Running a Shop Leadership Technology

A Rhetorical Question

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Ten minutes after asking me why I was leaving “so early,” my wife looked across the family room, tilted her head to one side and wondered, “Why are you still here? You’re going to be late.”

How and why wives do that is one of life’s great mysteries!

But, once again, she was right. I had an appointment to meet a friend for breakfast in a neighboring community and traffic—even here on the fringe of Los Angeles—is always an adventure! So, I grabbed my keys, kissed my wife on the forehead and sprinted to the car.

Thirty-five minutes later (the drive normally takes 20), I was searching for a parking space halfway across the lot. I pushed myself through the army of people waiting to be seated when I spied my friend. He was already on his second cup of coffee patiently awaiting my arrival at a table toward the front of the restaurant.

I wish I could transcribe one of these conversations for you. They are the kind of stream of consciousness discussions that would make James Joyce proud!

In fact, if you traced the vector of each thread of conversation we start, you would have something that looks a lot like the spiderwebs an arachnid on LSD might weave. And, yet, the time we spend together is always entertaining, enlightening and engaging.

The fact we both have the attention span of a gnat and are still able to make sense out of the 20 topics we inevitably address during a typical breakfast or lunch is a testimony to the wide range of subjects covered. This morning’s breakfast was no different. That is, with one exception: the final question my friend posed as we were leaving the restaurant.

I was walking to my car when he looked over his shoulder and shouted, “Do you think service bay productivity and technician efficiency have improved as a result of all the advances we have seen in technology over the past 30 years?” And, then he turned and walked on.

If you heard a loud bang around 9:30 this past Friday morning, it was probably my head exploding!

The obvious answer is, “Of course, there have been improvements in productivity that have come as the direct result of advances in technology!” But, realistically, we don’t often deal with questions that have obvious answers and after spending some time rolling this question around in my head, I’m not so sure it is either obvious or correct.

I know, that sounds a bit heretical coming from someone who has been a champion of integrating the latest technology into both the office and service bay since the ’80s, and maybe it is. But, the question is much more sophisticated than it appears at first glance. And, that’s why it might be worthy of further consideration.

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way. There is no doubt that computerization has the potential to automate almost every aspect of modern shop operation. And, that automation is the foundation of the kind of increases addressed in my friend’s question.

But, let’s look at that last sentence again. Only, this time let’s focus on the word ‘potential.’ If you are anything like me and you do that, words like future, possible, prospective, probable and likely flash across your consciousness almost instantly. Or, at least, they should. The problem is, while any one of those words suggests something that could happen, they have nothing at all to do with anything that has happened or is presently happening!

Just because the technology exists or has the potential to dramatically impact everything we do in powerful and positive ways, doesn’t mean a thing if things like automation and technology are not utilized.

If you believe in inspecting every vehicle that runs through your shop and haven’t made the leap to digital inspections, where is the potential for improvement?

If you don’t use the technology to track, measure, record, analyze and evaluate technician performance or service bay productivity—and then do something with that information—you really have to ask yourself if the answer to that original question will result in a very different answer than you might otherwise expect.

In this case, the question my friend asked is rhetorical. I’m not sure that matters. I’m not sure it matters, because I’m almost certain it’s the wrong answer and I’m sure it’s the wrong answer because it’s the wrong question.

The “right” question is probably closer to, “Have you taken advantage of all the technological advances we’ve seen over the past 35 years? And if you have, what kind of improvements in service bay productivity and technician efficiency have you enjoyed as a result?”

Now, that’s my idea of a proper rhetorical question. A question for which you can be pretty sure I have an answer.

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