No tech is an island, the poet John Donne once wrote. Every tech is a piece of the repair shop, a part of the business.
(Editor’s note: STOP IT SUZ)
That doesn’t make the statement any less true. Your technicians are not floating around in a void, unconnected to what you do. They’re the lifeblood of your business, the people who keep things moving all day, every day. It’s in your best interest to know how they’re doing and to share with them what’s going well and where they can improve.
That’s where technician evaluations come in. Not every shop practices them (and those that do aren’t always doing a great job of it), but they’re a critical way to share information.
We wanted to talk to an expert in these matters, so we once again inundated our friend Jay Goninen of Find A Wrench and WrenchWay with pleading messages. He sat down with us to share some wisdom, some humor, and some great practical advice for shops looking to implement this practice.
A brief history of technician evaluations
“I don’t believe tech evaluations are new,” Jay says, “but the way we’re starting to do them is new.” Yes, there have always been shops that told their techs how things were going, but, as Jay remarks, “A lot of shops flat-out weren’t doing anything. That becomes a stagnant environment really fast.”
On top of that, Jay adds, the shops that did perform evaluations tended to strictly point out negative elements. You know, the kind of reviews none of us want to get: You did XYZ wrong, you incessantly quote Bon Jovi lyrics, you left the lift outside once.
(Editor’s note: Suz, this is going on your next evaluation.)
It’s a two-pronged problem. No evaluations create an environment where a tech doesn’t know what they’re doing right, and largely leaves them with no clear route to promotions or raises (hence the stagnation). Bad evaluations just make them want to leave.
Considering the tech shortage we have going on, why should you give good techs any reason to leave you behind?
An updated evaluation process that focuses on more than what techs do wrong can go a long way in helping you keep these valued employees.
What goes into a modern tech evaluation?
You can find all kinds of tech evaluation examples out there, from simple forms to complicated spreadsheets. Rather than hand off another document, though, we suggest building your own evaluation process around the following:
Lay out the expectation. Before anything else, Jay says, you must decide what your performance evaluation is going to look like. “If you’re judging them on KPIs, what are those KPIs? What is the expectation? I often see people not listing out goals, or not putting true KPIs out for a tech to be able to manage themselves and understand what the shop is looking for.”
What does success look like to your shop? Is it a certain financial number hit each week, month, quarter, or year? Is it a certain amount of vehicles coming through the bay? If you don’t have goals like this, well, friend, it’s time. You can read this article to learn about how to focus on the right metrics, or check out our webinar about financial planning.
Tie it to the big picture. “A lot of shops are very, very hesitant to share financial performance numbers with their technicians,” Jay says. “Being able to show them how their performance ties to the greater good of the company and how when they do their job right, that ties to the bigger picture…”
If you don’t bother communicating that, a tech may feel like they’ve been stranded out in left field. They don’t realize they have such a huge impact on your bottom line. By letting them see that they are a crucial part of your business, you create more of a community and let them see what their hard work contributes to.
Communicate consistently. There is nothing worse than yanking aside a tech at a random time each year, telling them they suck, and expecting them to go back to work.
Jay suggests meeting with your techs more frequently—that could be weekly or quarterly, depending on how you set things up—to check in with them. “Understanding where they’re at mentally is a big thing,” he says, which means this isn’t just an opportunity to share how you think they’re doing; it’s also a place for them to exchange information with you. What are they having trouble with? Are there aspects of the job that you can help improve?
Focus on the soft skills. Jay believes this aspect is often severely underrated. “Talk to your techs about how they do their job,” he says. “How clean is their work area? How professionally do they act?”
He encourages tying soft skills to raises, which can incentivize the less professional techs you have in your shop: “Act professionally, and you’ll receive a more professional wage and a more professional type of respect.”
But if you’re going to encourage your techs to be more professional, that means you need to be more professional, too. Practice your own soft skills and work on your delivery. A modern evaluation doesn’t exist to lambast people; it’s there to help them improve.
Jay suggests keeping that in mind throughout the process:
“When you look back at a good performance evaluation … is it truly making them better, or are you just beating them up? If you can have clarity on that, it can guide a lot of your technician performance evaluations.”
How often should you perform evaluations?
The frequency of your evaluations will depend on a lot of things: the size of your shop, how busy you (or your managers) are, and how many people are under you. Jay acknowledges that a larger company is going to have a tougher time speaking to every single person on a regular basis.
Conversely, a smaller shop environment means you’re likely going to see everyone, every day.
Whatever size operation you run, Jay encourages you to make a plan and stick to it. What method is going to be the most beneficial for your shop and your techs? Is this a conversation you need to have on a monthly basis, or will twice a year do?
When you’ve decided on a plan, write it down and carry it out. Announcing to yourself that you’re going to do something is only half the battle. You actually need to stick to your word and make these evaluations happen, so get the first talks scheduled and go from there.
Techs are people, too
What do all the suggestions above have in common?
They view techs as human beings, not just cogs in the machine. They bring the tech into the bigger picture of your shop and show them how they contribute to your bottom line. By sharing this information with your techs and trying to help them improve their various skill sets, you’re making them part of the business. You’re making this job more than just a paycheck; you’re showing them how vital they are to everything that goes on in the bay.
When your techs are part of your continental shop instead of floating on their own islands, they can do a heck of a lot more for your shop than just turn wrenches (although they’re great at that, too!). So update your technician evaluations and treat your techs like the people they are—your entire operation will benefit!