Mitch's World: Getting 'Schooled' in the Shop

Mitch’s World: Getting ‘Schooled’ in the Shop

Mitch Schneider discusses the importance of getting "back to school" when thinking about changing anything within the context of one's business, and asks critical questions that all shop owners should contemplate.

“Those who can, Do… Those who can’t, TEACH!”

Heard it before? I have…too often.

In fact, I heard it again just the other night while on a break during one of the better technical classes I’ve taken in a very long time. The material was good, better than average, actually. And, so was the ­instructor: just the right combination of humor, personal knowledge, experience and skill…the skill it takes to hold more than 80 people in the palm of your hand for the better part of three hours and have the majority of them leave satisfied that the time was well-spent.

This is not a particularly easy thing to accomplish. It isn’t particularly easy to orchestrate, lead, manage or direct, either. Nor, is it particularly easy to endure if it isn’t done well. Especially after working eight, 10 or 12 hours!

I did a lunch meeting recently for a large technical school close by. “Close by” around here means anywhere within a three-hour ­radius, and three hours can mean anywhere from nine to 190 miles depending upon the time of day!

The school was divided into areas of study associated with the many different systems we work on every day: steering, suspension, brakes, propulsion, electronic controls, comfort…You get the idea.

Each area had its own dedicated set of instructors and each instructor was an expert in their respective field.

“Those who can, Do…Those who can’t, TEACH!”


Each instructor was ASE Master Certified and had decades of in-the-bay service experience under their respective belts. “Those who teach…DID!”  

Some of them were still working, working just to ensure they were current with the latest technology, working to ensure that what they were teaching and the way they were delivering that information was still relevant.

They were professionals…consummate professionals. They did what they did well and, in many cases, they did it well for years. Then, for whatever reason, they decided to give something back, to share what they had learned with those who were willing to sit at their feet and listen.

It was an exciting afternoon filled with a look at the next generation and maybe even a little hope.

“Those who can, Do…Those who can’t, TEACH!”

Those who CAN’T…?  



Especially in light of the fact that in the course of a lifetime we have all been called upon to teach at one time or another, just as we have all been called to look, listen and learn.

I guess that remark cut deeper than I thought it would. Although, I shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 25 years, I’ve spent more than my share of weekends away from home, traveling cross-country to do exactly what these instructors were doing. I’ve spent more than my share of hours creating and preparing — thousands, if I ever stopped to actually count.

Everyone who is serious about sharing what they know and what they have learned, recognizes the responsibility associated with standing at the front of the room. And, just about everyone who has done it knows that you couldn’t stand there — at least, not with any confidence or credibility — if you weren’t sure that you had done it, done it well and could do it again, only better this time, because of what you had learned both from the doing and the teaching.

I’m teaching right now. At least, I was just a few hours ago. You were too, I’ll bet. If not today, than yesterday or the day before.

I’m working with a new-hire in the office. It is exhilarating, frustrating and terrifying, all at the same time. What it really is, however, is exhausting; especially if you take the responsibility of someone else’s future seriously, and I do!

But, when all is said and done, the cause of all that excitement, frustration and terror may not be the instruction itself. The ultimate challenge may be deciding what actually needs to be taught: the material itself. Or, perhaps, it goes even deeper than that to the heart of another question, a more appropriate question. And, that question is whether or not you ­really need that extra body and what that person will ultimately be able to contribute in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a problem I can relate to. You see, I’m always on the early side of that curve. Who am I kidding? I’m on the early side of just about every curve!

I buy equipment before I really need it, sometimes before it’s even ready to be sold! I get involved with marketing concepts or campaigns before their effectiveness has been proven or even fully demonstrated, sometimes before their effectiveness has been demonstrated at all.

So, it should come as no surprise that I would hire before the need to fill a position, any position, was really clear. It should come as no surprise that I would “hire-to-the-bench,” as it were, even when the roster is full.


Consequently, I’ve learned to at least try and establish a rational, reasonable argument for doing anything I clearly see the need to do, because, more often than not, I find myself disappointed in the result. That argument has to be centered on what this new addition will bring to the party. Will whatever or whoever it is make your life (or, the lives of everyone around you) easier somehow? Will it or they save you money? Will it or they make you money? How do you know? How can you be so sure?

Are you buying capability? Enhanced performance? If you are replacing a piece of equipment, are you replacing it because it is functionally obsolete or because it technologically obsolete? The replacement may be faster or easier or sexier or more alluring, somehow, but the question still remains: Is what you have now still capable of doing that which you purchased it to do?

I ask myself all these questions and more. They are crucial when talking about an equipment purchase. But, they are absolutely critical when you start thinking about inviting someone to become a part of your company. Staffing changes are guaranteed to change the life of at least one person in your organization and as such shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Someone new is going to turn his/her life upside down to join your organization. That person will be judged by his/her performance, which will be determined by how well he/she meets or exceeds your expectations.

Is this an existing position? If it is, do you have a written definition of what is expected, what constitutes “Great Performance”?

If you do, is the definition accurate? Does it adequately reflect both the role and the responsibilities for which this person will be held accountable? Or, have the roles and responsibilities changed over time without an appropriate redefinition of associated wants, needs and expectations?

If I am creating a position, do I really know what I want, what I’m looking for? Can I define it clearly enough so everyone confronted with that definition will know and understand what a person entrusted with those responsibilities should be able to do? Whether “activity” or “outcome-based results,” you had better have a clear idea of what that end result looks like!

Why? Because, you can’t teach it if you don’t know what it is! You can’t teach it if you don’t know what it is supposed to look or feel like!

Have you defined what you want done? When you want it done? How you want it done and by whom? Have you defined what the end product should look like when you’re finished?

Are the rewards for “Great Performance” as clear as the consequences for Not-So-Great Performance? Is the need clear? Am I sure I understand and appreciate the difference all this will make in my life? What about the person tasked with the actual work of getting it all done?

What steps are required to accomplish this task or these tasks? How do we get from where we are to where we want to be and what difference will it make: to me…to you…to anyone…to everyone?

What steps are necessary and which can be eliminated?

Why are we doing this in the first place? Does it ­really have a purpose? If so, what is it and how will it help the company get where we need to go?

It may be that all you’re interested in is more time away from the business and that’s OK. But, how is having this person there doing whatever it is you want them to do going to move you closer to that goal?


If you are thinking about changing anything within the context of your business and you haven’t considered questions like these, please read the last few above paragraphs again. These are critical questions that require thoughtful and comprehensive answers. Even if you aren’t thinking about a change at this particular moment, read the last few paragraphs a second, third, or maybe even a fourth time.

These questions cry out for answers, thoughtful, contemplative, comprehensive answers.

Without thoughtful, contemplative and comprehensive answers, those who agree to join their future to yours cannot learn. Worse yet, without thoughtful, contemplative and comprehensive answers to these questions and questions like these, you will not be able to teach! At least, not effectively.

“Those who can, Do…Those who can’t, TEACH!”

I don’t think so

Oh, I think it’s true enough that those who can, Do. You and I do it every day.

But, those few who can do it well understand what they are doing and why they are doing it; recognize how important it is to do it right, well enough to demonstrate and explain it; those few who are compelled to share what they have learned and leave a legacy.

Well, those few who can do it that well, TEACH. They teach someone else, someone like you or me, to do what they do and have done!

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