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Automated Assessment at a Small Company

November 30, 2000
Related Topics: Featured Article
City Garage, a 200-employee chain of 25auto-service and repair shops in Dallas-Fort Worth, has been growing likegangbusters since its founding in 1993. But there’s been a problem, says RustyReinoehl, director of operational training. "Because we grew so quickly,there were certain aspects we didn’t concentrate on as much as we did others.One was hiring." The company figured that individual store managers, oroperations managers responsible for a handful of locations, would best know howto hire for specific needs at the local level. There’s a lot of hiring in afield with a 120 percent turnover rate among mechanics. "If they had beenshort-handed too long, we would hire pretty much anybody who hadexperience," Reinoehl says. "If there was a great need to hiresomeone, we felt that a warm body was better than nobody at all."

    Another problem wasinconsistent hiring. "We found that not everyone has the same level ofinterviewing skills," Reinoehl says. With the price tag at $40,000 forreplacing a manager and $7,000 to $10,000 for a technician, and plans to expand50 or 60 shops throughout Texas in the next five years, City Garage moved tostop the hemorrhaging. In September, the company bought a DISC (Dominance,Influence, Steadiness, Compliance) Personality Profile Analysis online test fromDallas-based Thomas International USA. City Garage also liked the team-buildingpotential of the PPA. "At minimum, we feel like we’ll be able to put$500,000 on the bottom line each year, if it does what we expect it to in termsof retention and right hiring," Reinoehl says.

    The system is already reapingbenefits in conjunction with a new hiring process that requires a prospectiveemployee to be interviewed by and get approval individually from the companypresident and five executives and managers. "We’ve reached a higherconsensus level quicker because everybody is looking at the same things, whereasbefore we were each looking at different aspects" of a potential employee,Reinoehl says. "It’s the first time I’ve seen the six primarymanagement group people agree on anything from a hiring aspect."

The problem
    City Garage’s hiringquandary wasn’t finding talented people with toolboxes. It was meshingmechanics and managers in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment thatoffered, as a major draw, an open garage where customers interact directlywith technicians. Finding mechanics who won’t chafe at customer intrusionsis essential. "The more we connect that technician with the customer, themore satisfied and better they feel," Reinoehl says.

    The other side ofthe coin is finding a manager who relates well to five mechanics in a closed,stressful environment. "You’ve really got to know the dynamics of theteam when you want to insert someone in there," he says. "If you putsomeone highly volatile or real dynamic in as a manager when the rest aren’tthat way, they’ll just sit there banging their heads against the wall, notgetting anything accomplished." Or they’ll quit.

    Adding to the problem is thetendency of most mechanics to leave when a new manager comes on board."If we can just retain managers at a higher level, the other positionstend to be retained also," Reinoehl says.

New approach
    City Garage’ previoushiring process consisted of a pencil-and-paper application and one interview,immediately followed by a hire/don’t hire decision. Now it’s a three-stepprocess. After completing the application and background check, promisingprospects return to take the 10-minute, 24 question Thomas International PPA.Answers are entered by City Garage staff into the PPA software system. On thebasis of the applicants’ responses, the system provides follow-up questionsabout areas that might cause problems. Applicants are asked about steps they’vetaken in the past to compensate for weaknesses such as a quick temper or lackof patience.

    If those issues areresolved, applicants are asked back a third time, for extensive, all-dayinterviews with the company president, the vice president of operations, twodirectors of operations in charge of 12 stores each, and the technicaldirector of training. To assess the PPA, City Garage profiled its 14 mostsuccessful managers, looking at variations of management styles. Questions onthe short, concise PPA ask applicants to select groups of words they thinkmost and least describe their thoughts and reactions in work situations. Anexample, Reinoehl says, is "What is most like you and least like you in awork environment: brave, mild, original, and aggressive?"

    Test results are availablein less than two minutes, providing a grid showing whether the applicant ishigh or low in the four DISC personality categories. The report displays threegraphs, depicting self-image, the "work-mask", and how the personhandles pressure. "We’re able to tell how the person is wired, how thatperson sees himself and how he thinks others see him, and how he would dealwith pressure situations and the day-to-day work environment," Reinoehlsays.

    Since implementing the PPAin September, City Garage has hired 13 new managers, who currently are in anine-week training program. After the managers have been in their stores forthree months, the team-building begins, using the PPA to profile existingemployees in each location.

    "We’ll take thesurvey and put it up on the overhead without the names and list their highsand lows, and see if they can guess who it is," Reinoehl says. "Saythere’s someone who’s fairly aggressive. We’ll talk openly about it.Then later, when they get too aggressive in certain situations, someone cansay, ‘That’s your high D coming out, and you need to back off.’"

    "We want to build a dynamic workforce inour stores. That in itself would be able to hold retention as much as a salarydoes. If you have a good work environment, that’s worth something to anindividual."

Workforce,December 2000, Volume 79, Number 12, pp. 105-107 SubscribeNow!

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