CALL US TODAY (385) 399-0922

Reading Time: 9 minutes

How often do you think about culture in your shop?

The term “workplace culture” is a newer one that really clawed its way to prominence in the mid-2000s. At its core, the culture of your shop is basically your work environment. A good culture means employees are likelier to stick around. People spend 40+ hours of their week at work; a good chunk of their life overall. They’re likely to feel more inclined to put forth effort if it’s a place that they like – a place that values morale.

So how do you create a culture that people will want to participate in? We’re here to talk about that.

Before we go on, let’s make sure we note that not every suggestion we make is going to be a perfect fit for every shop. All we can do is provide some tips and hope you make them your own.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

No matter what kind of culture you eventually create, the best way to keep it strong is to lead by example.

What does this mean?

In short, you practice what you preach. You talk the talk, but you also walk the walk. Your shop has a set of values that it operates by, and you live those values every day.

If you haven’t quite sorted out what your shop values are, that’s all right! Think about what is important to you. Your shop is a chance to leave your mark on an industry…and on the people who will be your customers. That’s a lot of lives you can end up touching. What do you want their takeaway of you and your shop to be?

If one of your values is, “We get the job done right, no matter what it takes,” that might translate to you putting in late nights to make sure that engine overhaul gets finished.

If one of your values is, “We’ll do the job right, or we’ll do it for free,” that might mean you eat the cost of a re-do when something goes wrong.

If one of your values is, “Family first,” then that means you knock off at 5 o’clock sharp to go be with your family – and you encourage or require your techs to do the same (erm, with their families, not yours, because that would just be weird).

HIRING FOR CULTURE

If you’re a one-man-band, then the rest of this piece doesn’t necessarily apply to you. All you have to do is live and work by your own values and that’s pretty much your culture.

But if you have employees – even just one or two – it’s suddenly a whole new ballgame. And with each hire you make, you need to ensure they’re a) the right fit for the job, and b) the right fit for the shop.

That’s basically what “Hiring for culture” translates to, by the way: “Does their personality fit with ours?”

This is where written documentation of your shop values helps, even if it’s just scribbled on a Post-It note. For example, here at Fullbay we use four core values to define ourselves and guide our hiring practices. We aim to:

  • Build quality tools – our software makes life easier for our customers.
  • Be high functioning – we’re high-performing and low-maintenance.
  • Run into the fire – we learn by doing rather than suffering paralysis by analysis.
  • Promote balance – in our own lives, and in those of our customers.

When we hire someone, we make sure they share those values with us.

What are your values? Once you determine them, make sure you ask your potential new staff member questions based around them. These questions might look like:

  • A customer’s truck broke down again because you forgot to put the oil cap back on. What do you do?
  • You scratched someone’s paint job. What do you do?
  • You’re knocking off work early but a huge job comes in. What do you do?

Do their answers align with what you want for your shop?

Meanwhile, how do you ensure that they’ll get along with everyone?

Modern offices often do panel interviews, bringing in a department head and one or two members of their team, to conduct them. By bringing in the people the interviewee will actually be working with, and hearing first-hand about the work and company culture from several mouths, both sides can formulate a better opinion of each other.

Come on, Fullbay, we hear you say, I do not have the extra manpower to make techs sit with me in a panel interview.

We know! That’s why we aren’t suggesting a traditional panel interview. Instead, make sure your interviewee interacts with as many people as possible:

  • The office manager, while they’re waiting
  • A tech to give them a tour of the shop
  • Another tech, possibly to wait with them

And so on. These are usually brief interactions, but you can learn a lot about someone in that handful of minutes. Collect feedback from your staff afterwards and see what they thought.

DO I NEED TO DO TEAMBUILDING STUFF?

When you think about teambuilding, you might be picturing trust falls in a secluded forest, or joining hands in a circle and passing around a hula hoop.

Rest assured we are not about to suggest you do that. At all.

