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  • Writer's pictureDavid Peterson

Skill Deficiency = Lost Money

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Let’s talk about skills.

Some of these are necessary, critical skills.

Definitely some of them are optional ones.

Perhaps there’s even a few skills that really only exist to show off.

No matter what kinds of skills and abilities we’re talking about, the fact is that every job position in every company is formatted for people with certain abilities.

In your position, the daily tasks are quite a bit different than those needed for the technicians working on the floor.

Your set of skills includes elements of leadership, financial and time management, problem solving, prioritization, and the ability to multi-task in the effort of making your company successful.

Where did you acquire those skills?

The answer to that question probably actually tells quite a bit about you as a person, since heritage and background is a profound influence.

If you learned about those things in a classroom setting, in pursuit of a business degree, your academic work and rigor shaped your expectations of people around you.

Colleges and universities build professionalism and standards of operation that will last long after you graduate and leave.

In addition to the rigor, college also tends to build an excitement towards future learning, so that you are excited to attend the next training, to hone your skills and continue leading at the front edge of education.

If you did learn management and leadership in college, congratulations on your degree - that is no easy task. Trust me, I understand.

On the other hand, your learning may be pure and true - from the trenches.

College is great about teaching theories and perfect ideal situation, but we both know that those ideal situations happen few and far between.

You possess skills that are acquired over a very long career, skills that make you a nightmare for…

Wait a second, hold on, wrong movie...

But you get the point, you know how things are supposed to work, and you expect those working for you and around you to understand critical situations, and they should be able to react with quick judgment and a sense of certainty.

Continued education means a step back into ground zero, if something is operating in an unusual manner, you jump in to diagnose and solve the problem. It’s what you have done for years.

This is also something I applaud. Both of us at PBA have taken career paths that are different from our college degrees.

So in a very real sense, we can understand both backgrounds - not only have we worked hard to graduate and strive for continuing education, but we also have felt the pride of starting from the ground floor of a job, working up through the trials of fire to gain leadership experience.

I can say very honestly that both of these are equally excellent and rich work backgrounds.

However, on the other hand, they both can cause someone to look at the world with blinders, favoring ‘their way’ over the other.

You know them, it’s the ‘my way or the highway’ folks.

I’m certain a face or two just flashed across your mind. These are probably the people in your company that can be a little… challenging… to deal with.

If you detest this kind of behavior, please ignore that for just a second, we need to think about some key points.

Two Benefits of the ‘My Way or The Highway’ People

First, they’re often correct about the issues which show up in their area of expertise.

I said usually, not always. None of us are right 100% of the time, as nice as that would be.

If you want to know how a particular machine works, then you go talk to the guy who is the expert, the one who can instantly tell you what to do, why to do it that way, how to do it, and what’s going to happen if you do it wrong.

The second benefit falls right alongside the first one - they have confidence.

Even if they happen to be wrong about something, at least they aren’t afraid to step out and make some decisions and get stuff done.

Any day of the week, I’d rather work alongside someone who isn’t afraid to get the job done.

But honestly, it would be great if that confidence was packaged in a slightly better personality...

These two reasons don’t make the person easier to deal with, but at least you can try to recognize something valuable about their contribution.

Oh, by the way, before you get to comfortable talking about ‘the other guy’ just remember that we all have some of this inside of us.

No matter how nice you think you are, you have some areas that you have some pride, and you are correct about something.

Don’t let this hold you back, but keep an open mind, be willing to bend a little bit.

What is the one thing that you would most desperately wish to fix this conflict?

What would you recommend to help this person work towards a better future for the company?

In short, convince them to go LEARN SOMETHING NEW.

Wouldn’t that be great?

They have all this experience, and a great set of skills, would you love to convince them to get out there and try to learn something new?

Remind them that they don’t know everything!

Expand their mind, open their eyes!

Imagine the tremendous potential of someone who knows a TON about something, and suddenly the mask of pride goes away and they become easier to work with overnight.

Man, that would be great.

Regardless of whether you consider ‘learning’ as a formal class in a classroom taught by an instructor in a suit and tie, or whether learning is the ability to sit down in front of a new machine with some datasheets and a meter in front of you, learning how to best optimize performance.

Regardless of which camp you belong to, learning is the key to achieving greater results.

Think about this - if you do something the same way, every time, performance cannot get better.

In fact, when it comes to equipment, if you do something the EXACT same way, the only change is that eventually the machine will become old and worn out, and it will be worse.

