A Case Study You Wouldn't Want To Recreate

Those of you who know me personally know I have a strong curiosity especially when it comes to people and their experiences in the world of work.  We are renovating a bathroom in our apartment and living with three workers who are demolishing and rebuilding it.  While standing in the kitchen over a cup of coffee I asked my contractor how he got started.  I share his story because its one those of you who are managers can really learn a lesson from.... Who would have known but my contractor was a mechanic for a Porche Audi dealership.  He said and I paraphrase,

I started out in my early twenties as an hourly wage mechanic at the dealership.  When I started I had no idea I would love being a mechanic as much as I did.  I learned everything I could and quickly rose through the ranks.  I loved going to work.  I loved it so much I would have worked for nothing if I was independently wealthy.  The company asked for volunteers to work a four day week with 11 hour shifts.  I seized the opportunity as it gave me three days off.  My coworkers were concerned they wouldn’t get time and a half for the additional four hours.  It made no sense to me.  I’d have a full day to myself and what’s more I had the time in the four days I worked to get immersed in challenging assignments and see them to completion.  We had customer satisfaction surveys.  The dealership overall had a 74% rating.  I had a 94% rating.  I was the best.

The dealership was bought out and a new manager came in.  It was downhill from the first day.  Working on a particularly difficult car I checked out everything and couldn’t find anything wrong.  I went to the service updates the manufacturer regularly put out and saw something that made sense to me.  (Pete was very explicit about what was wrong but I wasn’t taking notes so you are getting the Cliff Notes version.)  After hours of personal inspection and reviewing the service updates Pete concluded the car needed a tune up and told his new manager so. He explained why. The manager said that couldn’t be, words flew and the manager assigned the car to a less skilled mechanic to find out what was wrong.  Pete said the game changed at that moment.  He worked there for the next three months doing his job but without the passion that had let him work to “110% of capacity every hour I was there”. He left the company within three months and started his own small business.

More than 12 years later, I could hear in Pete’s voice how hurt and insulted he was.  He was right back in the service department as he told the story. He is now a general contractor with a long standing crew and together they work seamlessly.

So here are a few lessons to take from Pete’s story. If you are the new guy or gal coming in to manage an existing workforce take your time to get to know your people before pulling rank on them especially in nonessential situations.

If indeed you do need to override an employee’s decision discuss it with him or her.  Explain why you are making the decision to override.  In this case the dealership lost its best service technician.  In fact the action of the new manager reinforced the behavior of other employees, which was to do just enough to get by.  The dealership and its customers suffered because this manager couldn’t believe one of his mechanics worked so thoroughly, there was a simple solution to a seemingly complex problem which was written up in the manufacturers own periodic service updates, the new manager chose to assert his authority before understanding the dynamics of the organization he managed.

From the employees perspective Pete still remembers this encounter.  He has chosen not to work for anyone else again but rather to become his own boss.  This is great for Pete has he has excellent customer service skills, likely thanks to the training of Porche Audi he received as a young man.  He is an entrepreneur stimulating the economy and hiring employees and other business owners.  However not everyone is a Pete.  Not everyone is made out for the uncertainty of business ownership or management.  There are a lot of people in the work force who are not engaged because of situations similar to Pete’s.  Can you imagine the creativity that would be unleashed in our country if managers would have discussions with people in their employ and recognize the unique gifts each brings to the world. This is the power of an engaged organization and the engaged people who inhabit them.

By the way on Friday’s 6 o’clock ABC evening news there was a featured story about a 10 year-old girl who is part of a music program in the NYC school system.  Believe her name is Nuha Dolby.  A composition she composed was played by the NY Philharmonic Friday.  Stellar in and of itself, but what I found profound were her comments in the interview that accompanied the report.  When asked to comment about how special she is, she said everyone is born with their own unique specialness. Hope you will have a chance to hear her. Click here to see the news clip.