From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Two-Way Dialogue a Good Way to ‘Maintain’ Employees

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Just as regular maintenance of your shop’s equipment and facility is critical to keep it functioning well, “maintenance” of your employees is just as important.

After all, replacing a good employee can be every bit as costly---and often more difficult---than replacing a welder or frame rack.

It was that goal of maintaining ongoing two-way dialogue with employees that led me, when I had my shops, to conduct employee reviews on an annual basis. I know some shop owners avoid such reviews because they assume employees will expect increased compensation as part of the process.

But before I even sat down with employees, they each would fill out a questionnaire, rating how they think they were meeting the company’s standards for attendance, quantity and quality of work, teamwork, organization and enthusiasm. It asked them to rate their supervisor, and how they are treated by coworkers. It asked them what they feel they need to improve, what their specific goals were for the coming year, and how we could help them meet those goals.

And it asked specifically about pay, including this important follow-up question: What would you be willing to do to make more money this year? This helped emphasize they have to take a role in increasing their income, not just come into the review expecting a raise.

I would look over their responses and their employee file before I met with them. And I came into the review with an agenda.

First item on that agenda: Ensuring we had their current home address and phone number(s), that their emergency contact information was correct and that their insurance needs hadn’t changed, maybe because of a change in dependents or because they were now covered under a spouse’s plan.

We also collected information on their birthday, wedding anniversary and kids’ birthdays so we could note those events throughout the year.

Next, we worked through their responses to the questionnaire. The beauty of the self-review is it’s a lot less uncomfortable than having to bring up the fact an employee, for example, is often late for work. That employee will often acknowledge on the form he’s not meeting the shop’s expectations for attendance.

So rather than dwell on the problem, you can immediately move into discussing why it’s occurring and what can be done about it. That was far more effective than a heated discussion about it at some time when I was angry and they were defensive.

If they listed areas of their performance that need improvement, we discussed what tools or training they needed to help them do that.

I’ve always felt it’s the business owner’s responsibility to give employees what they need to success in the business. So reviews are a chance for open dialogue about how you can help them improve their performance.

That also helped us map out employee training for the coming year, to ensure we got them the classes they needed with the least disruption to production.

During the reviews, we’d also discuss the areas in which they were excelling, giving them some “attaboys” and positive reinforcement.

And I’d have information on their total pay for the previous year and the current year to date. If it looked like their wages were moving up or down from the previous year, we’d discuss the reasons and help them understand what they could be doing---as they may have already identified on the questionnaire---to improve their income.

Lastly, the reviews were their opportunity to tell me what they felt the company was doing right, and what they’d like to see changed and why. I would always compile employee suggestions during reviews and follow up, explaining which we were implementing and which we weren’t, and why.

So rather than just a time to talk about pay, I found employee reviews a rewarding way to maintain open dialogue that helped everyone---and the company---improve.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson is a columnist for Autobody News and president of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry.

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