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Dealing with the 'Me' Generation

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When I sat down to write this column, it was supposed to be about my experiences managing millennials—but the column quickly evolved into a book. In an effort to narrow this topic down I decided to just focus on my body shop and used car service managers, both of whom are in their twenties and have various issues I believe are indicative to their generation.

My current body shop manager was my estimator and preceded me when I was promoted. He actually attended college and received a bachelor’s degree in auto body management. He worked with me as my estimator for over two years and has the ability and knowledge to run a body shop.

I handed him a body shop that had experienced over 20 percent growth in the last two years, had maximized the floor space available, and had a staff averaging 250 percent efficiency.

Unfortunately, he made a mistake that inexperienced managers commonly make: He wanted complete control and to be involved in everything. He even stopped using the production management program and was trying to just remember everything. This did not last long. The first few hours of my day are spent walking around to every department and checking in with the employees. Since I came from the body shop and have known all of the employees for years, it only took them about a week to start telling me what was happening. This started several conversations between me and my new manager.

I started by trying to guide him to realize that his pay is based on what the employees do and he needs to do whatever it takes to help his employees continue to grow. He got moody and pouted around the body shop for several weeks, not talking to any of the technicians. Finally, I had to let him know that I would sooner get rid of him than any of the technicians. He again pouted for several weeks, but he did go back to the team concept I implemented seven years ago.

Today, my body shop manager has been in his current role for over 18 months. He has grown and developed to be better. However, he can still get very moody when he is corrected or reprimanded. He does not yet understand why I had so much leeway from the owners when I was in charge and why everything he does has to run through me right now. As he gets more experience, I am sure that he will continue to grow and improve as a manager.

My used car service manager, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite. He is still in his early twenties and has worked here since his senior year of high school. He was promoted because of his knowledge of what needs to be done to our used vehicles to get them ready for the lot. He prefers to act as a peer, instead of the boss, with all of his employees. Getting him to write performance evaluations or warnings about his employees is like pulling teeth.

When it comes to mentoring him, I started with our manager’s meetings. I request tasks from every department and give each manager a deadline. When it’s his turn to give me an update on his progress, he always says he’s busy and is working on it. This may go on for several weeks until I call a one-on-one meeting and tell him to bring whatever he has completed. He usually shows up empty handed. The first few times I got upset with him and explained that the tasks I give him are important to the development of both his employees and himself. Now, I realize he is younger than all of his technicians and several of his support team, causing him to doubt his ability to lead his team.

For now, I fixed this by letting him work with one of the main shop’s service managers to rate and develop his team. If his department has any issues, he and I talk about the issues, develop a plan and I am the person that actually does the talking with the employees. This way, he is learning how to complete the paperwork and talk with his employees while having someone with more experience with him during the process.

Both of my managers struggle with interpersonal skills. I believe that most of their issues can be related to the same technological advances that we currently embrace in our business. While we use social media and the Internet to advertise and communicate with our customers, these millennials have been using it their entire life to connect with hundreds of people daily. Unfortunately, this type of communication does not help a new manager who has to deal with the stress and emotions of customers and employees. It is my belief that with time, mentoring, and the life experiences of dealing with people, these millennials can be the future of our business.

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