I always like reading the articles in NOLN about technicians who want to further their education, own their shop one day or be named “Employee of the Year.”
Probably sounds strange to some, but at one time in my professional career I was fortunate enough to be “Employee of the Year” (EOY). This occurred in the middle of my work “life,” and the lead-up to the award and what followed are events that profoundly shaped and changed my work life forever.
Prior to my EOY experience, I was like many others of my generation — treading water when it came to advancement or salary. The prevalent attitude at the time among my co-workers and myself was to do what was expected of you, come to work every day on time and avoid tasks that were not in your job description. In my yearly performance appraisal (company policy, and not well liked, as I remember), I asked my boss at the time what it would take to get ahead and make more money. “Jim” as he liked to be called, was an old-school engineer who was willing to “give advice” to anyone who he felt might benefit from it. His advice in this situation was simple, “If you want more, do more. Do not tie your efforts to expecting financial compensation, and stop acting like, ‘If you pay me more, I will do more.’ It doesn’t work like that. If you do consistently more than is required, it will be recognized by all. Eventually, you will rise — getting what you desire.”
The more I thought about it, the more I concluded I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Slowly but surely, I changed my MO and got involved with the Continuous Improvement group. Eventually, I became the “volunteer” quality assurance technician for the department. One thing led to another and in just a few years, I was doing my job in addition to being on the quality audit team, auditing internal quality compliance company-wide. To make this rather long story a bit shorter, fast-forward five years from my conversation with Jim, when — to my delight and surprise — I was voted Employee of the Year by my fellow employees. Jim had been spot on.
Everything he said would happen did happen. Doing more without expecting immediate compensation or gratification had resulted in benefits and opportunities far beyond my expectations. The best part of the whole thing was the amount of personal growth that I had experienced — it was far beyond any financial compensation I may have gained while doing so. For me, there was no going back. I knew what I needed to do no matter what the expectations of others were, because my expectations of myself were now greater. The experience left me with no taste for underperforming or not providing employers or customers with the best service or value I could provide.
This perhaps is why I enjoy reading the stories of fellow high-achieving professionals and how they got to where they are now. It’s never a chance thing. It is the result of hard work, discipline, and the ability and desire to provide the best you can do for employers, employees, and customers. There is no single path or method to get there, just the drive of the individual to be the best they can be, but it is always enhanced and focused by the opportunity and availability for recognition of superior performance.
My inspiration came from a wise and engaged engineering manager (another EOY for a Fortune 500 company) who was driven to go beyond what the job required and get involved with his charges to mentor and encourage, rather than judge and criticize. Others will take a different path, but it always leads to the same place: High-achieving performance based on the belief that we have to be the best we can be and still treat others with respect, dignity and honesty.
Because so many of us grew up with cars and trucks in the day of DIY, the notion of being a service provider for those unable or unwilling to service their own vehicles and get paid for it seemed almost too good to be true. The world was different then, and we did our part to change it. So well, in fact, the world of automobiles, their service schedules, their lubricants, how you service some technologies, has been changed forever in the last 20 years. The technical challenges, the training involved and a downturn in the availability of young automotive driven talent has made staffing the automotive service business the challenge it is today. Traditional training programs and apprenticeships have long gone away to be replaced by trade school training programs that are brand-specific and designed to encourage retention. With programs like these, the automotive aftermarket can do themselves and their customers a huge favor by instilling pride and a desire to excel in their employees. In service providers that I use, I always look for indicators that they have these types of programs in place for their employees. It’s proof to me that the philosophy of quality and service I aspire to is present in that business. It is always easy to spot, because they are proud of it, value it and want the public to be aware they care enough about excellence to reward it — my kind of shop.
They say leaders are born, but I have come to a different conclusion. The same talent resides in all of us, if you can access it. If we can provide the proper environment that nurtures these skills and reward their successes, we can all end up as winners.