Saturday, October 19, 2019

Survivial of the fittest

November 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Professional people are few and far between – whether you’re fitting a bathroom or farm machinery says Clodhopper.

We are having a new bathroom fitted at the moment – or so I believed until the firm concerned failed to appear and finish the job.

This totally unprofessional approach is all too common these days. But sometimes there are good reasons for people not showing up as expected. And it reminded me of an acquaintance – who became a friend – who was workshop manager for a local tractor firm.

This chap passed away recently. He had the most dreadful luck in life and his world seemed to revolve around hospitals, illness and just plain bad luck. But he always remained upbeat, positive and professional in everything he did. And then he was gone.

First class technician

He became workshop manager almost by accident, starting as a temporary cover until a replacement could be found. But a few years later he was still there and remains the best person I have had the pleasure to come across in that particular position.

So what makes a successful workshop manager? Another firm employed a new chap in the aforementioned role. He was a first class technician but not a people person – and I firmly believe good managers need good communication skills.

While not universally popular, the workshop department now runs like clockwork. So what do farmers want when their main tractor breaks down? A good technician or a people person? I suspect both but farmers will be put off by an abrupt response or lack of understanding.

And that is precisely the challenge. How should your workshop manager satisfy his staff and customers at the same time?

My friend had clear standards. He knew people respond positively to certainty because they do not like too many unscripted surprises. We shared the same view and to this day I remain convinced that the success of his firm was in no small way because of this outlook.

No excuses

The products they sold were – in my biased opnion – first class anyway, which always helps. But he was mostly the first point of contact for farmers and you cannot underestimate his influence on many people’s decision to buy a certain colour of tractor.

He was also trusted. When you asked him a question, he was always honest and open. If he did not know the answer he would say so. There were no exaggerated excuses and no bluffing – just the truth. And despite his undoubted loyalty he would not hold back on any design faults.

My friend was an old-school fitter. He understood engines and liked things kept simple. He was not one for everything electrical but accepted it was progress and this too helped in the sale of many new tractors. He was a successful manager because he was a farmer’s man.

He did not enjoy leadership. Rather he took on responsibility when others would not and that is a difficult thing to do when you work in the space between employees and customers. Managing people for any leader is a skill which needs to be learned and then practised.

Highest standards

To show what I mean, a new man who has come up through the ranks will be friends with most staff. When promoted, staff need to understand he is their new boss and now accountable to his superiors and not so much to his workmates. It’s not an easy position to be in.

My friend detested red tape and paperwork. He understood the need to learn online and study the data but he yearned for the old fashion workshop manual in paper form. Just as tractors are becoming a minefield of electrics alongside modern day life, I believe he would have stepped down from the position had illness not taken him so early.

He was, in short, a complete professional – something all too rare in this age, not just in this industry but in life itself. Few people seem to maintain any sort of standards these days and to question this often brings confrontation and discord.

With major changes to agriculture beckoning over the coming years, let’s hope these standards can be improved without detracting from my old friend’s value. He will be missed and professionals like him we can hardly do without.

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