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Guthrie: Teach “Why” Instead of Just Training

Guthrie: Teach “Why” Instead of Just Training
November 14
11:18 2022

“Educate” your employees rather than “train” them, the president of the Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association urged members in his 2022 State of the Industry address.

Many of you that have known me for any length of time know, one of my pet peeves is the word “training!” Allan Guthrie of DXP Enterprises said.  “I believe our industry overuses the word.”

“What are we trying to do when we “train” someone?  Are we presenting them with the performance specifications of a tool, with the hope that they can increase sales?  Teach them the nuances of a business process so they can perform their job more efficiently?” Guthrie asked.

“Why don’t we ‘educate’ them?”  

The difference between “training” and “education” is the “why” Guthrie said. “Why does it matter, why are we doing it this way, why does it impact the customer?”

“If we can explain why the performance specifications of the tool matters and how that could benefit the customer that would probably increase sales,” Guthrie explained. “But, just knowing the torque specs of a drill without knowing why it matters will get you nowhere.”

“Typically, folks will seek out their supervisor or team leader and ask for direction because we trained them just to follow the process and not to think.

“Now if we would have educated them, explained why each step of the process was important and what effect it has on the next, we would have empowered them to make an educated decision,” Guthrie told STAFDA’s 46th convention.

Guthrie said 2022 words replacing pandemic, social distancing, masks and shut-downs are: Supply chain disruption, raw material shortages, high fuel prices, surcharges, rising interest rates, inflation and inventory shortages.

“I think COVID taught us all to become better planners, we’re identifying what our customer’s critical needs are ensuring we have sufficient safety stock, even researching alternate items that could be used as replacements if the need arises,” Guthrie observed.

Especially in the past year, open and honest communication between suppliers and distributors has made it “easier for us to inform our customers, look at other options and stay ahead of potential stock-out situations.”

Guthrie said that comes when suppliers “share the good news (we have it in stock) and the bad (we don’t have a clue when we’ll get it).”  

Another 2022 issue has been price increases. “These increases are coming from raw material providers to the manufacturer, manufacturers to distribution, and distribution to the end user!  We all are trying to keep our pricing updated, keep our customers informed, and not lose any money in the process,” Guthrie said.

“I believe the pandemic has sharpened our business processes, made us better communicators, and if you stayed on top of your orders, brought us all closer to our customers.”

In high school Guthrie attended  a vocational school with a focus on architectural drafting.  

Though accepted in college to study engineering, Guthrie instead found multiple job offers. “Well, being the lazy 17-year-old kid that I was, I decided to make money instead of spending it. I chose Worthington Pump, where I could roll out of bed and be at work in under 30 minutes in lieu of driving over an hour each way in traffic to the other two opportunities.”

“I soon found out, many of the opportunities for advancement were contingent on having that piece of paper that I had passed on,” Guthrie recalled. “So, with a chip on my shoulder and someone always chirping in my ear that I couldn’t do a job because I didn’t have a degree, I set out to prove them all wrong.”

Starting as a draftsman trainee, Guthrie advanced to draftsman, and within five years was running the commercial engineering department. Via night school he got an associate’s degree in business administration.

He jumped on getting one of the first two computers that our company bought and he tore it apart, “to see what makes this thing ‘tick’?”

From there, Guthrie created an engineering systems department and moved away from punch cards to create databases to house metadata on engineering drawings, better known as product data management.

He sought to learn the entire business. 

 “I did everything from taking inventories, purchasing, marketing, writing bills of materials and shop orders, to doing every nasty job in the shop. People saw my desire and passion to learn and they gave me a chance.”

He rose in product data management and was asked to teach in Europe at two company plants in Europe in2000.

“I had finally proved the naysayers wrong; I could do it and by the middle of the year 2000, I was promoted to IT Manager over four manufacturing facilities and 10 distribution centers in North America.

His employer, Centaur, was acquired by DXP Enterprises and I” was kept on as paid consultant for 30 days and asked to find work elsewhere…but it’s 2008, there were no jobs to be had,” Guthrie recalled.

“At the end of my consulting gig, they decided to hire me as an operations manager for the industrial supplies group, and I started all over again. After two years there was an organizational change and Guthrie moved to director of strategic sourcing.

So why tell this story?  “I’m a strong believer that hard work and perseverance pays off in the long run, something I learned watching my Dad rise from a laborer back in the 60’s to becoming the best of the best in his industry,” Guthrie recalled. “Starting his own business in the early 70’s and successfully running it for more than 30 years against all odds.”

“This is something I try to instill in everyone I mentor: Always be available for every opportunity that presents itself no matter if you think it’s relevant or not,” Guthrie finds. “It will separate you from those around you and you’ll get a chance to advance at a much faster rate than those who don’t.”

“Constantly look for peers, supervisors, managers or industry leaders that are willing to ‘show you the ropes’,” Guthrie advised. “The beauty of our industry is there are plenty of folks out there that are more than willing to help if they see passion in your eyes.”

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