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From the Football Field to the Shop Floor – 5 Ways Techs and Managers can learn from sports and apply it to the shop.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we didn’t have much of a choice but to love the Green Bay Packers. I was lucky to be a kid when the Falcons were dumb enough to trade Brett Favre and Reggie White used his new found free agency rights to choose to suit up in the green and gold. The mid-90s were filled with winning and Super Bowls that the prior couple of generations could have only dreamt of. I’ve been hooked on sports of all kinds ever since.

The other thing that had me hooked from a young age was my love for business. While others were working hard in school, I was day dreaming about starting a cattle business or selling race car parts. In fact, I had started my first business when I was about 10 years old while showing and selling show cattle. It was my first introduction to business, how to balance a checkbook and began to understand gross margins. At the same time, I was working the front office at our family automotive repair shop. I’ve chronicled that fairly well in past blogs, so I won’t dive too deep into it but it is another piece of my life that drove me to love business.

Sports and business were my first two loves and I can’t help but see the parallels between the two as I grow older. Specifically, how it relates to Mechanics and shops. Depending on the size of your organization, there are different levels to this. I’m going to break this down from more of a dealership level as it might make the story more relatable but I can certainly see how this pertains to every type of service repair business.

How they Relate

Let’s start with the Ownership group. Unlike my Packers, who are owned by the “shareholders”, most NFL teams are owned by an individual or group. Same can be said for dealership groups. The ownership groups that lead these organizations have the goal of building world class organizations that dominate their competition. In both sports and business, you’re forced to compete in order to survive. It’s that competitive drive that separates the true professionals from the wannabes.

Directly reporting to the Ownership Group is typically a CEO or President of Operations and it’s not all that different in a Dealership. While org charts tend to vary between organizations, we’re going to use this model as it compares easiest to a sport team. Many times, they are responsible for painting the vision and strategy for the rest of the organization to execute.

While executive level people are imperative to all organizations, what I want to focus on is the relationship between a Service Manager and their teams. To me, this is the relationship that is most reflective of the on field battles that we love so much on Sundays (and pretty much every other day of the week now). Also, we’ve got lots of clients that are independent repair shops that might not have the layers of structure that we see in dealerships, so I like to keep it as relevant to everybody as I can.

So, let’s dive into this relationship and see what we can learn from the similarities that I see between a sports team and a service department. I think there’s a lot that shops can learn from how the best coaches treat their teams.

Service Manager / Coach Similarities

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Think about all of the great Head Coaches that have been well chronicled over the years. Belichick, Walsh, Parcells, Landry and of course, Lombardi. All of them are winners. Most of them were hard nosed disciplinarians. In fact, I’ve heard numerous former players for each of these Coaches mention that they hated playing for them at the time but that it was ultimately great for them. I think more than that, these Coaches knew how to motivate. They knew when a player needed a kick in the ass or a hug. They were all highly competitive.

Ultimately, they worked their asses off. And in every case, none of them started at the top. Hell, Belichick got fired by arguably the worst franchise in professional sports for decade. Although it’s fun to watch the Cleveland Browns get better now, there is no denying they were not a well run franchise for a long time.

How it translates to Management

A lot of these same traits can be used when explaining Managers that have been highly successful. The good ones are organized, hold their team accountable and are great motivators. They, too, know when to hug somebody or give them a boot in the ass. The same goes for bad organizations as well. If you are a Bill Belichick type Manager coaching in a Cleveland Browns type organization, you’re probably going to fail too. Over my years in the industry, I’ve seen lots of successful Managers and they typically have similar traits when explaining them.

One other glaring similarity is in the way that successful Managers view their teams. If they view them as subordinates that will never be at the Managers level, there is a severe limitation to the Management style of that individual. Whereas good Managers respect their teams and, in my opinion, act as servant type leaders who are willing to help their teams out however they can.

