Developing a Personal Education Plan
Rick Johnson has heard every excuse in the book.
I don’t have enough time. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I can’t leave the shop unattended. You don’t understand what’s going on in my shop.
“I’m sorry, but there’s 24 hours a day. We all have the same amount of time. It’s just what you decide to do with your time,” he says. “If you can’t take the time to work on your business, you’re never going to get anywhere. You’re not going to change your outcome.”
As a business coach with Automotive Training Institute (ATI) and a former shop owner, Johnson knows all too well the various reasons why shop owners don’t take the time to improve their own industry education. And while those reasons may be valid, the market is changing rapidly and competition will only increase.
When it comes to education, techs aren’t the only ones who need to be considered. Taking the time to map out an annual personal education plan—considering the needs of the business and goals for growth—will help shop owners ensure they not only stay open, but thrive in the coming years.
Johnson and Jerry Holcom, president of S&S Service Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the record holder for most Automotive Management Institute (AMI) credits at 721, discuss the steps for creating your own personal education plan.
1. DETERMINE THE NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS. Holcom says the very first thing he does when it comes to mapping out his training is to identify his strong and weak points in the business.
“When I’m doing that, what I’ve got to remember is that I wear a lot of hats,” he says. “I’ve got to determine where I’m doing well with marketing, people management, technology, IT, equipment, KPI numbers, regulatory concerns.”
After surveying all of those areas, he focuses most of his training needs on the areas of weakness that he can build back up.
Johnson also recommends creating a “roadmap” that analyzes a shop’s profitability, staffing, hiring and growth, and then determines growth goals for the next few years in each of those areas. He says it’s an easy way to critically examine how the business stacks up today and the steps that will need to be taken in order to achieve the desired growth.
Holcom says that before taking the training, it’s vital to consider how important the training is to you. Otherwise, it could just become a waste of time, money and resources.
“You have to determine how important it is to you,” he says. “If you’re not motivated or you have no intention of implementing what you learn, then it’s obviously not a big enough item of importance to you. All that training helped me become a better manager. Because I was your typical tech that became a shop owner. Management training is very important to help teach me how to become a manager,
rather than a technician.”
2. DETERMINE THE BEST METHOD OF TRAINING. Thanks to technology, Holcom says there is an abundance of different kinds of training available, which can suit different needs. Once he knows the area of training he needs, Holcom says he tries to determine the best method for that training. That could be reading an article, watching a webinar or attending in-person training.
—Jerry Holcom, president, S&S Service Center
“If I want to learn about new software or piece of equipment, I might watch a webinar,” he says. “If it’s more technical, I will probably attend in-person training.”
Holcom says to consider how much training is needed in the area of focus, the value of attending training in-person and how you would best learn about the topic. Holcom says he prefers in-person training, when possible, due to the networking opportunities it provides with other shop owners and industry peers.
“Many of my best ideas come from talking with other people at conferences, at VISION or during breaks,” he says.
If you need help staying motivated or accountable for your goals, Holcom says that hiring a business coach or attending a 20 Group might be the best route to get the most out of your management education and staying on track.
“Before, I had been in this little zone where we were in our shop all day long and didn’t know what was happening in the rest of the world,” he says. “We started meeting and talking and sharing ideas as peers and it was unbelievable.”
“One of the things I hear all the time is, ‘That won’t work in a small town,’ or, ‘You don’t understand what’s going on in the culture here.’ That’s all a bunch of silliness. It’s all the same all over the place,” Johnson says. “Working with a coach on a weekly basis to re-engineer their business, that can help start the change. Getting away from your preconceived world of what it is to own a business and being around 40 or 50 other shop owners and finding out other people have the same problems and here’s a solution, that can be very powerful.”
3. SET ASIDE THE TIME. Johnson concedes that this might be the most difficult step for some shop owners, but he says to start small.
“Baby steps is a good way of saying it,” he says. “You’re not going to change your business in one day. When it comes to the time thing, that is a big deal.”
Johnson says that when he was a shop owner, he began the process of setting aside time for training by devoting the first hour after lunch to working on his business, twice a week. He says he was extremely diligent and made it a priority, even telling the staff not to bother him under any condition.
“I had a separate office, closed the door and told everyone to leave me alone,” he says. “When I survived that first hour and I opened the door and the place hadn’t burnt down, I thought, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’”
He recommends taking an hour and reading your prof it and loss statement, looking at product ion numbers, watching a webinar or reading trade magazines.
“I just worked up from there,” he says. “I gradually worked up to all day Thursday, then a week. Once I started all those baby steps, there started being some pretty nice rewards.”
If it’s too difficult to leave the business unattended, shop owners can participate in training on the weekends, at night or on their own time.
Another option that’s often overlooked is online classes or taking individual classes from local schools in the shop’s area. There are many business courses of fered at any community college and it can be a great way to gain more knowledge in a more convenient setting, rather than flying out to training in another state.
Holcom agrees that it’s all about setting aside the time—and making it an important priority in the business. Above all, the best way he finds time to train himself is by making sure that his staff is properly trained, too, and understand their roles.
“What allows me to get out of the shop and take care of the training is by having previously trained all of my people so they can do the job,” he says. “The shop runs pretty flawlessly without me.”
Rather than budget dollars for his own management training, he holds himself to the same training requirements (12 hours per quarter) that he requires of his staff. He also says that he usually travels roughly once each month for training, so he has naturally added that into the training budget over the years.
Johnson says that it’s important to start taking the steps to staffing your shop properly, with clearly defined roles, so that as the owner, you are not also acting as the service writer or a technician. Doing so will allow you to spend more time attending training and working on the bigger picture items in the business, rather than simply managing the day-to-day.
4. TRACK THE RESULTS. Holcom also makes an effort to track the results of his training to determine if it actually helped.
“If I’m having a problem with my computer network, if I can fi x it and it’s working like it should, I’d say that’s a success,” he says. “If I add a capability that helps us do something better in the shop, then that was worth it to me.”
If the training didn’t provide the help needed, consider a different avenue or determine another way to receive the training needed.
Johnson recommends making a list as soon as you get back of the most important items learned during the training and keeping it nearby so it’s always top of mind. He says it can be helpful to share that information with a manager, business coach or partner so that someone else can hold you accountable to actually implementing the changes. He also notes that it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.
“I use this in my coaching every day: How do you eat an elephant? ” he says. “One bite at a time. Our business is a great big elephant. You’re not going to change it all in one day.”