LEADING the team

Neil Pattemore looks at the particular challenges of leadership in the workshop. It’s not all point and shout you know…

By Neil Pattermore | Published:  16 April, 2018

Unless you are a one-man business, you will probably have staff to manage. The art of managing your team is one of the most challenging, but ultimately, one of the most rewarding

If you look at a description of what a business needs, it would be something like ‘the team leader is required to put people first and that they need a high degree of emotional intelligence, patience and a working knowledge of human resources, in order to keep both the employee and the company satisfied’. If you subsequently wrote the job description it would highlight at least the following – ‘Manages and leads a team of employees. Communicates company goals, safety practices, and deadlines to the team. Motivates team members and assesses performance. Provides help to senior management, including hiring and training, and keeps senior management updated on team performance. Communicates concerns and policies among management and team members.’ Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that you won’t always get these skills right away and some may always remain difficult. You’ll make mistakes, but that’s OK as long as you keep working at it and resolve that no matter what, you will become a better leader. So, what are the top five skills to focus on to become a good ‘team leader’?

Communication is about much more than the basics of sharing ideas, or conveying information. For leaders, communication is the most fundamental skill they can possess when it comes to leading an individual, or a team. Communicating well is more than the sum of its parts and is also ‘not what you say, but how you say it.’

It’s one thing to say or write something, and another to have people know exactly what you mean. A good communicator will be able to express themselves clearly, without engendering confusion or ambiguity. However, and most importantly, a good communicator also understands that communication goes both ways: being a good listener is as important (or possibly more important) than doing the talking. Equally not all communication is verbal, some is in the ‘non-verbal’ category and being a good communicator means transcending written and verbal communication. Conveying a sense of openness and being non-judgmental, even when you are not directly saying anything is important, as body language and general demeanor can sometimes convey even more than words. Leaders should be intrinsically calm, open, optimistic, and positive. Who wants to work for an eternal pessimist? Managing people means supporting your team. This means not only supporting them to do their jobs well, but also to encourage them to move forward in their careers. Sometimes this means helping them improve their skillsets to enable them to become better at the nitty gritty of their work. At other times, it can mean assisting them in developing their own communication styles or guiding them in their daily work or motivating them to ‘think outside the box’ to develop their competency and skill levels. Whatever their work is, adopting a coaching mindset is an integral part of being a good leader. A coach encourages and supports and should know how best to do a job, even if they are not the best at actually doing it. A coach is part cheerleader and part trainer in the same way that a football manager has different team members playing in different positions, but he knows how to get the best out of each of them, especially in their specific roles.

Leaders must show leadership, so must be able to clearly and effectively formulate directions for others, and then articulate them in such a way as to convey them effectively. Show by example and then support the team member in developing how they can fulfil the task. Don’t ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself, but remember that delegating responsibility can make team members feel responsible and valued. However, ensure that this delegation is clearly communicated and that the team member is both motivated and capable to take on what’s expected of them. Direction often involves more than a simple, “do X by Y date.” Direction can involve guidance, instruction, mentorship, planning, motivation and keeping a positive attitude even if someone is struggling. A good leader will value and actively encourage relationships, working to build one-on-one associations as well as fostering healthy relationships amongst the other team members. Relationship building could be as simple as remembering certain personal details about people and subsequently inquiring about those things every now and again. It can equally be a simple question about how today is going and listening to the answer before offering support – verbally or through actions.

Most of all, building relationships is about authenticity and genuinely connecting with people in a way that creates a familiar feeling and a sense of understanding and appreciation within the team. Don’t just assume that an ‘out of hours’ team activity will suffice – it could even be seen as encroaching on an individual’s private time and be counter-productive.

People want to be heard, really heard, and not patronised. Often, instead of listening to someone in a conversation, people are really just waiting for an opportunity to speak. One trick is to say “OK, I understand you’re saying…”. By repeating what you understand the other person to have said, it helps you to really listen to what they are saying. Equally, it reinforces to the other person that you are truly listening to them and respect what they have to say. Eventually, there will always be the time when you need to criticise or praise, but the surest way to demotivate people is to constantly criticise them or complain about them. Always be firm but fair and explain what the problem is, or equally, why you feel they have done well. If they make a mistake, put it in perspective with the things they constantly do well. Accentuate the positive and utilise mistakes as opportunities for continued improvement. Praising someone is easier, but it still needs to be done correctly. Give honest and sincere praise and appreciation and focus on using positive reinforcement. This is probably one of the greatest motivational methods you can ever employ.

