When starting out in business, most do not naturally look forward to the future and ask, “What do I want my legacy to be, and who will fill my shoes?” Rather, as entrepreneurs, we look at how we can get a business up and running, be profitable, and hopefully live a rewarding lifestyle. It is not until we are looking at what “next” looks like that we start to consider what we want to leave behind. And often, by the time we are looking at what’s “next,” we find ourselves a few steps behind the curve in planning for an effective leadership transition.
Even for those that are ahead of the curve in planning for “what’s next”, there is often a fear of failure. The fear that no one can run the business like you do causes many to get stuck in a rut, creating blinders to untapped resources and obstacles towards development of next generation leaders. Yet today, dealers have exponential opportunity to properly identify and develop their future leaders. To do this, however, you must embrace your vision, build out a leadership transition plan, and position the right leader for success to one-day fill your shoes.
In today’s workplace, we are seeing up to five generations working along-side one another. This is especially true in family and privately owned dealerships. In past generations, leadership transitions may have seemed easier than it does today for a variety of reasons. One reason is that there were less options than Generation X or Millennials have today. Also, specific to family-owned dealerships, it was assumed family members would work-in and one day take over the business. Today, the world is smaller, and back packing to “find yourself” is the norm. Resources and career options are almost endless, and up-and-comers are looking for opportunities that are in alignment with their individual areas of importance. These changes are making the pool of next generation leaders very competitive outside of your dealership.
“The future of your business, both in growth and ensuring it survives multiple generations, means that the focus on successor identification and development is critical.”
Interestingly, today, we are experiencing a dynamic shift that we have not seen since Baby Boomers entered the business scene. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Millennials entering the workforce today, are very similar to the Baby Boomers that were entering forty years ago. Boomers, back then, were the largest population entering the work-force. Recently Pew Research reported a headline stating, “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation.”
One of the biggest similarities between Baby Boomers and Millennials is how the generations approach and think about business. If you are a Boomer, think back to when you entered the workforce and were working your way up to a management or leadership position. You had ideas and differences of opinion on work/life balance from your preceding generation. You believed that you could do things differently and perhaps better than your predecessor. You also had technology that was coming into play, making the workplace more efficient. Now think about the up-and-coming Millennial that may one day be a key leader in the organization or your successor. When you step back and take a deeper look, you can see that both generations come forward with a theme of “thinking-big” and doing things differently. Both generations could be accused of saying, “My boss just does not understand or appreciate how big I think.”
The reality today is that exiting dealers have a difficult time in identifying their successor. They struggle with a fear that the next generation will not be able to carry the dealership forward simply because they think or act differently. However, there is power in respecting and listening to all points of view. In fact, embracing it can truly set you apart from your competition in both recruiting, retention, and even sales.
Identifying future successors of your dealership means specifying the leadership and management skills that are essential to leading your people today and motivating growth for the future. This also means you are looking for your future leader to have a skill-set, experiences, and knowledge base that may be different than yours. This is especially true when it comes to looking at operational processes, reporting, technology, and innovations in the market-place that have changed the way manufacturers and your customers want you to do business.
Embracing that operations are not the same today as they were yesterday better positions your developing leaders for the future. Your future leader needs to not only have the technical skills to run the business, but they also need to have the soft-skills required to lead your business. Simply, a leader that has technical and operational expertise and the leadership skills to motivate and connect people, not only ensures your legacy, but creates a dynamic competitive advantage.
So how do you move beyond potential “next-gen” bias when looking at future leaders and begin to leverage your people’s natural expertise in technology or insight into emerging recruitment and customer needs? It’s a simple recipe:
Recognize that the needs of the future may not be the needs of the past and, in slight contradiction, as much as things change, somethings always stay the same.
Technology is changing the pace, access, and resources for good talent and customers to get what they need when they want it – how will your dealership respond? At the same time, as much as the industry and marketplace may be changing, people fundamentally are looking for the same things from their career: respect, empowerment, growth opportunities.
So simply, take some time and consider what your future leaders need in terms of having a broad and deep understanding of all areas that help sustain your dealership(s). What skills are essential for them to effectively communicate and motivate your people, while also remaining competitive and relevant?
The future of your business, both in growth and ensuring it survives multiple generations, means that the focus on successor identification and development is critical. It means fully embracing the next generation and enabling them with the proper learning and development to lead your dealership into the future. It also means that you should understand the future leaders of your dealership are not that different than you were when you were beginning and looking to lead. As the dealer looking at what’s “next,” if you dedicate appropriate development resources and have the confidence to embrace, trust, and empower the next generation of leaders, not only will you leave behind the legacy of your choosing, but you also set the next generation of dealers up for future success.
Author: Kendall Rawls
Kendall Rawls knows and understands the challenges that impact the success of a family owned business. Her unique perspective comes not only from her educational background; but, more importantly, from her experience as a second-generation family member employee of The Rawls Group. Email: Krawls@dealer-communications.com.