Last month, I wrote about the $15/hour minimum wage movement. From the comments I got back, it seems that I struck a nerve. The requirement to reduce labor through automation and leverage technology to retain customers was accepted as a matter of fact. Improving the efficiency of labor, however, has generated commiserating letters from operators struggling to staff their washes, let alone improve efficiency. In response to those struggling, I’d like to address the flip side of the minimum wage issue, which is how to attract, train, and motivate the workforce willing to work at the minimum wage.
I’ve written about Millennials before, defined as those born from 1981 to 1997 who fill the ranks of minimum wage job seekers. Seeing as this group overtook Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation in 2015, it warrants another look. Predicted to make up 75 percent of the workforce in less than 10 years, if you haven’t honed the management skills to put this generation to work at $7.25/hour, I’d predict the road to a $15/hour minimum wage in many markets over the next decade will be a rocky one.
This is the generation that has grown up watching companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago skyrocket to dominate our minds, wallets, and the global economy based solely on their ability to entertain us through a little computer screen in our pocket. When I hear grumblings from seasoned car wash veterans that this younger generation doesn’t understand the value of “hard work,” I’ve come to realize, those operators may need to reevaluate what they see as valuable in order to fully leverage these employees. Rather than butt heads with this new workforce, I have come up with five rules to cultivate those qualities — let’s take a look.
RULE 1: STATE YOUR PURPOSE
Is your mission statement hanging prominently on your wall for all staff to see? If not, you just failed the first rule in leveraging Millennials for success. Read any book on managing this generation, which I suggest you do, and the underlying theme is that it’s the generation looking for “a sense of purpose.” Every car wash has a purpose. It’s your job to state why you’re in business, loud and clear, for all to see. I’ve seen car wash mission statements focused on cultivating customer loyalty, preserving the environment, and even ensuring all customers leave with a smile on their faces. Establish your mission statement, post it prominently, and ingrain it into everything you do.
RULE 2: RECOGNIZE ACHIEVEMENT
Trying to drop a few pounds, I recently bought myself a fitness tracker. It was nice getting a new electronic trophy with instant gratification for every little improvement. The app would then automatically analyze trends, and offer additional trophies for small improvements in my activity. Why do I mention this? Because the concept of getting a trophy for minor achievements may be a new experience for someone in my generation, but Millennials have been raised on this concept, and expect it. Use it to your advantage. Set your goals high, develop clear attainable milestones, and recognize accomplishments. Measurable stats such as best day, best week, best month, for anything ranging from car counts to average ticket work well for this purpose. Recognize milestone achievements and your millennial staff will thank you while working harder to grow your business.
RULE 3: SOLICIT NEW IDEAS
You’ve likely perfected many processes at your wash. You often just need a physical body to perform those processes consistently. If that’s the case, I highly suggest you look to automate those functions. People in general are horrible at performing routine tasks consistently over extended periods of time. What’s different is that past generations seemed more willing to struggle through tedious routines waiting for things to change as they advanced in their careers. This new generation seems much less inclined to wait around for things to change, they just move on. I’ll admit, not every wheel needs to be reinvented, but actively encouraging millennial staff to try, keeps them engaged with their job, and sometimes really does produce a better wheel. Point them in the right direction, clearly define the outcome you expect, outline the solutions you’re aware of, and ask them to research the best method to accomplish what you need done. Empowering millennial employees to identify solutions to tackle tasks with the least effort and lowest investment can produce phenomenal results.
RULE 4: GIVE THEM CONTROL
Most of us have built our businesses from the ground-up. We love them and care for them and it’s very easy to convince ourselves that “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.” That isn’t always true. Technology is evolving at an accelerated pace. New ways of accomplishing old tasks are popping up faster than anyone can keep track of. What’s more, before you’ve finished deciding upon a particular technology to use, several better options will already be available. Whereas this can be frustrating for someone who still remembers how to use a rotary dial telephone, for a Millennial, it’s second nature. Their entire adult life has been spent searching for, demanding, and adopting new technologies to get better results with less effort. Whether it’s social media, web development, customer management software, sign printing, or nearly anything that involves a computer, telling them to “do it this way because I said so” is missing an opportunity. Give your millennial staff a little more control. Chances are they’ll find solutions that could save you money, grow your business, or both.
RULE 5: TRAIN
Although formal training is fundamental to cultivating higher quality and faster production from any member of your team, it’s more important than ever to also address soft skills with your younger employees. This doesn’t necessarily demand a tremendous amount of time. With new managers, I simply give copies of some of my favorite books such as “The One-Minute Manager,” and “Raving Fans.” A few weeks later we chat about those books and I give another set to read. In no time at all their interactions with staff, customers, and even vendors are transformed. Simple short conversations can be powerful for making any employee feel valued and strengthens ties with your business, but with this generation, it’s an expectation.
Speaking with colleagues struggling to manage the growing number of millennial staff, I’ve heard every complaint imaginable. The stereotype that they’re lazy with an unearned sense of entitlement is just that, a stereotype. For years, one dear family friend, and car wash operator, would only call with problems. He detailed what was wrong and exactly what everyone must do to correct it. Years later, his son, now in charge of the washes, calls to discuss what’s going right, and to bounce off ideas to make things even better. Sure, you may have to update your management style to get the most out of this young workforce, but isn’t that what success is all about?
Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.