As part of my commitment to “never stop growing,” right before the holidays, the folks at Honda Powersports were kind enough to include me in a Motorcycle Routine Maintenance Technician Class. My classmates and I literally learned how to take various bike components apart and put them back together again. For one week, I spent my days at the intersection of engineering, physics, and a kind of hard-working technical skill we tend to undervalue (I told the group I plan to be a lot nicer to my dealer tech guys from now on!!
I admit it was intimidating to walk into a class with people who have been at this for years. I didn’t understand half of the language in the massive binder they gave me. I had no idea what many of the tools or parts were called. But I found it incredibly rewarding to spend a week trying to soak it all in and figure it out.
As I approached the halfway point in this week-long program, I jotted a few observations that could easily be applied in organizations:
- Nobody is born knowing all the necessary knowledge, skills or abilities to perform their role. It’s okay to walk in unaware as long as you bring the lifelong passion for learning and the right attitude to listen, observe, and apply toward progress vs. perfection!
- Expect to get your knuckles bruised. It’s part of the learning process! It hurts, it sucks, but you’ll learn what not to do next time! A culture that’s afraid of retribution will fail!
- Failing in a controlled environment is incredibly valuable. When it comes to motorcycles or business relationships, better in the garage than on the road! What may be a bump in a car will kill you on a bike! On Day Two I completely rebuilt a hydraulic brake system. On my first try I failed to tighten down one end of the brake line, so when I refilled it with brake fluid, it spilled all over—the lift, the ground, me. I’d rather do that in a test environment than in my garage or God forbid on the roadside. I know I’ll remember that lesson better for having to clean up the mess my trial and error caused.
- Trial and error is part of the learning process; it’s how we find out what happens and why. Understanding why something is happening and how to address is often more valuable than simply knowing what happened!
- Precision is invaluable if you want performance. Too tight and you’ll break it; too loose and it’ll rattle off! I don’t think we reference structure and precision enough in our daily work. My service manual says, “Front axle nut should be torqued to X amount of Newton meter.” I was shown how to use a torque wrench to measure and confirm that. In our lives we might say, “that’s tight enough,” but how do we know? Especially when it comes to critical factors contributing to success or failure, precision is invaluable. What specs do you need to measure and improve?
- There is a right tool at the right time for the every job. The tools for each service station were not only logically laid out but consistently labeled. I learned that repetitive reference (visually and verbally) to each tool reinforced its name and relevant applications. This structure streamlined my learning curve and my time to result. Think what this kind of efficiency could bring to business. Do you have the right tools in your tool chest? Is everyone using the same terms for each so that you communicate effectively? “Great” means different things to different people, as does “success, progress, proficient” and a 1000+ others vague terms we tend to use to communicate daily. The wrong tool takes twice as long, ten times more effort, and you’ll end up breaking something! Before you start the task, get the right tools (including people, processes and technologies) on the job!
- Learning (especially hands-on learning) is messy and time-consuming. There are no “blue or red pills.” Stop looking for tricks of the trade; invest time, effort and resources to learn the trade!
- Technical skills deserve more appreciation and respect. The mechanics have deep expertise. They know more than you might think about engineering and applied physics. They are masters of precision measurement. Most executives I know don’t think at that level of precision the motorcycle service shop demands. What if you calibrated your sales process? What if your team’s compensation was based on achieving a certain minimum level of variance? I don’t think we have enough technical education in our lives. I’ve confirmed this with a half dozen CEO clients & friends – most can’t replace a light switch at the house! My fellow students were hourly-wage earning technicians with incredible knowledge about what they do and how they do it. We tend to undervalue that. Working with them, I learned to value both “trial and error” and precision.
- There’s a place for DIY solutions and a place for “by the book.” One of the misperceptions in the motorcycle industry is that if end customers learn how to do some of the mechanical work, it will diminish the service revenue at the dealership! It’s a flawed assumption – just because I know how, doesn’t mean I’ll want to do it! Trying a little DIY increased my respect for the advanced tools, training, and years of experience of the pros.
- We all need a “Cooper” in our daily lives! Village knowledge is invaluable in any team, company or industry! You see “Cooper” has been working in motorcycle repair for 20+ years. Over those years necessity has been the mother of plenty of Cooper’s inventions. He was in the class because he wanted to learn the by-the-book procedures. I recognized another #NeverStopGrowing attitude in Cooper. On Day One we were given a problem-solving exercise: break a screw in a hole and figure out how to get the screw out. In the time it takes our instructor to show us the vacuum suction tool designed to unthread a screw, Cooper gets out a screwdriver, pounds a new slot in that screw, puts a flat-head screwdriver in it and twists the screw back out. In business and in the back shop, “by the book” knowledge complements creative problem solving; it shouldn’t replace it. Cooper also has tremendous “village knowledge” about how a service shop should work. He joined his current dealership as a young buck on the service floor and has worked his way up to a service manager where he’s doing less “wrenching” now and more coaching, mentoring, and helping his younger guys get the work done.
Precision measurement matters to a motorcycle mechanic because it’s the difference between a safe, stable ride and a quick trip to the emergency room. If we applied what these men with the bruised, dirty knuckles know to our organizations, we would think and lead differently. And we might just achieve (and be able to measure) greater success in our strategic relationships, our responses to disruptive technologies, and our adaptive innovation.
- #NeverStopGrowing—expose yourself to radically different skills and experiences to bring fresh insights to work.
- Respect both creative problem-solving and by-the-book solutions; when one won’t save you, the other will.
- Value precision and apply it to business problems and processes.