Coffee, Anyone?

In my travels and visits with the service leaders in our company, I've come across a few who provide a regular forum for their employees to exchange ideas, reinforce best practices or even work through new procedures. It is something you may already do for administrative reasons: the morning meeting.

In most cases, this is a weekly "staff meeting" that is already regularly scheduled for discussing administrative issues. Many fleet service leaders are also using this time for what they call a "technical training blitz." Dedicating one or two of the meetings per month to technical issues is proving to have long-term benefits when technicians encounter those hard-to-find or hard-to-fix problems.

There can be multiple purposes for these sessions:

New Models or New Information--If you've recently received a new product, spend some time discussing new or unfamiliar components and systems. If service publications, schematics or diagnostic software programs have been updated, present and list the key "what's new" items. Gather around the vehicle or computer, and walk through the steps as much as possible. Any OSHA or other regulatory changes would also fall into the "new information" category.

Sharing Best Practices--Having a successful fleet maintenance department takes teamwork. If a top technician was the first to attempt a test procedure or repair on the unit, give him or her time to discuss the challenges faced. If a diagnostic concern was solved, have the technician walk through the steps and provide ultimate solution to a diagnostic problem. If the problem was not fully resolved or is recurring, brainstorm ideas that may help you resolve it as a team.

Retention--If there are no hot issues for a particular morning seminar, use the time to reinforce some topics from live training someone recently attended or from previous morning sessions. Keeping basic concepts, tips and tricks fresh in the technician's mind is never a waste of time.

While a portion of the meeting can be informal discussions, the more elements that are prepared in advance, the better. At the very least, have a basic agenda and objectives ready for each session. The time spent in meetings is valuable, and the meeting will be more effective if everyone knows what to expect.

When possible, prepare a precise and persuasive opening message (three minutes or less) that generates interest (especially if the meetings really are the first thing in the morning!). Logically structure the session, so that the time is used effectively. Make time for individual concerns to be brought to the floor. Document any unanswered questions, so that you or an assigned technician can research the answers for a future session. Close the meeting with goals and "homework" that allow each individual to contribute to the success of your shop.

The training meetings don't always have to be 100 percent internal. If you have a larger fleet, there may be experts in the company whom you can occasionally invite to participate via phone or Web conferencing. You may also want to do the same with a product, component, tool or technical support representative from a manufacturer. If a technical support person or internal company representative makes regular visits to your shop, plan an occasional meeting around the visit.

Training isn't just something to do in the classroom. And on-the-job training should be more than just learning things through trial and error. Take advantage of your regularly scheduled meeting time to increase your technicians' knowledge and productivity.