If you want everything to stay the same, then keep doing exactly what you already do.

Don’t change.

The world will be nice and comfortable.

And you’ll never be disappointed.

But on the other hand….

You’ll never get better.

You’ll never be appreciated.

Your existence won’t really even be noticed.

I’m not willing to let that happen to you or anyone on your team.

If you were to sit down right now and pull out a pen and paper, what would be the #1 thing you’d like to learn this week?

You could probably challenge yourself to learn a lot of new skills over the next year.

This is a nice exercise for your own personal growth, and maybe finding some new hobbies.

But your challenges aren’t with yourself right now, the problem is that the skills are needed down on the manufacturing floor - you need to be able to locate and manage those skills to make more profit!

If you can’t find people with the right skills, you won’t be able to keep things running smoothly, then if you can’t run smoothly, you’ll always be putting out fires, and there goes any hope of having ‘free time’ to learn something new yourself.

‘Free time’. Sure. Who has free time?

How does this help my company?

Giving yourself a chance to learn new skills is nice, and it’s good for you, but the end goal is to make your company run faster, more efficiently, and more consistently.

This concept of change, adaptability and the willingness to learn new skills is really the dividing point between stagnation and success.

How then do you work to influence those who work for you, and give them that same drive and desire to not just accept new challenges, but honestly be excited about the chance to push the limits?

That’s what you want, right?

Employees who see a problem, and it gets them excited.

“Oh man, this machine keep breaking down…”

“Hmm, I wonder if we can put some measurement tools on it, let it run, and then isolate the cause of the problem and fix it for good?”

Wouldn’t that be a great conversation to overhear?

But this is easier said than done - how do you form a culture where the technicians get so excited about the possibility of solving problems and learning new skills that you now have to hold them back?

That would be so much better than having to incentivise them to just keep up with the bare minimum.

I can offer a few tips, and none of them are rocket science.

Trust me, rocket science is EASY compared to learning how to influence people!

I’ve taught both leadership classes and thermodynamics in engineering - engineering is just a bunch of nice consistent formulas. If only people were that easy…

A comprehensive list containing the number of ways to encourage people to learn new skills can’t be summarized in a short report.

But here are a few of the big, easy ones that you can implement right away.

Three Methods of Encouraging Skill Development

THE MOST IMPORTANT first item on this list is to intentionally avoid criticizing problems.

Yes, problems are going to occur - people will make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes cost money. A LOT of money.

But when mistakes occur, remember that investments go far deeper than just financial numbers that flash before your eyes.

What if that $10,000 mistake today leads to a learning experience, where that technician shares the knowledge with two co-workers and saves the same problem from happening twice in the future.

You just saved $20,000 at the loss of $10,000. Your gain.

However, if the knee-jerk reaction is an immediate discipline action and reprimand to the technician, they won’t want to share that experience with anyone. Ever again. They’ll want to pretend like it didn’t happen…

What could have been a great return for you suddenly turned into a bad attitude, and a technician who will be much more hesitant to try solving problems ever again.

But unfortunately, human nature revolves around those knee-jerk reactions, and very rarely do they create positive environments.

You need to get this one under control.

If someone makes a huge mistake, here’s the process that distinguishes a good leader from a terrible boss.

First, make sure the safety of the situation is under control according to proper policies.

Immediately step in to see if you can assist. Don’t take over the problem, or push someone out of the way, that’s the sure way to tell someone ‘you have no idea what you’re doing’.

If there is a solution that you are aware of, suggest it in a manner that allows them to take charge. They made the mess, they clean it up. But you can offer advice to get them down the right path.

If you aren’t aware of a good solution, then one must be devised. You can help with the project management part of the ordeal, but let them take charge on implementing the fix.

Again, they made the mess, they clean it up.

Notice that along the way, you weren’t showing anger (even if you felt it). Never belittling or insulting.

We all have to learn things, and most of the time it comes from failures.

Your techs will fail. You know this.

But YOU hold the power over what happens next.

If you want them to learn and grow, YOU have to lead that drive.

If you’d rather see them shrink into a corner and duck their head anytime an opportunity comes up, that one’s up to YOU as well.

YOU hold the power.

The second method is to let their brain engage the problems

Compare three different approaches to coaching, and I’ll exaggerate to make a point.

An obvious negative one is to dump someone in over their head, and make them 100% responsible for the design and implementation of every solution. You are totally hands-off.

