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How To Build A Top Team & Operate At Peak Performance

Building a team that makes your shop run smoothly and deliver great customer service is a fast and direct way to boost your profits.

By Jane and Larry McGrath

Like members of a race team, each of your employees has control over what he or she contributes to the group effort. That is why successful executives—in sports and in retailing—use the same principles of leadership and team building to get the best out of their people and resources. They know that to win, they must create a shared sense of purpose and engage employees in attaining it.

Are the essential elements to create a winning team in place in your shop? Does every employee contribute effectively? Is every employee convinced that his or her performance is critical to the success of the business?

Although keeping employees engaged is tough, it is worth the effort: Employees who have high job satisfaction and good morale are more loyal, work harder, interact with customers in a more positive way, and have fewer complaints and lower absenteeism.

Factors that can contribute to job satisfaction and good morale include a feeling of importance to the business, pleasant environment and co-workers, positive incentives and rewards, training and advancement opportunities, and adequate compensation.

Team Building

Nothing causes employee apathy faster than the feeling of being ignored. When an employee thinks no one cares about him or his work, he will do just enough to get by.

To assure employees that they matter and that what they do for eight hours a day means something, improve communication and build a team spirit. It will create a culture of trust and understanding and reduce conflict. It will also lead to improved productivity and efficiency, which improves the bottom line.

Motivational training and team building days can be an effective and fun way to improve communication, help employees get to know the people they work with, and spark a bit of team spirit.

Team building exercises can be adapted for virtually any setting, young or old, large or small, and across cultures. Many activities, such as paintball and race schools, are fun.

Others are designed for specific needs. For example, an activity offered by the training organization Learnpurple is board-breaking in which each team member karate chops a piece of board into two pieces.

According to Jane Sunley, Learnpurple’s managing director, “The point is to show the power of the mind and of positive thought and self-belief. This creates a great feeling of motivation and ‘I can now do anything.’ It can be a very bonding experience for a team to go through this together.”

However, it is critical to remember that much of the success of an activity depends on the role played by the facilitator. In the hands of an excellent facilitator, even a very simple game can be a significant experience for participants; with a poor leader, even a well-designed activity can be a waste of time and money.

To maximize the benefits of a team building activity:

  1. Identify the specific outcomes you want from the activity. If it is just for fun, make sure it’s the best way to spend your money;
  2. Make sure the content is appropriate for every employee and will benefit the individuals and the organization;
  3. Use a facilitator that understands your business and your culture and has the necessary skills and expertise;
  4. Include time for reflection and discussion after the activity.

Recognition & Rewards

“People remain engaged when they receive recognition and appreciation for a job well done,” said Lucille Sanchez-Pearson, an executive career coach and president of Global Resources in Los Angeles, California.

In fact, Bob Nelson, author of the book “1001 Ways to Reward Employees,” reports that 63 percent of his survey respondents would like more recognition of their work. The same percentage ranked a “pat on the back” as a meaningful incentive.

Referred to as “psychic income,” Sanchez-Pearson said that “meeting the needs of this psychic income may indeed be more effective than meeting the monetary income needs of most individuals from a retention standpoint.” They continue to work hard because they feel good doing it and they know it’s important.

Rewards are all the positive things you give to recognize good work. They can come from a multitude of sources, but will only motivate people if 1) it is something they want, and 2) they truly believe they can achieve it.

Of course, money is always popular: an extra discount on store merchandise or services, a shopping gift-card, a half-day off with pay, a holiday bonus, dividing a winning purse from the house car.

Company-paid travel to a major race event or the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show can provide the dual benefits of rewarding employees and helping them understand the industry better.

Celebrating small victories is an incredibly effective way to keep people engaged. Something as simple as acknowledging a big order or an important new customer is a great way to congratulate the team and boost spirits.

Celebrations don’t need to be expensive or fancy: Roll out a surprise picnic spread one afternoon, or give everyone tickets to the races.

Food can be a great reward. However, the secret to using goodies as a reward is to be random with both the selections and the timing: Krispy Kremes on a weekday morning, a surprise birthday lunch, a tailgate party before you open the trailer for sales one Saturday night. If the food or the event becomes routine, it reduces its impact.

And amazingly, it doesn’t always have to be money. For some employees, reading a positive customer or supplier letter at a staff meeting or being featured in the newsletter or website is as rewarding as cash.

Training & Advancement

Experts agree that the quality of employees and their development through training and education are major factors in determining long-term profitability of a small business. This is because competence creates confidence, and confidence is an internal motivator. Competence also reduces stress and lower stress levels mean higher productivity and creativity as well as improved attitudes.

Training—teaching people the right skills for the job—is often done only for new employees. This is a mistake because ongoing training, especially in self-management skills and people skills, is essential.

Self-management skills include goal setting, time management and organization. People skills include listening, questioning, feedback and other communication skills.

Training should also provide a glimpse into what skills and knowledge are needed to move up in responsibility and pay. For example, cross training keeps employees from getting bored and challenges them to grow. In addition, cross-trained employees have a more holistic view of the business, its functions and its people.


