Nov 07, 2019

Protect Your Shop: Toxic Techs and How to Avoid Them

Protect Your Shop: Toxic Techs and How to Avoid Them

Picture it: there’s a holiday coming up, you’re short-staffed, and you just got a rush job from a fleet manager who wants you to look after all his trucks. Things are tight, but your crew can handle it.

Then someone gets sick.

You’ve got a pile of authorizations. You haven’t backfilled your lead tech. Now you’ve got two part-time spots you need to fill ASAP if you want to keep up with the work you have — and we haven’t even factored that fleet manager into things.

You need to hire someone now. Actually, you need to hire several someones, preferably yesterday or last week.

So you put an ad out, have a few interviews, and hire a tech with great qualifications. You throw them into the bays and sit back. Everything seems fine.

But then you start seeing little problems creep up. Your techs are grumbling more than they used to. Some of them are even outwardly avoiding the new person. Invoices aren’t getting filled. That parts order has either disappeared or never got filled. Stuff is falling through the cracks. No one has said anything yet, but no one is happy.

Every shop has its problems, but this one might have been avoidable if you’d put some basic hiring practices into place instead of hiring the first person who checked every box.

Where did you get your start in management? Lots of shop owners are former techs — is this you? If so, you can probably rebuild an engine in your sleep, but you sure as heck haven’t memorized hiring practices.

Good news: we’re here to help. We’ve put together a few suggestions to help you separate the good potential hires from the ones who will corrode your shop culture.

Keep an eye out

You want to make sure this new hire can get along with their potential new coworkers, not just you. When they arrive, have them post up in a spot where you can quietly observe them for a couple minutes. Make sure it’s a spot that sees some foot traffic, even if it’s manufactured. One person can offer the potential hiree water or coffee; another can say hello and engage them in conversation.

This lets you see how a potential hire will interact with everyone on your staff — not just you. That’s a critical component of hiring that often goes overlooked; lots of hirees turn on the charm when dealing with a shop owner, but turn out to be disrespectful or even abrasive to anyone who isn’t significantly higher than them on the shop ladder.

Don’t hire that person. Make sure the individual that you interview is respectful to everyone, even the youngest apprentice.

Get your crew involved

Who’s going to be working most closely with this new tech? Probably your current techs. If this new person doesn’t fit in with them, you’re going to have problems. So many shops hire a tech based on the shop owner and perhaps a hiring manager’s decision; the actual staffers who will be affected by and working with this individual are often not consulted.

So involve your crew in at least one round of interviews. You might even have a tech and your parts manager team up to handle the first round of the interview process. After you complete your round, meet up with your crew and ask them what they thought of the interviewee. If they’ve got good things to say, great! If they don’t, that’s something you need to pay attention to.

Spend time with the members of your staff who interviewed this potential new tech and get their honest perspective. Can they work with this person? Will they enjoy it? What potential problems did they think about while talking?

Devoting extra hours to interviews may seem like a waste when you need to get someone in now, but it’s a far better idea to front-load the interview process and secure the right person. It takes a lot of time to clean up the mess a poor hire can make — and we don’t just mean repairing the cultural mess they may have created. It takes time to actually let a person go and make sure you aren’t running afoul of any employment laws your state has on the books.

Not to mention the paperwork that comes with parting ways. Trust us — get the hire right the first time and save yourself hours of work later.

Ask the right questions

You can’t always sort out a bad fit in the hiring process, but asking the right questions during the interview can help you identify traits and characteristics you’d rather avoid.

What’s the hardest job you ever worked on, and why? Pay attention to how they answer. Why was the job hard? Was it a difficult situation, or are they putting the blame on former coworkers and bosses? If things were never their fault at their old shop, you can bet things won’t be their fault at your shop, either.

What are some areas where you can improve or What skills do you want to learn? Stay away from the folks who describe themselves as “rockstars” or can’t seem to think of any sort of weakness. If they think that highly of themselves, you can bet they aren’t going to think similarly of their very human coworkers.

What are you looking for in a shop? This is where you can see if your shop’s values align with those of your potential hire. How do you see this person fitting in with the culture you’ve created?

What was the best part of your old job? Your shop is basically a tiny community, so look for answers that are people-centric. Do they speak fondly of the techs they used to work with, or are they zeroing in on things like time off and the snack situation? Those aren’t necessarily bad things, by the way; there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the perks of a prior workplace. But if your potential hire can only focus on fruit snacks and coffee instead of the quality of their co-worker, that might reflect more on them than on their previous shop.

Check those references

So your potential hire has the thumbs up from your staff and yourself. The reference check is usually the last step, and some shops just skip it.

Don’t be that shop.

Follow up with the references your soon-to-be newbie provides and put some thought into the questions you ask — they can provide a great deal of additional information about this person.

What are the potential hire’s biggest strengths and weaknesses? See how this person — or these people — describe the individual you interviewed. Does the person they describe sound like the one you interviewed?

Tell me about a tough situation the potential hire had to handle, and how it worked out. This is another way to see the individual through another’s eyes — likely the eyes of a former coworker or a shop owner.

How do they deal with mistakes? We all screw up sometimes, especially when we’re starting out. We can either see our error, own it, and fix it, or…well, we can deny it, blame it on someone else, or just ignore it. If the scenarios the reference outlines sound a lot like the latter, you may want to move on.

What was the best part about working with this person? There aren’t any wrong answers to this one, but their answer may indicate a personality type. “He was so funny, he made us all laugh over beers after work” vs. “He always got things done on time.” There is nothing wrong with hitting your billable hours, but if that’s the only good thing your fellow techs have to say about you, well…

You and your techs spend at least 40 hours a week at the shop. Probably more, if we’re being honest. Like it or not, you’re likely a tight-knit community out of necessity; when you’re all constantly working together and running into one another, you either become friendly or you leave. Odds are you’ve worked hard to turn your shop into a place your techs like to work.

It only takes one nasty personality to throw that happiness into peril.

Hiring is all about getting someone with the right skill set — but it’s also about getting someone who fits in with your crew. You need to find someone they’ll be comfortable asking for help or leaning on when things get rough.

They work hard for you, so make sure you work hard for them and find them a fellow tech they can trust.

Suz Baldwin