Cultivating Employee Goals

April 1, 2024
How to be SMART about setting goals.

Without completely disparaging the youth of today, it is probably safe to say that many people in Generation Z believe long-term plans extend about as far as what to do next weekend. That can present challenges when it comes to helping those younger employees' goals. 

The Backstory 

Moreover, given the still-high inflation and economic uncertainty that followed the pandemic, even some veteran employees likely can't tell you where they hope to be in even five years. For all too many, getting to the next paycheck is probably as far off as they can see. 

This can also be a "top-down" problem, warns W. Scott Wheeler, management consultant and president of the Automotive Consultants Group, Inc. Mr. Wheeler tells NOLN that not thinking long term isn't something that just impacts those on the shop floor. 

It would seem that the easiest solution would be to take the most direct approach and ask the employee, "Where do you see yourself in 'X' years." That may be direct and to the point, but it actually may not be the best way to cultivate employee goals. The same can even hold true of the veteran owner. 

"One thing you don't want to ask anyone is a question they can't answer," Wheeler says bluntly. 

The Challenge 

Shop owners and operators need to think about their long-term goals—which could be expanding the shop, opening a second location, or even retiring at 50 and hitting the golf course five days a week. Good shop owners and operators likely have someone who can help them achieve those goals. 

"Sometimes even the employers aren't sure where they'll be in five years," Wheeler explains. 

That can present challenges in helping any of their employees meet their goals. Yet, even once that is established, it is then up to the operator/owner/manager to set goals with the employees. In this case, employees may not be able to immediately answer the question of where they see themselves a few years down the road, or even if they have career goals. But that isn't the fault of the employees. 

"We see all too often that the shops fail to establish benchmarks and set goalswhich could be productivity, days with no injuries, or completing crucial tasks," adds Wheeler. 

Without helping guide employees, goals can be meaningless. 

The Solution 

Addressing the problem can actually be as easy as setting goals, but the shop owner must determine the critical key performance indicatorsor KPIs. 

"One of the problems is that many times shop owners and managers weren't even taught how to even convey this to employees," says Wheeler, who recommends the SMART Approach. 

SMART is a well-established tool that businesses can employ to plan and achieve goals. While there are a number of interpretations of the acronym's meaning, the most common one is that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. 

"This all duck tails together," Wheeler explains. "And there needs to be those goals that are actually measurable and achievable. This can include bonuses or other incentives." 

However, those incentives may still need to be customized to a point. 

Wheeler tells how he would sit down with a technician and have a conversation about their interests outside of the shop, including hobbies. 

"You often times have to make it personal," he adds. 

In one case, he quickly determined the individual was into trap and skeet shooting, and really wanted to purchase a high-end shotgun. Wheeler then suggested how the employee had to think about obtaining the shotgun for next season rather than just seeing that he was showing up for work to get a weekly paycheck. 

Employers may also need to set sub-goals to keep shop employees motivated. This can also be true when it comes to helping them advance in their career and learn new skills. This can include helping them even determine what they're best at. 

"A lot of people don't know what they don't know," says Wheeler. "Ignorance needs to be acceptable, but apathy isn't acceptable." 

In other words, no new hire or green employee should know how to manage the shop, as those are skills that need to be taught over time. At the same time, employees need to also understand that they may be required to take on greater responsibility. 

The Takeaway 

Some employees are also going to succeed faster than others. That's an undisputable fact. Some will want to remain on the shop floor, while others may have dreams of being a regional manager for a chain of franchises. Again, it comes to helping determine those goals and making it happen. 

"Setting goals is about ensuring they have commitment," Wheeler says. 

This can be far easier with the guy who has a wife, a couple of young kids, and wants to stop renting and buy a house than the younger person who can't see past the weekend, Wheeler admitted. 

The Aftermath 

Once the goals are set, employers need to then regularly check in with the employees to make sure that progress is being made. This is where it again needs to be SMART. 

The goals must remain specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. In the case of the expensive shotgun, is the employee saving the money and will he or she get there by spring? For the employee looking to buy a house, is he or she able to save the money for the down payment and are extra shifts required? 

For those looking to be a future region manager, are they getting a better understanding of how to run the shop floor, and are they able to take on the responsibility of being the weekend manager? 

If the answer to any of these is "no," then further follow-up may be needed as the employee is off-track and the course needs to be corrected. 

But it also begins with setting achievable goals in the first place. 

"You have to have an employee who buys in and wants to meet the goal," says Wheeler. "Otherwise, it isn't going to happen." 

Courtesy of Justin Krizman
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