Teambuilding has gotten a bad rap thanks to exercises like those mentioned above. Your shop likely doesn’t have time (or inclination) to wander off into the forest for a day to “foster communication.” But teambuilding itself – building up camaraderie – is a great thing to practice, and there are far better ways to do it than plummeting off a tree into the waiting arms of your colleagues.

We’re calling anything your crew does together teambuilding. So what can you do to encourage staff to get together and chat with each other? Here are a few ideas we’ve seen put into practice:

  • Barbecues/Potlucks. People need to eat. People like food. People often like talking to other people while sharing food. We can’t think of a better way to encourage your staff to hang out, chat, and get to know one another than by putting together a regular food-related activity. Fire up the grill in the back, order catering, or have everyone bring something (or all three!) – then eat and be merry.
  • Secret Santas. This one is easy. Everyone writes down their name on a piece of paper. These papers are dropped into a hat. Pass the hat around. You’ll purchase a gift with set monetary value (usually up to $25, but use your judgment) for that individual and leave it for them. Some places make a big game out of guessing who the Secret Santa is during a reveal party (usually coinciding with a workplace holiday party) but how far you take it is up to you.
  • Outings to local sports events. Odds are you have some sort of sports team in the area. Take an afternoon off and bring the crew with you. Maybe you’ll wind up in the nosebleed seats, or maybe you know someone who will let you use their box. Getting everyone away from the shop and doing some cheering (or heckling!) can work wonders for a team.
  • Celebrating obscure holidays. Bear with us here. The first Friday of each June is traditionally celebrated as National Donut Day. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by bringing in boxes from local donuts shops and letting your crew vote on their favorite. Bonus: Get customers involved by asking for recommendations on social media. (Warning: Customers may bring you donuts. This is not a bad thing, merely a high-caloric one.)

In short, anything besides work that brings your staff together qualifies as teambuilding in our eyes. The Fullbay office once learned how to use backhoes – relevant to our industry and fun!

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRANSPARENCY

We talk a lot about shop transparency. Making tech efficiencies and shop goals public can do wonders for your bottom line. Not only does it often foster a healthy sense of competition amongst your techs – the “I can do better than that!” sense – but it also gives your staff more of a stake in the business.

Let’s talk a little more about both of those.

How much work does your shop need to see to turn a profit each month? That’s your baseline number. Let’s say it’s $150,000. Each week you can post an update in the break room or even in the shop itself detailing how much you’ve earned, and how many more hours you need to hit that number. Depending on how granular you want to get, you can even show your techs where they excel and where they’re lagging, which can inspire self-improvement.

(Fullbay can help you out with this, too – just saying!)

Shop goals give your techs their own goals to work for. That friendly competition we mentioned goes a long way toward encouraging your staff to put a little extra work in. Heck, you can even throw in some kind of incentive – every $5,000 over your goal means a pizza party, or an afternoon off, or something like that.

But there’s more to it than that. When you include your crew in your financial situation, they become more than just people working for you. They can see exactly what they need to do to help the shop reach its goals and stay open. They have a stake in it that they can control – how many hours they work, and how many jobs they do – and by contributing their part, they’re doing right by themselves, their colleagues, and the shop. You’re appealing to their sense of honor and duty; it’s hard to go wrong with that.

KEEPING TECHS ENGAGED

Despite all the fun stuff we’ve described up top, building a good shop culture isn’t all about games and potlucks. Your shop is still a business. You expect your techs to come in and do their jobs.

If you read our piece about keeping up morale in a shop, then you know a big part of keeping morale up is with engagement. An engaged tech is interested in their work, their workplace, and their colleagues; that type of dedication is exactly what you want in a good shop culture. What happens if they’re not engaged? Maybe nothing. They might still be perfectly good techs who get the job done. But all too often, the disengaged worker is indifferent – they might not hate your shop, but they don’t love it, either. They’ll jump ship if they find something better, and you’ll be left to fill the gap.

So how do you keep techs engaged?