Finally, one of the most important elements of being a successful team leader is being respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions.

Encourage the team to improve themselves and be more open by asking ‘open’ questions –why, when, how and what in relation to the different aspects of their work. Sometimes, even as a team leader, you will make mistakes, but rather than deny and repeat those mistakes, show some humility and admit your failures – but ensure that you learn from the experience. If you’re honest and humble enough to own up to your mistake, apologise to those affected, and work to avoid repeating your mistake, you will gain the respect of those you work with. Set a high bar for your team, believe in them, communicate that to them and you will be amazed at what they can achieve. Good luck!


xenconsultancy.com

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  • Managing a winning team 

    Most businesses need staff to operate effectively and this means that those staff need to be managed. However, what does ‘managed’ really mean and how can the ‘business manager’ also be an effective manager of people?

    A good manager of staff should fully understand the roles and responsibilities of all of their team members, but ultimately, each of those team members should be better at doing their own jobs than the manager could. Secondly, the manager should be able to ‘get the best from the team they have and only change it when all other possibilities have failed’. In summary, the manager needs to know how to structure, manage and motivate his team to optimise their performance.

    Critical
    It is a well-known saying that people don’t quit their jobs, but they quit their bosses, but in reality this means that they left their job because it wasn’t enjoyable, or that their strengths weren’t being used or that they weren’t growing in their careers – and who is responsible for this – their manager.
        
    Recent research showed that 31% would swap their manager if they could and 22% felt that they could do a better job themselves if they were given the chance. Ineffective management not only impacts negatively on staff retention, quality of work and morale, but also on customer service and your company’s image. Not good for either your staff or your bottom line.
        
    The best managers know what they are doing, where their businesses are going and ensure that they have the right people in the critical roles to make it all happen. They then communicate and delegate effectively to their staff who have been trained, supported and motivated to fulfil their responsibilities. Businesses with well managed and competent employees are the best performers and frequently handle problems before they escalate to become real issues.

    Guiding principals
    So what are some of the key guiding principles for good people management?

    1. Build solid and respectful relationships
    Don’t aim to be liked, but aim to earn and keep the respect of your team
    Take time to talk to members of your staff. It will show that you are interested, but it will also be both motivational and allow you to better understand their position and any concerns that they may have. Be confident, strong and professional, whilst remaining transparent, approachable and encouraging.

    2. Strengthen your communication skills
    Your ability to listen and communicate is vital to your success as a manger of people. I don’t just mean your ability to listen and speak on a one-to-one basis, but also your ability to capture people’s minds in order to present your ideas, values and visions as well as your ability to listen and soak up the ideas, values and visions of others; that is true communication. Whether you are speaking with one person, or presenting to a whole audience of people, strong communicative skills are a must.

    3. Actively develop your team and be the team leader
    As you build and strengthen relationships throughout your team, you should begin to identify the individual talents, abilities and strengths of your employees. Knowing this detail will help you develop your team so that everyone is positioned within a role in which they can succeed and excel. Take time to communicate with each employee individually, as quite often employees will be forthcoming about what they see as their strengths and where they aim to be; they may also spark ideas to strengthen your team and its performance as a whole. Sometimes low morale and performance can be due to a lack of support and training. Ensure that your whole team are up to date with regular training appropriate to their role.
        
    To establish what your employees really appreciate and value, or to discover their training and support needs, use surveys, one-to-one appraisals or focus groups to talk through each key area to identify the good points, skills gaps or areas that should be improved. Quite simply, support your team.

    4. Be transparent
    Hiding things from your employees is a recipe for disaster. Remember that you have spent time building relationships with these people, relationships based on respect. As part of that mutual respect you also need to engender trust. By remaining transparent, honest and trustworthy with your employees you will further develop their respect and loyalty.

