SCCA U – The 3 R’s: Recruit, Retain, Recognize

I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort placing employment ads, taking applications, conducting interviews and providing training to a number of people over the years only to watch them leave because the job wasn’t what they had thought it would be.  Or they felt under-appreciated because they either didn’t make enough money or felt they deserved better assignments, or just wanted a pat on the back from time to time in recognition of their efforts to go above and beyond what their work called for. It may sound familiar to some individuals within a volunteer organization like the Sports Car Club of America, yet my example is from my day job managing a Limousine company in the NYC metropolitan area.

What does a Limo company have to do with SCCA?

More than you think, I bet. In this post I will illustrate the very important concepts of the Three (3) R’s. That is Recruit, Retain and Recognize listed in the “Back to Basics” section of the training manuals I downloaded from SCCA.com web site, something that really needs to be pointed out to the people responsible for this task within the club because as I’m about to show it really works!

Now, while I only have a mere four (4) years experience volunteering, three (3) of them with the SCCA, I may not be qualified to tell the powers that be what they should consider doing. But when it comes to the ground transportation industry, I’ve spent sixteen (16) years in this business. I had my first limo job in high school, before I even got my driver’s license. And while most people think that working in the limo business only involves driving, that is only one of the many tasks I experienced (and typically in emergency situations when I absolutely ran out of drivers and had to go on the road myself because we don’t leave any customer behind or stranded). I have worked both in the USA and Australia and have published a few articles in respected industry magazines sharing my experience with other managers. I know my way works but I’m always open to learn new things. Never stop learning!

That said, I don’t need to tell the powers that be (the ones that could really put the region on the path of improvement instead of continuing with the status quo) anything. Great information is readily available from SCCA University. It is unfortunately buried in the uploads section of the File Cabinet, so the least I can do is bring light to it because I feel it really is beneficial.

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So let me start by saying that instead of talking about how each “R” is critical, let me instead point out that no matter how much effort and budget you spend on Recruiting people, if they don’t Return because time and again they were not satisfied with their treatment, your competence, or lacked Recognition for a job well done assuming it was appropriate, your advertising dollars were wasted! It’s as simple as that. The goal of any organization, whether it’s providing a chauffeur position or a volunteer marshal role, is to make sure that the candidate buys into the “job” and wants to come back/return again and again to continue working.

Driving like marshaling attracts different people. The companies I’ve worked with over the years didn’t employ 100% professional drivers, or people that chose as their career to be a limousine driver. More than 50% of the drivers, and that number went up as high as 80% on the weekends, were people who did this job part-time, and just wanted to make some extra money for whatever reason. We’ve had teachers drive, construction workers, accountants, real estate brokers and salespeople, students, you name it. Much like the demographics of volunteer marshals. I’ve worked with people that couldn’t afford to fill up their car and only put enough gas as their money allowed them until the next paycheck. I’ve also worked with people that had a fleet of exotic cars at home, and to them money was no object (so to say). People volunteer for different reason, and that’s the beauty of the variety of personalities that it creates completely disregarding the individual backgrounds, financial, social, ethnic, etc. Motorsport brings together people from all walks of life and every corner of America (or the world). When you recruit you don’t focus on one demographic, you try to appeal to all of them. The more the merrier. Keeping in mind that the Motivation to facilitate Retention will be different to each individual and could very well be based on their socioeconomic status or background. In the limo industry we welcome all, SCCA regions do the same… but they must focus on continuous recruiting. If a potential candidate for a job doesn’t know that the job exists, he’s not really a candidate. Recruiting only at motorsport events is akin of shooting fish in a barrel. Chances are spectators know what volunteering entails and they are not the best candidate to recruit (especially if their idea of watching a race is kicking back with a beer in hand).

It’s not cheap to recruit new people. In the limo industry the turn over is pretty big. There are plenty of amateur drivers that bounce from company to company based on recruitment efforts of those companies and the promises of greener grass by the recruiters. But ultimately most limo companies are very similar. Most companies pay the same (reasonably speaking), retention can be therefore improved by compatible personalities between the drivers and the managers, recognition of performance, etc. We often try to recruit brand new drivers, those that have not worked with multiple companies before, people with NO experience. They are most expensive to recruit because it takes a lot of time and money to train them. But considering the drivers are the face of the company, and you are only as good as the last ride you provided, it’s important to train well. (It’s said that you can provide 99 perfect rides but if you screw up on 1, the customer will leave and use another limo company). This is very similar to recruiting volunteers. SCCA is not the only game in town (even though often I hear people pretend that they are). Marshals can work with USAC for Indianapolis events. They can work with RSI for Watkins Glen events. Or they can work directly with the tracks if they live near NJMP, COTA, and now Lime Rock whom hire marshals directly, no SCCA membership required. People can also work for event organizers, for example Andretti Autosport is the organizer of the NOLA Grand Prix, they are staffing the event with their own marshals, not with SCCA marshals from the Southwest Division. BUT since SCCA is the only organization within the USA capable of issuing a marshal license that is recognized internationally and may be seen as a prerequisite to volunteer overseas, it is therefore the responsibility of SCCA to recruit and train marshals so they can represent the organization even when they choose to work events with USAC or Andretti.

Finally, Recognition is important but from my experience it is either too trivial to implement or too expensive. We’ve never had “Employee of the Month!” award with any of the companies I’ve worked with. But several Limousine Conventions/Seminars I attended not only recognized companies that did have such a program, but also implemented their own Recognition Awards and Gala’s. Operator of the Year! International Operator of the Year! etc. People feel all warm and fuzzy inside even when they are presented with a piece of paper and a gold star on it saying, “This Certificate Recognizes The Recipient for the Specific Achievement Described Below” I mean people go nuts over it! It’s a boost to an individual’s ego, a pat on the back, something they can show their friends and family. Something they can hang on their wall at home. SCCA does this with a “Volunteer of the Year” award. I know this because my good friend Jessie was a worthy recipient last year. And I applaud her region for recognizing her work. I framed four or five “Certificates of Appreciation” I received from volunteering F1 Grand Prix in Singapore, Australia and Malaysia. They look like university diplomas.

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Ultimately, driving a limo or waving a flag as a marshal is not rocket science… as a cliche saying goes: “Anybody can do it!” But not everyone wants to do it! Few want to be on call for a 12 hour shift and not get a single run because it’s a slow day for travel. Nor do they want to drive to the airport first thing in the morning with the second job late in the afternoon. While other people love the freedom it gives them to do their personal stuff in between jobs, a perk few 9 to 5 office jobs offer. Similarly, not everybody wants to stand on the side of the track from the crack of dawn to dusk, often seeing nothing happen in their corner. It’s boring, it’s unexciting. It would put off even the most enthusiastic Motorsport enthusiast. But somebody’s gotta do the job. And it’s important to Recruit, Retain and Recognize the people that do it! Relying on skeleton crews is dangerous, it places a ridiculous amount of strain on the few volunteers that work alone. I have no idea how event organizers get away with such abuse in a country that has OSHA!

In my next post I will talk about how Race Car Drivers, both club and professional should demand that the volunteers provided to work as safety marshals are qualified to do the job. And to qualify they must be trained, continuously. Nobody is an expert without regularly brushing up on their skills by learning changes in technology, both car and track safety features, etc. Stay tuned.