time they do something.”

Sarrantonio recognizes that acknowledging employee achievement can seem tedious at times,  and with everything a shop manager or owner has to do in the day, making time to give employees some recognition can easily and understandably fall to the bottom of the to-do list. 

But he says making sure employees feel appreciated, especially when they are doing exceptional work, is the quickest and most effective way to retain great workers and promote a culture that gets people excited to come into the shop. 

“It is hard, but I think we take on the challenges at the store and support each other very well because of that family environment that we try to share,” he says. “It seems that, above all else, sets the groundwork.”

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