Striking the right work-life balance might be one of the most difficult things in life, especially as a shop owner. I’ve seen it in myself when my personal health suffered from eating fast food every day so I could work through lunch. I saw it at home, when I came home from work with blood pressure so high my family could see veins throbbing in my neck.
I’ve seen it in my business partner, who struggled coping with the stress and was nearly kicked out of his own home by his family.
As small-business owners, we are often caught up in this obligation to do everything it takes to succeed. We feel that we owe it to our investment, to our future, to our employees and to our customers. So, we stay late, we fix employee mistakes ourselves, and we lose whole weekends working to catch up on the work that employees didn’t get done.
I understand the compulsion. I’ve lived it and seen it ruin too many lives to count. But I have very good news: this isn’t the secret to success.
You don’t have to put your business ahead of your family or your own health. You don’t have to sacrifice the things you love just to grow. You can have a healthy work-life balance and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your future or retirement.
But you do have to be willing to change. It won’t be easy, but it is how you get to see your family and friends again. It’s how you get your hobbies back, how you love your job again and how your children get their parent back.
And as an added benefit, it’s how you get employees to be as committed to your success as you are, while creating something lasting and successful for everyone involved.
Build a Culture of Accountability
If it’s ever felt like you’re out in front of your business trying to pull it forward to success; if it’s ever felt like your employees don’t care about their job because they know you’ll clean up their mess; if you have to watch everything that everyone does because the second you turn your back the systems fall apart; if you’re sick of the grind and hit every weekend burned out and ready to walk away — good news, this article is for you.
The first priority you need to address in your shop is building a culture of accountability. You can replace every bad employee, send employees to the best training, purchase the newest and best tools on the planet and nothing will change because it’s a culture problem.
If you’ve served as the catch-all correcting all the problems in your shop, your employees are being taught that you don’t mean what you say because you’re unwilling to measure their performance and hold them accountable.
To be clear, this doesn’t have anything to do with your personality. If you thrive in conflict and don’t have an issue telling an employee what to do, but don’t measure their performance to see whether they’re doing what you asked, your processes will break down the second you turn your back.
By contrast, you can hate confrontations, and want peace and calm in the shop and still be successful if you’re willing to measure performance and hold the team accountable.
It’s not about being nice or mean, and it’s not about thriving best in calm situations or in stress. It’s about creating a culture of accountability. Which means some very specific things.
It means knowing and setting clear benchmarks. Your employees must know the expectations you have, and must have the training to hit those benchmarks.
Then it means measuring their performance against those benchmarks every day. They must know what needs to be done today so it can be fixed today. Every day should start with commitments about what that employee is going to do today to hit their benchmarks, including their specific commitments.
If they say they’re going to listen to a training class by 3 p.m. and report back to you, the second they miss their deadline, you should be holding them accountable. Put that commitment into your phone’s reminders so you get a ping the second you know they missed their deadline.
Because it’s as much about them learning what’s in that class as it is building the expectation that you intend to hold them accountable.
If this is new for your shop, there’s bound to be pushback. Employees (and managers) who have been able to get away with not doing their job are usually the loudest voices when the culture of accountability is put in place.
This is a good thing. Because the employees who are not pulling their weight will raise their hands and tell you they don’t want you to succeed. The weakest employees in your shop hate measurement because it means they can’t skate by anymore. Your best employees want to be measured because it means that they can grow their opportunities and income, while being recognized for their accomplishments.
This will have two results: First, the owner will no longer need to micromanage the team to get them to perform. Second, the owner is empowered to cut weakness out of their shop. This is also the perfect opportunity for the owner to replace themselves.
Not the Best at Everything
For more than 25 years, my business partner, Terry Keller, kept himself locked in a prison called “being the best at everything.” He felt like the only way for him to maintain control was to be perfect, to be the one that made the whole shop work.
He could turn wrenches better than anyone. He could keep the books better. He could diagnose better. And all it cost him was his freedom and his quality of life.
When you’re the best at everything, it means you can never truly delegate. You can give a task to an employee, but then you need to supervise their work at every step, and then step in to fix their work before it goes back to the customer. Your whole job becomes putting out fires, micromanaging and essentially babysitting employees.
In other words, the only way to restore a healthy work-life balance is to hire quality employees who can do the job better than the owner can. It’s how you free yourself to work on the business instead of in it, and it’s how you finally get back your time with your family, hobbies and other interests outside of the shop.
However, if you hire employees who can do the job better than you, but don’t have the means to measure them daily and hold them accountable, you’re not giving them the tools to do their job. Worse, you can end up ruining that employee and you’re back where you started.
The only way to win back your time — for you, for your family, for your business and your future — is to break the cycle. You’ve got to start measuring and holding everyone accountable, and you’ve got to hire and train strong performers who can do the job better than you can. (The final piece — incentivizing those employees to meet their benchmarks — is a column for another day.)
You don’t have to live with stress, anger and lost weekends. You can restore a work-life balance. You just have to be willing to measure, train, hold employees accountable and create a culture and a team that wants you to succeed.
How Does Your Work-Life Balance Look?
You may have a clear answer when it comes to asking whether or not you have work-life balance. We know a perfect balance isn’t necessarily realistic, but there is no reason not to strive for a greater balance for a better quality of life.
Answer these yes/no questions as honestly as possible. If you answer “no” to any of them, chances are you spend more time working in your business than on it, and more time at work than at home. Think about how to build a team and a culture that values accountability so you can re-balance your work and your life!
1. Do you delegate?
2. Have you automated any processes in your shop?
3. Have you precisely defined the roles on your team?
4. Do they know the chain of command and to whom they should report?
5. Do you provide them with consistent, meaningful training?
6. Do your employees have ownership of their role and responsibilities? Are they empowered to do the job well, and are there incentives for meeting and exceeding expectations? Do they clearly know how they’re performing versus your expectations each day?
7. Does your team know why there’s a business in the first place? Do they understand their job with respect to the community around them?
8. Do you have the freedom that you want in your business — that you wanted when you came into it? The retirement plan? The joy in life?
9. Are you the place to work in town? Do techs at other shops wish they could work for you?
10. Do you look forward to reviewing your numbers and holding your team accountable?