Economics, Evolution and Efficiency
When one thinks about today's economy, it can be a "glass-half-full-glass-half-empty" proposition. Although it seems as if we're living in a half-empty (or perhaps even a three-quarters-empty) world right now, the flip-side is that this harsh economic environment has accelerated our evolution into becoming a more efficient species of business people. Our present environment challenges us to learn to survive - and that's not a bad thing.
In my general dealings with the world, I've noticed an increase in the level of service that I am encountering at stores where I shop - those that seem to be the "winners" in the race for survival. I'm sure this is no accident, either. These organizations have looked at everything from the skills of the person who greets the customer to the speed at which transactions happen to the inventory mix on the shelves. The true survivors have quickly adapted to rapid change by retraining, retooling and offering service with a smile.
So, where does a training budget stand in this current economic environment? Do we conserve our cash flows by curtailing training or do we invest in learning new skills and adapting?
The late Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a statistician and consultant, said, "Learning is not compulsory ... neither is survival." Those who plan to survive understand the value of ongoing training.
Among collision repairers, there is not only a need to learn a proper procedure for repairing a vehicle, but there is a clear call at a management level for the entire organization to understand how the process around that procedure can be executed in the most efficient manner possible. As a result, we hear not about cutting training budgets, but about identifying efficiency gaps in the organization and directing those budgets toward eliminating weaknesses as quickly as possible.
A business associate recently shared with me the story of a collision repair facility that "experimented" by providing training to half of its staff on a procedure and then measuring the variance in the cycle times between the two groups.
The bottom line was that training had a positive impact on the profitability of that one procedure. Imagine the possibilities given the number of procedures that happen in any business.
Clearly we want to know how to evolve. The agendas of association events and business meetings are packed with ideas from economists and those who are involved in developing strategies for navigating through some stormy business waters.
The strategies seek to identify the relationships between external forces and internal processes.
The actions taken to improve internal processes involve change and change - evolution - happens best in a well-trained environment fit for survival.
As I look five or 10 years into the future, I see an "evolved" world. One in which a harsh environment was once the catalyst for change and training was, and is, the means of survival. It's a world where the phrase "... because we've always done it that way" doesn't exist and a world where quality and service are not taken for granted. And, while training is never "compulsory," the survivors won't see it that way.
Editor's Note: ASA is hosting a legislative event for collision repairers in Washington, D.C., July 28-29, 2009, to meet with their state's elected officials on issues of importance to them. Prior to the ASA event, I-CAR is hosting its 30th Annual Industry Conference, also in our nation's capital. Make plans to attend both of these events.
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