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The Art of Juggling

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The Art of Juggling
Learn to coach rather than teach, and be the leader your shop needs.

Growing up, I couldn’t spend enough time playing sports. I played soccer all the way through college, and even coached our school’s first women’s soccer team. I had figured out in my college years that my athletic ability had reached its peak, and I wasn’t going to be able to play sports as a profession. I turned my focus to coaching.

So, how did I end up running my family’s collision repair shop? As I went from an internship with a minor league hockey team to working for 3M to even considering purchasing and running a swimming pool business in my hometown, I came to a conclusion: I realized that running a small business had a lot of similarities to coaching a sports team.

Let’s skip ahead, and today, I’m in my 22nd year in the collision repair industry.

Over the years, our company grew and I started to delegate more of the day-to-day tasks to staff. While doing that, I started to realize my position was transforming into the coach of the business. I noticed that I was most effective in making changes in the company when I was coaching. Early on I tried to “teach” instead of coach, and I was not very successful in implementing changes. When I started to rely on the coaching skills I had learned over the years, that’s when I started seeing change stick.  

The difference between teaching and coaching is something I think about all the time when I approach a new idea, concept, or process in our shop. The difference can be best explained by describing the art of learning how to juggle. Let’s imagine you want your entire staff to be able to take three tennis balls and juggle them for one minute without dropping any. First, you give a speech to them on the art of juggling. And then you show them some YouTube videos of famous jugglers. Each night, you send your staff home with articles about the steps to become a juggler.   And every Monday morning, you juggle in front of them showing you have the skill. After all that, you then give each person three tennis balls and ask them to juggle. How many of them do you think will be able to pull it off? My guess is none of them would. After all, we’ve only spent time “teaching” them about juggling up until now.

The art of coaching them on how to juggle would look very differently. I took a juggling class years ago, and occasionally, it comes in handy to put a smile on some kid’s face. Since that class, I have helped many other people learn to juggle; it’s rather easy to accomplish. If I was going to “coach” someone in juggling, the first thing I would do is put one tennis ball in his or her hand and have them start throwing it in an arc from one hand to the other. After they were able to do that consistently, I’d add a second tennis ball to the mix and have them throw the two back and forth to each hand with the same arc shape we practiced earlier. During this exercise there would be times when the two balls crashed into each other and would fall. When that happened, of course, we would both laugh, and I’d help them pick up the two balls and start again. Once we practiced this exercise with just two balls and the student handled it with consistency, it would be time to add the third ball. Almost every time I suggest it’s time to add the third ball, there is always apprehension that it’s too much and too early. Yet, I reassure them that they have what it takes and let’s go for it.  In most cases the person is juggling within 15 minutes from the time of just throwing one ball back and forth. Almost every time, the new juggler is amazed that they are now juggling, and within a half hour, they are so confident they want to show someone else their new skill.  

I believe there is a huge parallel in how we implement change in our industry. We often read articles, talk to other shop operators, watch YouTube videos, attend conferences and listen to speakers on topics (all good ideas by the way.) However, after we do that, we come back to our staff and “teach” them what we’ve learned and then ask them to perform as experts. I learned the hard way that I forgot about the coaching aspect of the new task or process I want them to learn. As I applied the same lessons from juggling, like understanding and smiling at initial mistakes, I saw a transformation in how the staff embraced new ideas here.

A good example is back around 2003 when I was “teaching” my staff about a team approach to repairing a vehicle, moving away from one body tech and one paint tech per vehicle. I was “teaching” and not getting anywhere. In fact, I think my teaching was inspiring our staff to dig in and hold onto the way we had been doing things for years. It left us all frustrated. I then realized I had to start coaching the process.  Getting into the details and going through each step with my teammates.   I was blown away at the positive reactions from the staff and absolutely loved watching them get engaged in the process and start making suggestions on how to improve.   

The coaching aspect has been very rewarding for me and produced results that everyone enjoyed being part of. We all know that change is inevitable, especially at this juncture in our industry, but growth is optional. I believe when we take the approach to coaching our team through change it will make growth more enjoyable and sustainable.  

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