    5. Take responsibility
    This can often be tough, but is a sign of truly exceptional people management. As the manager, leader or head of your company, all responsibility should end with you. You are accountable for the performance of your employees. Remember failure is not a weakness; it’s an opportunity to learn, strengthen and improve. Take responsibility for your team and they will further respect you for it.
        
    All of these people management principles are important internal management skills, but these will also be seen externally by customers in a variety of both obvious, and not so obvious, ways.

    Perception
    When customers experience your business, whether by telephone, e-mail or physically visiting, their perception will be significantly more positive if they feel that they are being looked after by a well run, well managed business with highly motivated and professional staff. Often it is almost imperceptible how this can be picked up, but for sure, if your staff are not working within a well led and motivated environment, it will be reflected in their attitude to their work and frequently, to your customers in a negative way.
        
    The reality is good managers are not born, but learn the skills as part of learning how to understand people as individuals. Most of us work much better if we enjoy what we are doing. It has been said that the best qualification for running a business is not an MBA or a qualification in accountancy, but in psychology. Ultimately, good managers plan, monitor and review before delegating the work, but they can only do this effectively if their team is working well.
        
    As a small business, it may be a difficult to become recognised as one of the Sunday Times ‘Best companies to work for’, but the same good management practices will still apply.  Work hard with your staff and they will work hard for you.
    xenconsultancy.com

  • Hello can we talk? 

    I have been known to say that “Communication is a wonderful thing." Usually the context of this statement is that there has not been good communication and it has resulted in one or both of us missing something or being agitated with one another for not communicating well to the other what was intended.
        
    Probably sounds familiar to many of you, but in the business context it is vitally important that you can communicate with your customers in a way that conveys professionalism and instils both confidence and trust. This is ever-more difficult against a background of increasing vehicle technology and decreasing levels of technical understanding from your customers.
        
    At its most fundamental level, effective communication is the exchange of thoughts, information, ideas, and messages between people. However, it’s not communication unless the transmission is understood. Communication can happen verbally, nonverbally, in writing, and through behaviour as well as by listening and using feedback.
        
    No matter who or what audience you address, the art of communication can be a daunting task – as indeed, it is an art form. The good news is that there are seven steps to clear and effective communication for even the most challenging conversations with customers when trying to explain what is wrong with their vehicle.

    Strategies
    So how can you communicate effectively in this increasing technical environment? One of the best ways is to imagine that you are talking to your grandmother – she may be a little slow to understand, is very non-technical and is going a little deaf!
        
    Keep it simple: Think about how you can make the complicated simple. Do not use highly technical terms or technical abbreviations and explain slowly and clearly. A good example would not be to say: "Sorry, but your EGR valve is blocked by carbon build up on the pintle needle so now it can’t control the correct NOx requirements." Instead, say: "There is a valve on your vehicle’s engine which is required to control exhaust emissions and it is not working correctly." If the customer wants to know more you could always add: "Because it is blocked by carbon build up from the exhaust system, as it recycles exhaust gasses to reduce the exhaust emissions."

    Simples! – as they say.
        
    Does it make sense? Always ask yourself; Does what I’m saying make sense to the person I am speaking to and subsequently does the feedback I’m receiving confirm that they have understood?. When both parties in the conversation are truly able to say they understand or that it is all clear  effective communication has been achieved.
        
    Failure to Communicate – it’s down to you: Remember, as the primary communicator you are 100% responsible for the other person’s understanding of the communication. In other words, if you don’t feel that you are being understood, you have not completed the job of communicating. Don’t try to change what you are trying to communicate, but how you are communicating it.
        
    Stay on Message: Be clear about what ideas you are trying to express or the message you are trying to convey to the other person. What do you most want them to understand?
        
    It takes two: Try to really understand where others are coming from. What are they trying to say? What messages are they trying to get across to you? Pay special attention not just to what they are saying, but to what isn’t being said as well as their body language. Finally, if in doubt – ask!
        
