Good auto repair mechanics have similar skills and abilities, but great ones share one trait that differentiates them from the rest. Believe it or not, the best way to turn a good mechanic into a great one has nothing to do with technical training. Once an auto repair technician has mastered his trade, additional mechanical training only provides incremental improvements that add very little to his value for an auto repair shop. The secret all great mechanics know is that cars don’t pay him… people do.
Most auto repair shops have adopted the following three criteria for hiring auto repair technicians.
- Attitude – A good, “can do” attitude is essential and while it can be caught, it can’t be taught or bought. A good attitude can endure and overcome the daily challenges that are part of work and life, itself.
- Aptitude – My dad used to tell me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him swim on his back.” What he meant was, just like horses aren’t designed to swim on their backs, some people simply don’t have the innate instinct (aptitude) to do certain things. Technical and mechanical tasks are simply beyond the reach of some people.
- Ability – Unlike attitude, ability can be taught and even bought, but it can’t be caught. Sure, some ability can rub off by watching others, but it’s important to either hire mechanics and techs with ability or provide some sort of training or apprenticeship program to ensure their ability matches your auto repair shop’s technical needs.
There’s nothing wrong with using these three criteria for hiring auto repair mechanics or for that matter, for hiring any employee. Furthermore, any mechanic that has all three of these criteria in his toolbox will most likely be a good mechanic.
However, most repair shops focus their training primarily on number 3, ability, to develop and advance the mechanic’s earning capacity as well as add to his value to the business. Because auto repair technicians often get paid based on the quantity and quality of work they produce, it makes perfect sense to continually provide training that focuses on increasing their production capacity by increasing their mechanical skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, at a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the return on the investment of time and money in technical training only provides small incremental improvements. The return on the investment becomes negligible.
If you want to turn a good mechanic into a great mechanic who’ll make a huge impact on your business, teach him how to work better with people and not just work on cars. Think about the great mechanics you’ve seen over the years. I’ll bet almost every one of them was also a people person. Can you think of any who were truly great over the long haul who conducted themselves in an isolated manner, closing themselves off from the rest of the team and not thinking about the customer’s best interests?
Unfortunately, most of these people-oriented mechanics learned and developed their people skills almost by accident. Unlike mechanical skills, people skills can be acquired by observing other people. In other words, they could be the product of their upbringing or some other environmental factor as they went through the various phases of their respective lives. Maybe they got it from their family, a teacher, a former employer, or some other person who made an impression on them. In any event, no matter how they got it, they were blessed with one of the most valuable skills they could bring to the workplace. Furthermore, it likely was what consistently gave them the edge over other technicians.
Imagine, if all your shop’s mechanics were more skilled in getting along with people. That includes all people: fellow employees, management, customers, suppliers, and more. Imagine an auto shop environment where the mechanics are so aware of each other’s needs that they actually look for ways to help their teammates. Imagine having no concerns if a customer wants to talk with the mechanic that’s working on her car. Imagine an environment where people come first… not car repairs. The good news is that the entire shop’s productivity will explode in this kind of an environment.
Because each of your employees may have not had the good fortune of acquiring people skills, it’s up to you to give them that opportunity. There are many resources for this kind of training. Consider these possible choices.
- Believe it or not, many of your auto repair mechanics like to read. So give them the gift of books like the famous “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
- If they don’t like to read, try audio books – especially for those with fairly long commutes.
- Consider paying their way to attend relationship development seminars or management seminars that tour your area.
- If you typically send them to your industry conventions like the ATRA POWERTRAIN EXPO, encourage them to attend a couple of management sessions instead of exclusively technical sessions.
- One of the best methods would be pull everyone together as a group and watch any number of webinars that are available online today. Many of them are at no cost to you. Encourage open discussion afterwards as you all enjoy pizza after the webinar.
If this all sounds a little farfetched or too warm and fuzzy to you, maybe you need to check your own people skills. Perhaps you and your shop could use a tune up over even an overhaul in becoming more people oriented. Maybe you’re part of the cause, if your shop seems to be lacking in this vitally important aspect of your business.
For nearly ten years, the automotive aftermarket has become more and more customer-centric. Study after study has shown that the most successful shops are customer-centric. Your business has internal and external customers. The internal customers are your employees and the external customers are the folks that trust your auto repair shop to repair their vehicles. The best results are achieved in shops that care about people and that includes internal and external customers.
So, if you want to turn a good auto repair mechanic into a great mechanic, teach them the one secret all great auto repair mechanics know – cars don’t pay them… people do. Without people, all you have is some tools, equipment, and a building.