How to be a Great Service Manager

Great Service Managers are essential to any successful service department, especially given all the changes our industry has faced over the last decade. An exceptionally good service manager achieves a hard working, productive and effective workforce that punches above its weight in its performance.

A key to successful management is the relationship between the manager and his or her staff. It’s the manner in which managers manage people that separate the ordinary from the good and the good from the exceptional.

Good relationships are based on trust, commitment and engagement, and a service manager’s essential role is to build these relationships for the benefit of the department, so that the tasks that are set are completed with enthusiasm, effectively, on time and with the energy to do more.

Service Managers, however, walk the line – they either have the behaviors that inspire followers to do what they otherwise may not be willing to do, or they do not – and the benefits or costs of both will escalate and ripple for a long time. The person leading the service department of today’s dealership knows that leadership is not something we are born with. Rather, it’s an observable and learnable set of practices and behaviors. As we say in the South, “You ain’t born with it.”

So what exactly is all this leadership stuff?

Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less. It’s learning how to hold oneself, and one’s people accountable. Rosalynn Carter once said “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Why is it a struggle?

Negativity is all around us. Sometimes it’s our people, sometimes it’s the weather we fight constantly, and sometimes it’s that little voice that haunts us all. Our people may work in challenging conditions–facing hot shops and service drives in the summer months and extremely cold shops and service drives in the winter, hauling heavy equipment around, and mostly working alone. It’s too easy to become negative. Consider the story of the crabs in a bucket… If you ever get down to South Louisiana where they do a lot of crabbing, you’ll often see a bucket full of crabs on a dock waiting to be sold and processed. All of the crabs in the bucket are alive and there’s almost always one industrious little crab that tries to get out of the bucket. He’ll step over and even on the other crabs in the bucket, just trying to get to the top so that he can pull himself out and eventually to freedom. Instead of watching and eventually following him, do you know what the other crabs do? You guessed it…they grab at his legs in an effort to pull him back down and to certain death…why? Because misery loves company and negative people HATE seeing someone break out and be different….they would prefer that you stay in their pity party and be negative along with them. As a good leader we MUST encourage our staff to break out of the negative thinking and try to inspire each other to crawl out of the bucket and head directly to greatness.

As a service manager, all too often we are caught in a trap of empathy and accountability for our staff. When we get caught in this trap, all we are doing is encouraging the pity party and encouraging the crabs to pull their fellow crabs back into the bucket.

What do winning service managers do?

  1. Start by looking in the mirror. You have to hold yourself accountable; only then can you start holding others accountable.
  2. Be positive
  3. Be specific regarding end results, time frames, and expected levels of effort
  4. Get a commitment from your team
  5. Put it in writing
  6. Agree on a plan for monitoring the person’s work
  7. Monitor the person’s work
  8. Always acknowledge good performance
  9. Coach staff and counsel those who need it
  10. Seek response and feedback to all communications with the staff
  11. Know how to resolve conflicts as they arise and handle negative behavior effectively
  12. Listen to concerns and feedback
  13. Be responsive to concerns and feedback
  14. Control and co-ordinate staff effectively
  15. Seek continuous improvement

While this is a great list to get you going, there is much more to it. Being accountable means there is a known consequence when one achieves or does not achieve the agreed upon goal.  When someone achieves the goal, life is good and they should be recognized for the achievement. However, when someone misses their goal, the appropriate consequence is harder to grasp and act on.

The key is to recognize that mistakes or not achieving goals is part of the learning process. At the same time, the responsible party must feel comfortable communicating that they can either handle a situation or they can’t handle the situation. It is the manager’s job to determine their capability.

Successful service departments establish a culture of high accountability for everyone in the department.  The results come when we get everyone to take accountability for any outcome and establish a culture where people are free to communicate their belief around what they can actually accomplish. This will allow you to actively manage the situation and the individual to ensure achievement of your goals and expectations.

Great managers do not stop there. A true leader continually upgrades their team. I know getting technical people in our business is the hardest obstacle we face. That is why we must recruit constantly. Leaders make sure their people not only see the vision– they live and breathe it. Leaders infect everyone with positive energy and optimism. They have the courage to make those tough calls; they push, pull, probe, and are stewards of change.

The most important task in being a successful manager is being a person that others want to follow. Every action you take during your career in an organization helps determine whether people will one day want to follow you.

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