Friday’s paycheck may not be an employee’s only motivator, but there is no doubt that we live in a money-motivated world. However, it’s not always how much you give people. Sometimes it’s about how much you give them relative to their peers—money as a way of keeping score.

Another key to keeping good employees motivated is the non-salary benefits package you provide such as paid vacation, uniform service or clothing allowance, profit sharing, and participation in a 401k retirement plan.

Unless you can do all the work all the time, you need people to help you. The wrong people can cause you to lose customers and money. The right people, working together as a team, can make your shop operate smoothly and profitably.

While no amount of team building can compensate for a low salary, if the compensation is adequate, good human relations will give that extra zest to a team, motivating them to give their best.

Tips to Achieve Peak Performance

Operating at peak performance is a goal for all teams, whether at the race track or in the race shop. But, sometimes, the team needs a boost to pick up the pace.

Employee performance can improve—from your poorest performer to your top producer—but it takes more than a yearly performance evaluation.

Consider, for example, the impact of “hygiene factors” such as fair pay, reasonable benefits, and safe working conditions. If an employee is ticked because you did a poor job of implementing a benefits change or is angry because of a work schedule considered unfair, an improvement intervention such as a training session on “how to close a sale,” won’t stand much of a chance.

A relatively simple, but highly effective way of looking at this issue was provided by Dr. Thomas Gilbert, the “father of performance improvement,” in the late 1970s. There are other approaches, but his Behavior Engineering Model tool will serve as a good example. It looks at the following six areas: information, resources, incentives, skills and knowledge, capacity, and motivation.


Employees need to know policies, procedures and products. They need frequent reminders about what you want the business to accomplish, some of your plans for doing it, and their role in the plans. For example, do you tell employees to “do a good job,” or do you outline the specific behaviors you want accomplished? If you’re leaving it up to employees to decide what a “good job” is, don’t be surprised if they fail to do what you have in mind. People cannot meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are.

To get the best from employees, communicate clear, specific expectations about what they are to produce. And, give regular feedback about how well they meet your expectations.


No matter how skilled an employee, without the tools and materials needed to do the job, the job isn’t going to get done. To perform well in your shop an employee must know more about a product than how to pronounce the name on the box or read the dimensions off a chart. He or she must know technical specifications, features, applications, pricing comparisons, and warranty, guarantee and service information, plus the benefits the product offers this customer.

The employee must be able to answer questions like: How does this product compare to product/brand X? Who else is using it and what are the results? What results can I (in my class on this track) expect?


In general, there are two basic types of incentives/rewards you can use to positively reinforce performance-enhancing behaviors.

The first is money. Obviously, pay is an important incentive. This is especially true in a pay-for-performance system where you reward employees on the basis of their contribution to the business’ success.

The second basic type is non-financial rewards such as recognition and attention. These incentives/rewards can be very effective. For example, a recent analysis of behavioral management studies over the past 20 years found that social rewards (recognition and attention) had as big an impact on employee performance as did monetary rewards.

With that in mind, you can get the basic information you need about incentives in your shop by answering the question: In the last six months, what has been the incentive for good performance and the consequence for poor performance?

Skills & Knowledge

One of the most effective ways to improve an employee’s performance is to help improve his or her skills.

Whether you’re working with a new part-time employee or a veteran salesperson, a good place to begin is with the job description. After listing the specific tasks you expect the employee to perform, determine this person’s current knowledge and skill level in each area. With this information you can begin to develop a training program that will ensure employees gain the skills and information they need to improve the way they perform their jobs.

Next, decide the best ways to deliver the necessary training. You may, for example, want to require (and possibly pay for) some college coursework along with on-the-job instruction.

And, for employees to maintain peak performance, you need to continuously evaluate their skills and knowledge and provide opportunities for them to update their sales and merchandising skills as well as their product and racing knowledge.


While avoiding stereotyping or inappropriately profiling employees, a certain sensitivity to matching an employee to a job is useful. To help make a good employee-job match, think about what behaviors and skills are important for success. For example, the most effective salespeople have great interpersonal skills. They know how to formulate and ask meaningful questions to get at a customer’s real needs and problems. Plus, they are good listeners. They hear, understand and act on the answers the customer gives, rather than their own assumptions.


To a large degree, employees bring their motivation to excel with them. But, there are some techniques you can use to stimulate it. The secret is tailoring the action to the individual.

Some employees are motivated by the promise of a promotion, others by a quarterly bonus, and others simply by having someone recognize their work. In fact, many employees report that a personal, spontaneous, and sincere thank you for a job well done has the most significant impact on their performance.

Another way to spark motivation is to help employees gain control over and feel ownership of what they do. As they begin to feel they are a significant part of the business—valued and involved—their personal productivity will rise.

Unfortunately, today’s high tech world pushes retailers to concentrate on updating information systems and acquiring the latest technology, which leaves little time for the company’s most important asset—the employees.

Employees who feel neglected become dissatisfied; unhappy employees are not productive. The more retailers respect and value their employees, the greater the chances that the employee and the business will be successful.




Performance Racing Industry