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Mitch Schneider: Train Your Employees to Trust Their Instincts

A guy walks into an automotive repair shop and this is what he sees: a technician and a service manager having a rather passionate interaction. Neither the word "discussion," nor the word "conversation" adequately captures the level of intensity they had achieved at that particular moment. It was about whether or not the little Honda Accord in the third bay ….

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By Mitch Schneider
Contributing Editor

    A guy walks into an automotive repair shop and this is what he sees: a technician and a service manager having a rather passionate interaction. Neither the word “discussion,” nor the word “conversation” adequately captures the level of intensity they had achieved at that particular moment. It was about whether or not the little Honda Accord in the third bay — the one promised to go out in less than two-and-a-half hours — would be ready because the tech working on it refused to install the new flywheel sitting on his tool cart.

“I’m sorry… I can’t install that flywheel. It’s not right!”

“What could be wrong? It’s brand new!”

“You gotta see it, Frank. It’s not right. I’m not putting it on the car! That’s it!” With that, the technician turned and walked back into the shop.

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I would have found this scene interesting at the very least, if not for the fact that I was the guy who walked into the shop. It was my shop. The technician and service manager were my technician and service manager and I was the one who had promised the vehicle would be ready that afternoon. By virtue of all of the above, it had just become my problem.

I walked out into the shop to see what exactly why Javier refused to install the flywheel, not to argue with him or challenge his judgment. Javier has been with me for more than 16 years. I knew if he wasn’t willing to install a part there was a damned good reason. I just needed to see what it was, and this is what I saw: a flywheel whose entire machined surface was covered with tiny pockmarks and holes.

I ran my fingers over the “polished” surface of the flywheel and it was anything but smooth. In fact, when I brushed a red shop towel over the surface, there were countless tiny red remnants stuck to the surface. As I began to ask Javi why he didn’t just order another one, he pointed at the second box on the bench in which lived the first flywheel, which was actually worse than the one I had just examined.

I called the supplier and asked him if he had a third flywheel on the shelf. When he asked me what the problem was, I told him. He told me he had never had a problem with any of the flywheels he had sent out before, and he had sent out a “bunch,” including a bunch to the local Honda dealer. I didn’t argue. I just asked him to pull it and take a look at it.

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It was fine, he said. “Then, send it,” I replied. It was fine: completely different from the other two. We installed it and delivered the vehicle on time. The next morning I called the company that sold the flywheel to the supplier that sold it to me. I sent their technical service guy the digital image you see here and three more. He didn’t respond. I called him again today, two days later and asked if what he saw in the images was normal. He told me he had forwarded my pictures to someone else and as of that moment, hadn’t heard anything back. It really wasn’t the answer I was looking for.

I’m not a metallurgist. I don’t know why there were tiny little holes in the casting. Quite frankly, I don’t know if the first two flywheels were just different, but still OK. Or, why anyone could or would install a flywheel that looked or felt like the two I just sent back.

What I do know is that the first two were very different from the third, and that I helped train Javier to look for anomalies like this, to trust his instincts and to always act in the best interest of our clients even if it meant refusing to install a part that was questionable for any reason.

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Why? Because failing to do it right generally leads to the opportunity to do it over, and doing it over in my world costs more than just pushing another part across the counter.

I just wish that some day, somewhere, a guy would walk into a jobber store or a warehouse — a guy like you or me — only to witness the same kind of interaction between someone in the warehouse and someone in shipping, or between someone on the counter and a driver. And, if or when they did, they would ask the same uncomfortable questions it always seems I’m forced to ask.

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Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected].

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