Perusing the Best Root System
When asked, dealers tell me their biggest challenge is “people”; attracting, hiring and staying…the big three. Last month I briefly spoke to the first two so let’s spend some time on the third – staying. One of the biggest problems with this component is most dealers are not doing the things to keep their valued employees so they drift away seeking new opportunities. If you planted an acorn from a large majestic and beautiful oak tree in a 20″ planter the oak tree would only grow as far as the planter would allow it. In other words, you cannot “contain” your employees but instead provide a pathway full of room to learn, be recognized, be promoted, be appreciated and flourish in an environment that encourages personal and team growth.
This all starts with an “on-boarding” process designed to map out the growth path of the new hire. It should outline the first four to six weeks of activities; training, mentoring, encouragement, benchmarks, progress feedback and interviewing frequently to assess the new learner’s aptitude and digestion of the essential job elements.
The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.
– Henry A. Kissinger
Now comes the difficult component – staying. Because it makes good business sense to engage our employees we have to ask, what is the most effective way to make this happen? If we can’t use our benefits program to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and our programs look so similar to everyone else’s, and if we can’t use our pay plan options, then what lever can we pull, what discipline can we institute, what process can we install to beat our competitors at employee engagement?
Try capturing the stories of your best performers in each role. Start by conducting focus groups with performers (sales, management, service, parts and administration) who consistently excel on every, or at least most, performance levels in their position. During these focus groups, listen for stories, vignettes, and detailed examples of why they are so very good at what they do. Record these stories on video, then use them in training classes for the team to see, broadcast them at all-company gatherings, re-cut them for use at job fairs and other recruiting events, on your website’s employment page and where appropriate, insert them into your advertising campaigns. It is not important that your employees are articulate in describing their successes — in fact, the more unrehearsed they appear, the more compelling they will be. What is important is that you capture their “excellence-in-action” vividly and authentically.
This disciplined study of your top performers will serve a number of purposes. First, it will build an understanding of “best practices.” Studying internal best practices has received a good deal of play recently, and right that it has. In the ’90s, many organizations chose to conduct external best practice studies. While some gleaned intelligence from these studies, today, most organizations have redirected their focus internally. They have realized that examples of their own employees excelling are more relevant to their employees than examples skimmed from other organizations. Look for feedback as to why those who excel like working there, what creates their drive to succeed and how are they helping others excel as well. You may just find there are some really strong areas to build upon.
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams
One word of warning as you inquire about your very best for techniques: Be sure to teach the concept underlying the technique, rather than legislating the technique itself. For example, during one store’s internal best practice studies, it discovered that one of its managers had given a whistle to all employees and told them to blow the whistle whenever they saw anyone doing something right.
The concept underpinning this manager’s technique was simply that if he could get his employees to catch small moments of excellence and recognize them in some public way, everyone would soon realize that in this store, excellence wasn’t a rare, dramatic event, but rather was happening at virtually every moment in every corner of the store.
“Every person you meet today is either a demolition site or a construction opportunity.”
Bringing attention to those little things creates big things. If you want to try something like this, I might suggest instead of a whistle a less distracting devise like those little cricket sound clickers.
A less thoughtful company might have legislated whistle usage to every one of its employees and then evaluated them on how often and how loud the whistles were blown. Instead, this company realized that many managers didn’t have the style needed to pull off “the whistle,” and so they chose to teach the concept — “Excellence is everywhere, so help your employees catch it and reflect it back” — rather than the technique. Thus, today if you go into one of this company’s stores in North Carolina, you’ll recognize the concept not in the whistles, but in the howls (in homage to the local college sports team, the North Carolina State Wolf Pack).
Another purpose of studying your best is to create the right heroes in your organization. If you want to understand the culture of Great Britain, look to its heroes, myths, and legends. The bull doggishness of Winston Churchill, the courageous and few R.A.F. pilots of the Battle of Britain, the thousands of small-town fishermen ferrying soldiers away from the beaches of Dunkirk — each of these war stories, retold in countless history books and in classrooms, captures the spirit of “determination in adversity” that the British so prize in themselves.
