A common misconception is that you can change your team’s behaviors strictly by changing your dealership’s vision. Here’s an example to explain why that won’t work: a football team going 0-8 halfway through the season isn’t going to improve by announcing a “new vision” to win the rest of their games. The vision sounds great, but what they really need is a changed culture. The same holds true for your dealership.
To be fair, a new vision can enhance, focus and accelerate behaviors for an organization if the culture is strong and aligns with the vision. However, if the culture and vision are not compatible, a vision is merely an intellectual exercise.
Here’s what I see all too often in consulting assignments: A dealership with a culture of entitlement and little accountability casts a stretch-vision to try and shake things up, only to see it fail. Frankly, announcing bold goals in a weak culture can make you look foolish because the culture and vision are an obvious mismatch.
The real key to changing behaviors in your dealership is to first change your culture. After the culture is firmly established in the image you desire, you can credibly create a vision that will evoke emotion from within the culture. This emotion will cause the people there to behave accordingly and rise to a higher performance level in pursuit of the new vision.
Think of your culture as your foundation. Before you can erect any impressive structure, your foundation must be sound and solid. Casting a new vision atop a weak culture is like trying to build a skyscraper from the top-down—a sure recipe for disaster.
Strong cultures must be intentionally created. They don’t just “happen”. Your culture becomes your most valuable, difficult to imitate, asset. Just look at Disney, Southwest Airlines, or Apple—all of whom have cultures that competitors have found impossible to successfully imitate or duplicate. These cultures attract great employees and consistently create positive customer experiences.
In order to intentionally create a strong culture, it’s important to understand that culture is primarily made up of five key components:
1. Core values. These are the behaviors you have designated as non-negotiable. Core values become a filter for who to hire, fire, promote, and serve as a guide to aid team members to know what to do in various situations. Core values are the DNA of your dealership. They make you unique, and while everything around you often changes, your values must remain constant.
2. Performance standards. Performance standards must be created for each job in your dealership. They provide a clear target for team members to strive towards, and provide an essential benchmark for accountability. If your standards are too low, entitlement and mediocrity seeps into your culture. If standards are unclear, team members are prone to hide in a gray area to evade accountability.
Consider how vital the right core values and performance standards are to laying down the foundation of your culture. If your values and standards are weak or absent, your culture is impotent, and any subsequent vision you cast atop that flimsy foundation is destined to become a joke.
3. Your organization’s mission. Your mission is your company’s purpose. It explains why you exist as a dealership. Clearly defining your mission gives you a lens to help you know which behaviors, people, strategies, acquisitions and visions fit in your overall purpose. As basic as it may sound, without articulating a clear purpose for your existence, it’s easy to lose focus and fall for anything because you stand for nothing.
Our own company’s mission statement says: We exist to create the inspiration and resources are clients need to reach their personal and corporate potential—and to always look for opportunities to do something extra for them throughout the process.
This is why we exist and if we’re not doing these things, it wakes us up to the fact that we’ve lost focus and need to regroup. We also believe that by living our mission, we will reach our vision.
4. Your organization’s core competencies. A significant identifying characteristic of your culture is what you are best at as a dealership. What do competitors look to you and say, “I wish we did it as well as they do”? Core competencies are your dealership’s strengths and you must build on them to strengthen your culture and maximize your vision. Some dealerships have core competencies in hiring, used car operations, customer retention, world-class customer service, training, marketing and the like. Core competencies must be identified and prioritized. Then you can allocate your top talent and precious resources in their direction in order to build your dealership’s competitive advantage.
5. Your organization’s people. The previous four culture components should make it much easier to determine who should join, and who has to leave your organization. You must hire and retain team members who are strong cultural fits, not cultural misfits! While a new vision will not alter the behaviors of people in a ho-hum culture, the four previous cultural aspects certainly will accelerate those behaviors. They will also attract high quality people who create a positive peer pressure to perform, pushing performance to an even higher level.
As a leader, you are the primary architect and chief-influencer of your culture. The five cultural components I’ve listed aren’t likely to change much unless you change, or are replaced.
As you begin a new year, don’t try to take shortcuts to success by launching a bold, fancy vision until you’ve laid the groundwork for its success through the deliberate and intentional creation of a supporting culture.
I recall an old school attendee to one of my seminars who declared, “I don’t want to talk about soft stuff like culture. I want to talk about hard numbers.” What he failed to understand is that without the “soft” culture being right, you never get the hard numbers. This is because culture dictates behavior and behaviors determine results. Or to put it in simpler terms, “It’s the culture, stupid!”