Another negative at the other end of the spectrum is to observe a problem, rush in, remove them from the situation and solve it yourself. Maybe you’ve heard of ‘helicopter parents’ before...?

These might be written with a voice of exaggeration, but actually, these aren’t far off from most managers. They tend to be at one end or the other. Pure gold, is right in the center.

The other approach, and the best one, is the coach who comes alongside, suggests options that might not be immediately obvious, and then stands alongside to help when called upon.

I remember learning to work on cars as a teenager. My first vehicle was an ‘89 Cherokee Laredo. Real nice. Loved it.

But it was a Jeep, so obviously I had to fix it all the time.

As a new driver, I had no idea how engines work, but my dad knew. Somehow, every dad knows how cars work. I’m still hoping for the book that teaches me everything before my kids reach their teenage years…

The way my dad approached problems is a guideline that I still try to follow.

The Jeep is in the shop, up on jackstands, and I’m removing the oil pan to replace the main seal for the third time in a month because I keep doing it wrong. As always, Dad checks in to see the problem.

He just waits quietly, knowing the question is coming soon - “Dad, what am I doing wrong? This seems to be installed correctly, but it keeps leaking… Any ideas?”

And sure enough, a couple hours later, after dropping the crankshaft ¼ inch, that main seal is in place and we’re discussing what torque to install into the bolts.

He could have taken over and done the entire job himself, and probably would have done it way faster. I’m sure it was physically painful, watching how slowly I was getting results.

But here’s the key - I know that asking for assistance would help me LEARN. He wasn’t a teacher by trade. Although he wasn’t a mechanic by trade either. He simply understood that coaching someone from beginning to end, and only being there to help was the right approach.

When someone needs help, you can usually tell right away, you don’t need them to ask. Wait until you have permission, then be a coach and cheerleader to help them find the solution…

Next time something happens, they’ll come to you. Not out of fear, but with a genuine desire to seek your help, and your permission to get to the root of the problem and get it fixed as fast and effectively as possible.

The final method to build skill development is to encourage input

I’m willing to bet that you have a few people in mind who have some really great ideas.

Every organization has a few sharp folks who offer up those ideas that save time, make things more efficient and safer - overall, they save you money!

Nothing bad about that, right?

One more thing you should know, if you don’t already, is that nearly everyone on your staff has ideas just like this.

Maybe one of them is the big spark of creativity to solve a big problem that could save you thousands!

Why don’t they step up? Now that’s the big question…

As the supervisor, it’s back on your shoulders again.

Just like before, you have the power to build a progressive, positive environment that looks for improvements, or one that is satisfied with sitting back and watching progress leave you behind.

Hopefully you get the impression by now just how pivotal of a role you play in shaping an excellent work culture that values productivity.

Alright, it’s easy to say that you can value input from everyone, but what does that look like? How do you actually implement a strategy that encourages input?

This one will be up to you, since you know the workings of your team better than anyone else.

The strategy depends on so many things - the size of the company, the number of facilities you manage, all kinds of things, but here is the simple process:

First, go find the person that makes a lot of suggestions, and ask her or him what makes them so willing to step up. Maybe this will give you some pointers.

Actively listen and try to understand the ideas. Most likely, that awesome suggestion that saves the big bucks won’t be implemented exactly the way it first appeared. Collaboration is huge.

When an idea does result in ANY sort of savings at all - time, money, safety, morale, whatever - be sure to recognize it. If you have a formal program, cash can be an incentive, but recognition goes a lot further than money.

The biggest pitfall that I can encourage you to avoid is simply this: DO NOT shoot down ideas. If you do so, especially if it’s one of the first suggestions from a particular person, it will be the last suggestion you ever hear from them.

If an idea is truly so bad that it can’t be implemented, just try to pick one tiny portion of the idea that does work, and try to help nurture it to implementation.

Then you can step into a coaching role, helping them to identify productive vs. wasteful ideas.

Just PLEASE do not shoot down an idea.

It’s death to culture and morale…

Building skills and developing your team can be one of the hardest challenges you will face.

However, it can lead to some of the largest gains of revenue and loss of downtime cost for the least investment.

None of the strategies listed here cost any money at all.

They simply require your time and commitment to the development of your team.

YOU have the power to build the team or destroy it. That’s a lot of power.

We’re here to make you successful.

Need a hand?

Give us a call.

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