For example, if a Service Manager knows that they have a Technician that’s having some struggles at home, they work on coaching them through it rather than immediately firing them. They take the chance to think through the situation and understand if it’s something that they can coach an individual through. Conversely, if they see a young Mechanic that is immature and needs a bit of tough love, they are able to do that as well. Good Managers and Coaches understand that you can’t manage every person the same way. People are motivated and demotivated by different things. It’s the responsibility of the Manager/Coach to understand what those are.

Technicians / Players

How many Technicians take their role as serious as a professional athlete does? Not very many…but I have seen lots of Technicians and Mechanics that do and it’s a think of beauty. Think about it the similarities. Both jobs are physically demanding, dirty, bloody, sweaty and take some pretty bad ass people to do them effectively. Now, before you start into me on the difference in pay, hear me out.

In football, the on field performance of players is the ultimate gauge of a Coaches success. On a shop floor, Technicians are the barometer of how a coach is doing and their performance is constantly measured by the output of Technicians. In both cases, the training and experience needed to get to that level of performance are immense. It takes preparation and a different level of motivation. It also takes consistently executing your job for success.

So, why would a Manager look at Techs any different than a Coach looks at his players? Let’s dive into this in a bit more detail. What are some real life examples that we can take from the field and apply to the shop floor?

5 Habits we can take to the shop:

  1. Preparation– Have you ever seen a shop where Mechanics take stretching before a long day of work seriously? I can count on one hand the amount of shops that I’ve seen that do. Have you ever seen a high performing athlete NOT stretch before they go out and grind for a day? I haven’t…unless you’re counting John Daly. Why not take a proactive approach to stretching in your shop. Nobody will take it seriously unless the leaders of the shop do, so you’ll have to get past that but it’s a culture thing. The more awareness there is to long term physical issues, the more important this should become. Over the next few years, I could see this becoming a staple in successful shops.
  2.  Study Habits– Professional football players are constantly studying tape and evaluating their on field performance. How proactive are you in looking at your performance? Are you committing to off hours studying? Are you seeking out coaching? If you’re in Management, are you teaching your team members how to study and what resources are available to them?
  3. Team Leadership – Most athletic teams have some form of Captain. The role of the captain is to set the stage for the entire team. They are generally the hardest working and highest performing. If this person in your shop is also positive and encouraging to others, you’ve set a positive foundation. Be aware that if the shop captain is negative and demeaning, you’re going to have problems on your hands. I personally have cut ties with high performers with bad attitudes. It hurt in the short term but resulted in a culture shift for the entire company later on.
  4. Consistency – Have you ever looked up Jerry Rice’s routine when he played for the 49ers? If you haven’t, I highly recommend you google it. He was constantly striving to get 1% better and proactively looked for ways to do just that. While Jerry Rice was a world class athlete, there is little argument over how much his consistent work ethic contributed to his Hall of Fame career. Have you looked at your routine and picked it apart for ways to get better? This is something that I struggle with personally and am constantly striving to get better…but it’s really hard. Focus on things you can control to start like getting to work at the same time each day, preferably before your scheduled start time. Learn to be proactive to look at creating your own routine and hold yourself accountable for executing that routine. It’s harder than it looks and pays off much more than people think. On a non-football related note, former UCLA Coach John Wooden had an unbelievable routine with his practices. I’d encourage you to check out one of his books to see the breakdown of it but it’s crazy in that it’s down to the minute. He also taught his players to put on their socks and how to tie their shoes. It sounds elementary but consistently executing on it meant more consistent results and less injuries.
  5. Finding Mentorship – Many athletes will seek out mentorship from somebody who has been there before. They may train with that mentor in the offseason. A scheduled weekly call to check in over the course of the year  can be extremely helpful as well. The point is that they’ve got somebody to talk to. I’d suggest this to all people, regardless of their current role as it’s a great practice and has had a huge impact on me. But just having somebody there for you that’s been through the same things that you’re going through can be a life saver. Being a Tech or a Manager can be extremely difficult…make sure to seek out mentorship to help you navigate the tough times.

I could go on and on with parallels but these are the five that I find most beneficial. I’d encourage you to look at something you love and see if there are things you can take from it and apply to your daily activities. It can be fun to incorporate things outside of following the pack!

#GoPackGo