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Dealing With a Prima Donna – An Employee Management Tip for Shop Owners

Shop Management

Bob Cooper

by Bob Cooper , President

By Bob Cooper

If you’ve been a shop owner for any length of time, you’ve more than likely been exposed to, or employed, a prima donna. According to the Google dictionary, a prima donna is “a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.” If that sounds like someone that works at your shop, this may very well be the perfect article for you.

Putting first things first, most prima donnas are not born that way, but are developed over a long period of time; in many cases, years. Although there will always be exceptions, in the most general sense prima donnas are very good producers, and often a shop’s top producer. These are either the service advisors that feel no one can outsell them, or the techs that think they are far better than all the other techs they work with.

So, how do they become prima donnas? Well, in most cases, it’s due to one simple reason. They feel as though they have to pat themselves on the back because no one else does it for them. Now before you tune me out, consider that these are the guys and gals that go to work every day, typically out produce their peers, and then go home tired. They are usually paid quite well because they do produce, but the one thing they don’t receive often enough is recognition for who they are, and what they’re able to do. To put it another way, they don’t receive what they have earned.

Over the years I have learned that there are countless reasons why shop owners fail to praise employee performance, but it seems to boil down to these three. One, the employers they worked for when they were techs or advisors never gave them the praise they deserved, so they feel this is the way it should be done. Two, they were never taught the value of praising employees, which is something we see throughout the industry on a regular basis. Lastly, many shop owners are afraid to praise their employees, and this is especially true with their top producers. They have a fear that if they praise the employee’s performance their head may swell, and the employee will then either demand a raise, or simply leave for what they perceive to be a better job. For these three reasons far too many employees are not praised as they should be, and so often begin to pat themselves on their backs. If they find after a period of time that they are still not being praised, they will typically toot their own horn even louder, and soon become the prima donnas we are all familiar with. So here is what I would encourage you to do….

First of all, do your best to not hire “pre-made” prima donnas by paying very close attention to how applicants answer your questions during your interviews. It’s one thing for an applicant to have pride in themselves and their accomplishments, but it’s a completely different story when they have an exaggerated ego, and look down on others.

Secondly, you need to make sure you don’t turn your existing employees into prima donnas, and the best way of preventing this from happening is to make a point of recognizing each employee for their accomplishments, and providing them with the appropriate praise. And please don’t worry about them developing swollen egos and asking for a raise, or worry about them leaving you because they think they are so valuable. You can easily solve the “asking for a raise” concern by simply ensuring that all of your employees know the specific criteria that’s in place for being eligible for a raise. And when it comes to employees looking for greener grass, if you compensate them well, and provide them with the appropriate recognition, any threats of leaving will be dramatically reduced. As a business owner you need to ask yourself this soul-searching question: Would you rather praise an employee, see their productivity maximized, and know you run a minimal risk of losing them due to a swollen ego, or would you rather not praise them, see poor to average productivity, and then lose them because they feel they are not being recognized for their contributions? I sense I know your answer.

Another major challenge with prima donnas is that they often either indirectly put your other employees down by talking about how great they are comparatively, or will directly criticize the performance of your other employees. This behavior can have a devastating impact on your shop’s morale, and needs to be addressed immediately. All that you need to do is wait for their next public statement about how great they think they are, or how much better they are performing then your other employees, and then simply call them into your office. The words need to be your words, and they need to come from your heart, not mine, but here’s the kind of message you may want to share with them.

“Larry, I couldn’t help but overhear what you said just a bit ago to Mike, and you know what? You are a really good producer. There’s no doubt that you are a very gifted tech, and you are a blessing to our company. But not everybody’s like you. As you know, all of our techs, including you, have different strengths and weaknesses, and different levels of experience. But the one thing you all have in common is you are a blessing to our business. Larry, you have been working with us for XX years now, and in my perfect world, we’ll be working together for many years to come. But the only way we’re going to be able to make it work, is by all of us treating each other with respect and courtesy.”

“We all know that you are very good at what you do, Larry, and it’s my job to remind you of that. It’s my job to remind you when you’re off track as well. It’s also my job to let the rest of our employees know when they have done their job well, and when they’ve missed the mark. It’s my job, Larry, not yours. So if you are onboard, you can keep doing the great job that you do with knocking out the work, and you’ll have my promise; I won’t stand in your way. All that I ask is that you show me the same courtesy, and let me tell our other guys when they are doing their job well, and when they’re not. I hope you are on board with this plan Larry, because I really do enjoy working with you. So let me ask you; do we have an agreement?”

Business, and people, really aren’t that complicated. If you treat people with the courtesy and dignity they expect, if you hold everyone accountable to the same standards, and if you truly care about people, then all the other pieces fall into place, and dealing with prima donnas will no longer a problem for you or your employees.

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