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Building a Canoe - When you're deep in thought...


Gonzo

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Building a Canoe

Have you ever noticed when you’re relaxing at home, or at work trying to accomplish something, sooner or later somebody comes along and asks, “So, whatcha doin’?” It happens to me all the time. Around my house though, there’s a typical answer you’ll get if you ask such a question, and that’s, “I’m building a canoe.” Meaning, “It’s not all that important what I was doing. Thanks for caring, but I’d like to get back to what I was doing.” It’s a running joke at my house. Nobody takes it seriously. It seems at my house, no matter what the situation is, somebody is building a canoe somewhere. Now at the shop, well, I’m not sure anyone would understand “building a canoe”, and it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate. But, I’ve certainly had my fair share of chances to shout it out from time to time.

Take the typical phone call that asks, “If you’re not real busy right now, I’ve only got a couple of questions I’d like to ask.” Not a problem, nothing is as important as helping the next person in line. Go ahead and ask, but if the questions seem to be from the far side of the lake I might start answering with nautical terms or what size oars I’m carving out. By then, you’ll know I’m probably not following your line of questions too closely.

Let’s face it, I’m just a mechanic. According to some, I’m supposed to have more in common with a Neanderthal than a rocket scientist. Figuratively speaking of course. But, at the same time, I’m supposed to have the solution for any type of problem at a moment’s notice, and know exactly the cost of each and every part from each and every manufacturer cataloged in my brain, and if I can’t answer their question with the answer they expected I must either be a Neanderthal, or I’ve spent way too much time building canoes and not on my chosen profession.

It goes back to the old school of thought that it doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to do this job. I’m not sure where that comes from, or how it ever got started. But, if you’ve watched a few old TV shows from the 50’s and 60’s it’s pretty clear that the portrayal of a mechanic is almost always one of a dopy guy with a greasy rag hanging out of his pocket who couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation with anything beyond a boat oar. That perception has gotta change, these days it takes a highly trained, technically savvy mechanic to diagnose and repair the modern car.

Like many professional mechanics, I don’t spend my time under the hood of a car to answer questions. I’m there to do my job, and that’s fix the car. But, there are those occasions when one of those rubberneckers is leaning over the fender and you know at some point they’re going to ask, “Whatcha doing now?” I seriously want to break out into a long dissertation of how I’ve been building this canoe. It’s probably best I don’t paddle in that direction, as I’d have to explain the canoe thing.

Being so involved in your work is one thing. Being asked questions while you’re working is another. Sometimes it’s not a problem, while other times it throws you so far off you’ve got to regroup your thoughts and start all over again. I’ve often wondered how a psychologist would interpret some of the things I hear at the shop. Maybe I really don’t want know, maybe I’m the crazy one and everyone else is just building their own canoes.

A perfect example was a hot afternoon with several jobs going all at once. The shop was buzzing and everybody was super busy when this guy came to the service counter. “Ya got a second? OK, OK, like… I changed the starter, the battery, and the ignition switch. Then, I changed the window switch, all the relays, and the fuel pump. I was told it could be the power steering pump, so I changed that too, and while I was at it, me and a buddy replaced the heater core. So, so, how much do ya charge to look at my car?”

For me, I prefer the logical approach to answering customer’s questions. That is to answer each and every one of their concerns correctly and professionally. But in this case, which end of the canoe are we talking about? I’m not quite sure what I was really asked. There I am just paddling along (working out in the shop), doing my thing, and when I pull up to the shore line (run up to the service counter) somebody starts telling me about what parts they changed on their car and not necessarily problems I’m capable of solving. Do I ask this guy, “I take it the car doesn’t start?” or do I answer the only question that I actually heard? Is there more than one canoe involved in this story, or have I been paddling on the wrong lake all this time?

By now, I should have a whole fleet of canoes. But, I never ever seem to finish the first one, before I’m swept downstream on another adventure. There’s always another job, another phone call, and another, “Hey, do ya got a second to answer some questions?” Which usually leads to another canoe.
Working on cars, and all this high tech razzle dazzle stuff can be a trying effort, but it’s what mechanics do every day. It’s one of those jobs that seems easy, but in reality, it’s not. It’s something that not everyone is cut out for. It has its rewards as well as its down sides. But for the most part it’s a great career choice and if you’re like me, finding and fixing the problems is what it’s all about. However, I wouldn’t mind building canoes as a career choice either. It’s another one of those jobs where working with your hands is the only way of getting things accomplished, and I’m definitely a hands on type of guy.

We all could use a little more time to just float along and enjoy the gentle current and scenery. You know, take in the big picture for a change, and realize none of us really have it that bad after all. Maybe a little less of that rush-rush and hurry up-stay-on schedule in our lives. Mechanic or canoe builder, every trade has their issues. But, when the day is done, and we have that moment to sit back and forget about the shop or that next car we’ve got to work on, it’s the perfect time to day dream about a leisurely float down a lazy river. So, as you’re sitting there in your easy chair, smiling, taking in that imaginary scenery and somebody comes along and asks, “Whatcha doin’?” just tell them… “I’m building a canoe.” It’ll be our little secret.


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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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