    Sorry, what did you say? Do you really hear what others are saying? To really listen you should stop everything else that you are doing and really listen to what is being said to you. You should then summarise your understanding by being able to feed back to them exactly what you have understood them to have said. Good communication is a two-way thing.
        
    Respect: Recognise that your message is not just about you or what you want. It’s about what’s in it for the listener.  You must mutually understand what is being said and the corresponding implications. After all, they took the time and trouble to hear what you have to say, so it’s equally important to recognise and respect that we each have different perspectives based on our positions, motivations, and needs.
        
    Good communication for technically difficult aspects is a combination of both ‘what you say and how you say it’. In summary, keep it simple, keep it short, be a good listener and be both respectful and empathetic. Above all, avoid being condescending.

    In writing
    When communicating in writing, ensure that you are concise, that you write clearly about the specific point and consider that if you were in the recipient’s position, would they understand what you have written, especially in all the points that they need to know from you. Your audience doesn't want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three. Read what you have written and delete any words that are not needed to clearly explain what you need to say. Less is more, as long as you include everything you need to say.
        
    Effective written communication ensures that the audience has everything they need to be informed about, and if applicable, take action. If your message does include a 'call to action', does your audience clearly know what you need them to do?

    Good example
    As an example of good communication, I use a local independent workshop and Keith, the manager, is the epitome of how it should be done. It goes something like: "Hello Neil, your car is in today for a full service, so we will need it until around 2 o’clock. Can I have the key please? Is this mobile number the best to use so we can call you if I have any questions or to let you know when it is ready and finally is there anything else you would like us to know about that we may need to look at today?" Followed by my reply: "Great Keith, no, nothing else, so many thanks and see you later."
        
    Quick, polite and concise. When I pick my car up, he uses similarly simple and clear language to explain what was done, advice on any other issues they noticed before explaining the invoice, asking if everything is clear or are there any questions before requesting payment. Importantly, Keith never tries to baffle his customers with technical terms and avoids being condescending – important points in the key areas of creating professionalism, confidence and trust in this increasingly technical environment. It is a bit like your grandmother saying that the simple things in life are often the best and this applies to good communication when talking technical.  

    xenconsultancy.com

  • WIN with Kalimex 

    Kalimex are the UK distributors of the JLM Lubricants’ product range, QuikSteel expoxy paste and K-Seal Permanent Coolant Leak Repair. Given that Kalimex MD Mike Schlup is a longstanding Legends’ racing enthusiast (and participant), it is only appropriate that Kalimex sponsors Mickel Motorsport which is headed up by John Mickel, UK Legends champion. This stylish black jacket has proved to be a real hit with motorsport fans on the racing circuits at Brands Hatch and Silverstone – in all weathers. You could now be in pole position to win one. Although water proof and lined with micro fleece, the jacket is lightweight and easy to wear. It features three zipped pockets with toggles so you can travel light and Velcro-adjustable cuffs.  Check out the striking embroidery on the back as well. Sizes: Medium, large and extra-large.

  • Days of future past? 

    Some of us remember the 1970s, where the prevailing feeling was that automotive sophistication usually came from abroad unless one spent a huge amount of cash, that our industry was led mainly by endlessly upset activists, and that our biggest vehicle manufacturer – ‘British Leyland‘ at some point – represented what the UK was all about. This was for the most part utter rubbish.
        
    Of course, much of the above does not stand close scrutiny, but it is true that British Leyland kept giving Fleet Street a continuous supply of headlines which money simply could not buy. Red Robbo, for example was an odd man, who sincerely believed in his cause and did not apparently connect that disruptive work patterns simply made poor manufacturing processes (the cause of the dispute) much, much worse. Who could forget the geniuses who placed a brand-new manufacturing line at Cowley (now called ‘Oxford’ by the present occupiers) where the established time for people to work underneath vehicles was gloriously exceeded? Or the star who invested in the Rover 800 based on volumes of 400,000 units, yet failed to sell a fraction of that even with a facelift? Or that the very same star would later arrive to drive the rump of British Leyland (MG Rover) into the ground?
        
