Bad Boss – The Transition from Shop to Office
Over the years, I’ve witnessed a consistent trend where a shop will magically turn their best Technician into a mediocre and ineffective Manager. In the process, they not only lose their top producer in the shop, they are stuck with inferior management.
The story typically starts with a retirement, firing or resignation of the prior Manager that leaves a huge hole effecting everybody in the building. Calls aren’t returned, appointments are double booked and nobody has a clue as to what’s going on. As frustration levels rise, it becomes apparent that this job needs to be filled right away. As most businesses do, upper Management starts to look for internal options to fill that hole. The obvious choice becomes clear. “The Lead Tech”.
After all, The Lead Tech knows the business. He’s worked on everything that comes in the door and understands the technical side to answer questions. On top of that, he’s known most of the customers for years and has the respect of the people in the shop. The answer couldn’t be more obvious.
At the same time, The Lead Tech starts to ponder the changes that he’d make should he ever wind up in that seat. “The shop would be a hell of a lot cleaner, I’ll tell you that”, he’ll think. He starts to dream about the thought of running his own shop and instead of being “The Lead Tech”, he’ll now be the “Top Dawg”, the “Boss Man”, the “Leader of the Pack”. He’ll make the changes he’s always thought were needed and all will be right in the world.
Now, lets fast forward to a year after “The Lead Tech” takes the job. He’s miserable. In the process of getting screamed at for the third time today by an angry customer, he is getting frustrated by the line of Techs waiting out his window for their next job to be assigned. He stares over at a stack of work orders that have yet to be closed and can’t stop thinking about the list of customers that haven’t paid their bills. He starts to hear the grumblings of his former buddies in the shop, too. This is no longer fun. Simply put, he’s overwhelmed and starting to question his decision.
The scenario that I’m describing is all too common.
So, where is the disconnect and why isn’t an employee as great in a role that’s perceived as similar? It’s because the roles themselves couldn’t be any different. One position is rewarded for putting the blinders on and the other has to be a leader with the ability to multi task. From my experience, I’ve noticed a few traits that I view as needs when a Tech makes the transition to the office. As I describe these characteristics, I’m also offering some recommendations that have helped me or I’ve seen help others in the past.
- Personality – This may be the biggest barrier to overcome for some. In the shop, a Technicians focus is on fixing whatever is in front of them. I think that the Service Manager position is often the toughest position in the entire business and the transition is one of the more difficult. The ideal person to take on such a role is unique, and sometimes rare. They need to be able to handle difficult customers, answer technical questions, manage a staff and sell work. If inept at any of these, “The Lead Tech” will struggle to succeed with the transition. Identifying strengths is important for both the employee and employer.
Consider using some form of personality assessment test such as the DISC assessment to truly identify strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, you might want to consider taking this yourself to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Another resource is the book Strengths Finder 2.0. If you buy the book, they give you a link to take your own test. Understanding what drives them to do better and what drives them crazy can be very beneficial in your relationship with them.
An even easier way to evaluate if their performance would translate is to just watch them interact with their co-workers. Try doing this in a not so obvious way, too. People are smart and they can turn on the charm when you’re around. Get past this by being very involved with the Service Department…even more so than normal. The other people in the shop will tell you all you need to know on whether they are respected or not without you even having to ask.
2. Education/Training – The overwhelming majority of Service Managers have very little formal training. Scheduling, departmental planning, conflict resolution and sales techniques are rarely taught. Most times, the new Service Manager has plenty of talent but friction is caused when there is a perception of disorganization or that the individual isn’t “smart” enough to do the job. In my experience, they have been put in that chair because they were really good at something. The training offered needs to support the needs of that person specifically and they need to be ongoing. A lot of businesses are good at training for the first month. The best Dealerships and Shops continue that training every year, and lots of times, it’s focused on soft skills or areas where they may have not received training before.
There are a variety of different training programs that are offered by manufacturers you represent but you may want to look outside of that. Many Universities and Trade Schools offer classes that can help enhance leadership and management classes. It’s also important that the newly crowned Manager find a mentor to assist in answering questions and guiding through obstacles. I recommend this being somebody other than a direct Manager, although the Manager needs to know of the relationship to avoid confusion.
- On a side note, do not force a mentor on an employee at any level. I’ve tried it in the past and it never seems to work…especially if they don’t like each other. The relationship needs to be organic.
3. Ability to have tough conversations – In any management position, there’s going to be tough conversations on a continual basis. Having the patience to listen to people’s problems and make decisions that could ruffle feathers are things that are tough to simulate until you’re in that position.
Consider reading the book Crucial Conversations or attending in person training. While nothing can substitute for experience when it comes to having that difficult talk with an employee, having tools to use during the conversation can be game changing. This is especially the case for somebody that might not be comfortable in tense situations.
4. Organization – I’ve worked with lots of Technicians that are great at what they do but are terribly unorganized. It’s really easy to spot this as well. Check out their toolbox and work area. Do they take pride in their areas of ownership? How well do they write up work orders?
Although this isn’t just limited to Service Managers, I once spoke with a hiring Manager who used to walk applicants out to their car and take a peak to see how clean it was. He said that it spoke volumes about their organization and, although I never tried it, always thought it was a great idea.
There are lots of other qualities that you could pick out but these are the most common traits that I’ve seen amongst people that have made a successful transition from the shop to the office. Have some people been able to cut it while missing out on some of these? Of course. I’m simply stating what has worked for me in the past as I hope it can increase your odds for success.
What about the people that have already made the transition from the shop to the office? Are they S.O.L? Not in the least…in fact, they now have the opportunity to do an assessment of their skills and try out what they learn right away. My advice to them would be to take a proactive approach to self development. Read books, take classes online and do whatever you can to better yourself. A lot of times, this isn’t natural for somebody coming out of a shop but if they grasp the impact it can have, it will change their perception of self improvement. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what they are and to adjust accordingly.
In the book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” by Robert Sutton, he lays out “The 11 Commandments for Wise Bosses”. For a new Manager (or any Manager for that matter) looking to assess their skills and trying to find some direction in their new role, here are the 11 Commandments as described in the book.
THE 11 COMMANDMENTS FOR WISE BOSSES
- Have strong opinions and weakly held beliefs.
- Do not treat others as if they are idiots.
- Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say.
- Ask a lot of good questions.
- Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance.
- Do not hesitate to say, “I don’t know”.
- Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone.
- Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong.
- Do not hold grudges after losing an argument. Instead, help the victors implement their ideas with all your might.
- Know you foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses.
- Express gratitude toward your people.
In conclusion, the transition to Management can be intimidating and overwhelming. It’s important that all parties involved remember this as you start out. Your title may change overnight but you don’t magically become a Manager. It takes patience as there is going to be a lot of learning along the way. Understanding this is going to be the key.
Have any stories from your experience to share? Feel free to share in the comments section or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!