By: Mike Owen is an automotive industry consultant

All too often in business we expound the virtues of financial information, about ‘gearing’ and ‘EBIT’ (Earnings Before Interest and Tax), liabilities, assets and stock rotation and then forget the most important one of all. You will struggle to find reference to it on any statement of affairs or balance sheet: your greatest asset is the staff.

Mike Owen

As you move around business (outside the motor industry) you will often see the Investors In People symbol – IIP as its name suggests is a programme adopted by companies who wish to develop those they employ – they have realised that developing their employees will fulfil many functions required in a forward-thinking company. I am continually amazed by how few companies in the motor industry have grasped this concept.
Systems for encouraging garages to select and buy parts online have appeared all over the industry and, in conversation with those who have tried to make these systems work, most will admit that the expected industry revolution was a bit of a damp squib – more of a phut than a bang. The interest comes from the ensuing conversation when some will suggest that the garages ‘just don’t want to shoulder responsibility for parts identification’ – I’ll give that excuse two out of ten. I believe that garages like dealing with people and therefore the success of a people business must come from within its people – the staff.
How many readers, if asked, would own-up to selecting staff based on ‘having a pulse’, a little knowledge and an affordable price tag. Does using these criteria give you the tools to really represent your investment or maximise the sales opportunity created by your marketing?

Objective, not arrogant

Sometimes in the motor industry a little more objectivity and less arrogance might stand us in good stead. Like it or not the majority of industry businesses are hierarchical – layers of people supporting a boss: Hierarchies, if they are to succeed, must have an absolute visionary at the helm as this becomes the natural ceiling for the company’s development.
Flat management structures are far more likely to prosper as they allow the staff to grow and to become involved in business development. I won’t allow staff I work with to introduce me to customers as anything other than a colleague – we work together; management creates an environment in which staff, all staff, can succeed, not just the ‘boss’.
How often do I hear ‘I’m not investing in training – they’ll just up and leave.’ Well, they will if you don’t look after them. The advent of workplace pensions has forced a lot of business owners to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the realms of ‘pastoral care’; looking after the wellbeing of their staff outside the workplace. If you are to succeed and reduce staff ‘churn’, this is a must – you’ll be amazed how small things build up to ‘comfort’ in an employee’s mind, as simple as giving them business cards to help them feel they belong in the company – don’t pigeon hole them with a job title on their cards – let them spread their wings; they work with you as well as for you.
Pastoral care is what keeps staff working for you. I’m currently working with a company and was amazed that they allowed a middle manager to go to his wedding without a card, a drink or a whip-round for a present. I have initiated a database of staff birthdays and a small budget to buy cards – the cards circulate around the business prior to that person’s birthday, for all the staff to sign, and are then sent to that staff member’s home (so their family can see we appreciate them), simple things mean a lot and these help them become part of the team – this is coordinated by the management – yes, pastoral care is a management role, it cannot be delegated.

Good staff, bad leadership

There is a maxim, its origin lost in the annals of history (although there are those who lay claim to it), that states categorically that ‘people don’t leave bad companies they leave bad management’; I totally agree with this statement and unfortunately ‘management’ is still seen as a dark art or, conversely, that it is (naturally) found in people who own businesses and that there is therefore no need to learn it; the result is (large) pockets of inept management. Management is about understanding life-science and finance – never finance alone.
Too often fear is used as a management tool but, believe me, people work best for people they like, people who believe in them and who in turn help develop them as people. A recent task I undertook had me ask the management if they wanted me, in the role I was to undertake, to use the nuclear option or a more progressive method – they asked for nuclear and I refused the job – you see, I’ve learnt that for me to be successful in the roles I undertake I am equally dependent on the staff sharing in that success – and not just financially.

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  1. It is so evident that the motor trade reap what it sows.
    No investment in staff, minimum or near minimum wage. No sick pay, no benefits, the minimum allowed holiday entitlement and if you’re lucky “only a five and a half day working week.

    It (the Motor Trade) then wonders why their staff lack motivation, lack focus, need prompting to do extra work and generally do the minimum required to “keep their job”. I’ve been in the Motor Trade near on 30 years and worked at a number of firms and seen pretty much the same lethargy wherever I’ve been (with the odd exception). It’s such a shame as generally the motor trade is made up of a great bunch or characters who are a pleasure to work with.

    This is directed at the bosses/owners of the various establishments. Read the article above and if the cap fits either wear it or make the change to INVEST in your staff. They’re not just an expensive item of stock.


    Parts Boy