Finding Your Sales "Oil Leaks" for 2005

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Jan 17, 2005 by Sean Luce

The following is a case study I often use with our consultant stations to identify and assess problems or issues in the sales department. This is a good exercise for January - or any time you want to maximize your department's potential.


You and your team members are flight mechanics at Luce's Flight Mechanic School in Fairhope, AL; the school is affiliated with Continental's factory service center. Your staff has been called to Houston to fix an oil leak with the right engine of a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron.


A small but troubling oil leak has developed in the right engine. The leak amounts to less than a teaspoon per hour, but the oil is seeping into the back of the prop spinner, where it is then sprayed out over the cowling. A tiny amount of engine oil can make a big mess when it gets tossed into the slipstream.

The automatic assumption, by the pilot and the shop mechanics, is that the oil is seeping from the front of the crankshaft seal. As they have seen this problem on another engine, they assume that the crankshaft seal is the source of the leak.There isn't any other likely place for oil to leak from the front of a Continental engine. The shop has already replaced the seal. The job did not require much time, and after a test run on the to keep friction from burning and glazing the rubber. Again, the ground test was fine, but the engine still leaked oil in flight.

Your Job

Using an easel flipchart, list five strategies to find the oil leak. Display a picture of a Beechcraft Baron to illustrate the cowling's location for staff members who are not familiar with airplanes.

Some possible questions: Which areas of the engine would you examine to find the oil leak? How would you break down the engine? What recommendations would you make before the plane flies again?

The Solution

As you inspect the engine, you realize that no real troubleshooting had been done. Because the crankshaft seal was the most likely culprit, no one looked for another source for the leak.

When the mechanics actually looked at the entire engine during a ground run, they found oil seeping around bolts on the spine in the center of the engine. A quick turn with a torque wrench revealed that the bolts had somehow worked loose. With the bolts retorqued, the leak stopped.

The solution was so simple and easy that any mechanic with a torque wrench could have made it. The hard part was identifying the problem.

Although the leak was about onethird of the way back on the engine, the oil was over the front of the engine - not behind the leak. The powerful low-pressure area in a Baron cowling directly behind the spinner sucked the oil forward at least a foot. No oil flowed aft.That scenario is not intuitive: Air comes in the front of the cowling and exits the rear, as one would expect, but the flow changes in the suction behind the spinner.

Another reason no one expected a leak in the spine is that those bolts rarely work loose on a low-time engine. No one knows why this happened, especially since the left engine had remained leak-free.

The Lesson

What caused this entire series of events - and enormous waste - was the short cut taken when the problem was first observed. The physical symptoms were misleading, but they did not cause the misdiagnosis, two wasted seal jobs, the expense of calling in engineers, unnecessary and costly grounding of an expensive aircraft, and enormous distraction from more profitable endeavors.

The central problem was that the decision - makers (the pilot and mechanics) took action based on an assumption. The "logical" actions they took based on the assumption turned out to be wrong. The lesson is that in real life there are no short cuts.We are both victims and beneficiaries of our own experiences.The story illustrates that expert, linear, logical yet intuitive decision-making is simply no match for non-intuitive, process-oriented, objective decision-making. We can avoid costly, unnecessary mistakes by having the
discipline to avoid short-cutting the proper decision-making process.

Consider This

This story is about a Beechcraft Baron twin-engine airplane in which leaking oil splattered over the wing and fuselage behind the cockpit. But what if, after the first quick fix, the oil had splattered across the windscreen in flight, as it could have in a single-engine plane? Potentially catastrophic results can be avoided by up-front discipline. And, sometimes our business decisions can have similarly catastrophic impact if they are wrong.

Finding Your Company's "Oil Leaks"

Divide your staff into groups of two or three.You can do this as a full staff, but you want as many different ideas as possible. Allot 45 minutes for each group to look for the "oil leaks" in your sales department. Remember, this is not a gripe session. Have each team list the three most critical problems and three solutions for each.

As each group makes its presentation, you, the manager, write down the problems that surfaced more than once - along with their solutions - so they can be addressed immediately. As a result of this exercise, your company may adopt such ideas as selling more of firstweek inventory, doing more spec spots, profit-sharing among the entire station, better account management, and selling more annuals.

Using the proper decision-making process to investigate and plug those recurring "oil leaks" will enable you and your staff to reach your 2005 goals.

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