    It has taken decades to shake off the implosion of UK automotive manufacturing, even though in reality the companies that needed to shape up or fail were mostly shaping up. Our national preoccupation with failure seemed to eclipse the success of the UK building 1.6 million vehicles and more than 2.7 million powertrains in 2018, even though it did take quite a few years to build those volumes back up.    
        
    Behind vehicle manufacturing is a series of suppliers, and suppliers to those suppliers. When vehicle manufacturing disappears from a country – or in the case of many – was never present, the aftermarket becomes 100% reliant on imported components, as well as vital expertise. We need to be aware of what is happening in vehicle manufacturing even though the changes in manufacturing take place over several years.

    Brexit and deals
    Much is made of the uncertainty around Brexit.  Some of that is very real, but as Her Majesty’s Government knows full well the impact may be mostly concentrated on taxation. Those who remember past events will recall, the government can impose new tax levels or even new forms of tax at lightning speed. Effectively ‘such is life’.
        
    The Brexit ‘negotiations’ have taken against a backdrop of significant international financial instability, namely the USA’s insane debt bubble and the combination of China’s vast debt bubble combined with significant over extended state investment. You can add to this potent mix long-standing internal company issues. Nissan, for example, really do not like to be reminded that they exist today thanks to the investment and technology from Renault.

    Anarchy in the UK
    For fans of anarchy, we seem to have apparent utter anarchy. There were three important developments.

  • Hybrid theory 

    A chance to share your opinions, they said. Write an article if you feel so strongly about it, they said. Why did I choose one of the biggest titles in the automotive industry to write it for? Aim high, they said. How do I get myself into these situations? By taking the bait, they said.
        
    Writing is not my main occupation. I’m a tech like you. So, if you're reading this at work, in the time it took me to write that first paragraph, you have probably already carried out a full four-wheel alignment, or completed a MOT, or maybe got your hands on one of those hybrids, wearing your class 0 -1000v insulated gloves of course. Now I have your attention, you may have worked out that this article will be about hybrids. More to the point, whether or not technicians in workshops up and down the country are properly clued up on hybrids, or not as the case may be.
        
    The IMI are currently pursuing their idea for it to become mandatory to hold a hybrid qualification in order to service and repair hybrid vehicles. I believe this is the best way forward, not just because I already have my qualification, but simply because I believe it can save your life or a colleague’s life. At the very least, start by doing some sort of hybrid awareness course, especially if it's offered to you on a plate by your company.
        
    I would love one day to regularly have five or six EVs in our car park, with maybe a charging port out there too. In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with the one or two a week that roll ever so quietly into the workshop.

    Theoretical scenario
    I would like to run just a theoretical scenario by you... One day, in a small town that you won’t have heard of, a hybrid arrives at Bob’s Motors. The eponymous Bob eagerly awaits the arrival of his potential new customer, as does Fred, who is Bob’s chief mechanic, albeit more reluctantly. As Mr Smith walks into the reception, Fred's teabreak is mysteriously over and he slopes off. If there is any chance of being asked a technical question about a hybrid, Fred always hides. Bob however can’t believe his luck. He's heard in the pub you can charge whatever you want for working on these vehicles! Mr Smith wants a service on his car, and Bob prices the smart-dressed-man at £399, a random figure he plucked from nowhere. Mr Smith is over the moon as he was quoted a few more quid from his main dealer. The following day Fred walks into work. His first job is to service that stunning battery-powered machine that came in for a price on a service the previous day. With a big lump in his throat he cautiously takes the key from Bob, and then simply hands them back, exclaiming "I don’t know what I’m doing with this Bob, I've heard the can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing."
        
    Bob’s reply: "You'll be ok, just don’t touch the thick bright orange cables.” Ok, I’ll stop this little story here as I couldn’t think of an ending that wasn't too graphic.

    Effort
    After speaking to a few good lads in the industry, what I find is that many are still scared at the thought of working on them. Fair enough if you haven’t had any relevant training on the subject, you may be worried. However, if make the effort to learn about hybrid and electric vehicles you will prosper. After all they are the future, whether we like it or not. But what do I know? I just work with cars.

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