  • Provide financial incentives. Maybe for each $500,000 your shop earns, your techs receive a bonus. You can also set specific numbers for each tech to hit that will trigger some sort of monetary compensation. Alternatively (or additionally) you can look at perks like extra paid time off or more flexible schedules.
  • Provide or help finance continuing training. Life is all about learning – and this industry is facing more changes than ever. Helping them obtain new certifications makes them more valuable to your shop (and more employable in general). Got some newbies? Mentor them. Find out what parts of the industry they want to learn more about and help them make it happen.
  • Listen to their concerns. This is a big one. The boss-employee 1:1 can help you root out a lot of problems – from being over- or under-worked to personal issues that may affect their jobs.
  • Performance reviews. You don’t need a huge stack of papers – but you do need to help your techs be accountable for their performance. You can do this once a year, but we recommend it more frequently; try quarterly reviews, or even monthly ones. Let your staff know what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on.

BUILDING COMMUNITY BONDS

Your shop doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Well…let’s back up. Your shop probably doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Unless you are sitting in the middle of a desert with nothing else around you for 50 miles, odds are there’s some sort of town or city either around you or right nearby.

These people are your customers and your community.

There are two reasons for this. The first, and most important, is that you and your techs are part of this community. Those who live around you are your neighbors. Your families live here. Your kids go to school here. You know these people.

With that said, they’re also your most powerful marketing tool. Your neighbor’s cousin happens to be a service manager for a big fleet. Their trucks roll past town regularly. Someone breaks down; your neighbor offers up your shop to do the fix. Suddenly you have a flood of new business.

Community bonds aren’t just helpful for the social aspect. They’re also useful for business.

  • Sponsoring local sports teams. What’s better than your name on the back of a jersey? Well…probably plenty of things, but seeing your company’s logo splashed across people’s backs is pretty cool. Plus you’re doing good work for the community: A good sponsorship helps teams keep their costs down (so anyone can participate) and it’s a great chance for kids to stay active and make friends. Throw in team dinners and parties, plus an end-of-season party to keep spirits high (and good feelings aimed at your shop).
  • Fundraising. What causes do you support? Fundraising allows you to provide monetary support to issues you care about. This can come in the form of a simple donation jar on the desk…or you can go bigger. Think silent auctions or raffles (prizes could include a paint job or a tune-up), with all funds going to the organization of your choice.
  • Youth mentorship program. There are kids out there who are interested in truck repair and all things diesel. A mentorship program provides a space where kids who want to be like you when they grow up can come to the shop for a couple of hours each week and learn the ropes. They can shadow techs. Who knows? This might even turn into a new avenue for hiring when those kids grow up! (Just make sure you’re in compliance with local laws and get permission slips and everything.)
  • Quarterly barbecues. You probably have neighbors, right? The muffler shop next door, the beauty salon down the street? Once a quarter, throw a soiree to get everyone talking. Your staff can invite friends and family, and you’ll invite local businesses, too. Either get one of your techs (or yourself!) to act as DJ or bring in a live band if you’re daring. This isn’t a day for business – it’s a day for enjoying the company of others and making new friends. And heck, if some business cards are swapped along the way, that’s good for everyone.
  • Business card swap. An unobtrusive but prominent way to maintain bonds with local businesses is to set up a little card rack in a highly visible section of your shop. This is where other local businesses can place their cards or postcards. Maybe the service manager visiting your shop wants to find the best coffee in town, or needs a quick trim. You’re supporting local businesses and in turn encouraging them to support you.

Summing Up

Whether you call it culture, work environment, or something else, the atmosphere you create in your shop trickles down to everything. It influences how your techs work, how you do business, and what your customers think of you. More pressingly, it directly impacts how you hire people – and how long those people will stay with you. In the end, your culture can definitely determine how profitable your shop is. Protect yourself and your bottom line and create a space where people want to come to work – that’s a win for yourself and your staff.

Do you use any of the above practices? What have you done to create a strong culture in your shop? Let us know on social media!

Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.