Any culture whether that of New York, Papua New Guinea, or your organization, is best defined and understood by the people it chooses to put on a pedestal. By studying your best “overall” performers, you will gather the raw material you need to tell the right stories and create the right heroes. I said “overall” because sometimes the big achiever in sales or service is only all out for themselves at any cost. The litmus test is how many people have they helped become their best along the way?
The final purpose is to raise the spirit of your organization. Lest this sound too flimsy, remember that organizations can get depressed and complacent with all of their miseries, just as people can. The best way to depress a person is to force him to keep thinking about his failures, to dig deep into their causes, and to dissect why and how these failures resurface so frequently. Even if your intentions are noble, you will end up characterizing them by their failures. You will make their shortcomings feel familiar and his successes feel remote, until at last you break their spirit.
You can do the same to your organization. You can become such an expert in failures, process inefficiencies, and organizational snafus that with too many of your employees, excellence starts to seem like a practical impossibility. Add this to the usual grating voices of dissatisfaction heard in all organizations, and the spirit of the place will slowly drain away.
To counteract this, help your organization develop expertise in what is going right. Capture the unscripted stories of your best, then build such a loud and disciplined internal campaign that these stories drown out the whining. Show everybody that excellence is possible, real, and doable, and that it is being achieved every day by seemingly ordinary people who work in the store.
Managerial Tip: The mouth can be used either as a weapon or a tool, crushing spirits and relationships or building them up. Sadly, it is easier to destroy than to build up, and most people have received more destructive comments than those that build them up. Every person you meet today is either a demolition site or a construction opportunity. Your words will make a difference. Will they be weapons for destruction or tools for construction?
Does your dealership have people that just don’t get along, or a team that just doesn’t seem to gel? If this is the case, the solution may be found by utilizing the first step of behavioral profiling, awareness. You, as a manager, should implement a behavioral profiling program. Through the utilization of this type of program, each of your employees will learn about their own behavior tendencies, and how their tendencies impact the people they interact with daily. If you have some questions about behavioral identification send me an email.
This will have a greater rippling effect than you would probably imagine because, by in large, most people aren’t aware how much their actions, language choices, and verbal- and non-verbal communications affect how their communications are received. The result of this hit-or-miss interpersonal connectivity prevents a group from totally harmonizing, and creates unnecessary animosity among teammates. Once your people grasp the concept, continue to challenge each person to modify their interpersonal communications to create overall harmony.
For years now I, along with many of you have witnessed managers hiring people well “below” their own talent or class quotient because these new employees do not pose a threat to their authority, position and/or knowledge bank. Therefore, what we end up with is a showroom full of average people doing an average job.
As a consequence, your employee pretends to be busy at the tower surfing on the Internet strategically located so no one can see the screen or barking out commands as to what color balloons need to be placed on the vehicles or realigning the vehicles on the lot (color coded this time) for the fifth time in two weeks or beating up employees so they are spent for the day. Why? Because you have someone on your team who does not have a foggy clue as to what it takes to develop a successful business modeled dealership and is masking that poignant fact by doing stupid stuff. A three-year-old parakeet can desk deals sitting at the proverbial tower all day long while collecting checks on other people’s efforts. It is time for a change!
Leadership management begins with recruiting, so keep in mind that seven out of 10 people currently employed in sales don’t have the talent to perform at a consistently high level. Don’t be fooled by years of experience and a smooth interviewing persona.
Take time to develop talent-revealing interview questions, and keep asking yourself, “How does this person compare to the very best people in and out of our organization?” If you settle for someone with average sales talent, you’re also settling for average performance throughout his or her tenure with your organization. Do you want to be average (a “C” not an “A” or even a “B”)? If it doesn’t matter to you it won’t matter to anyone else either.
You see, I along with others are finding that 80% of the people in this business have been doing this for so long bound at the hip by old paradigms like “that’s the way we have always done it” or “that won’t work here” or delayed action due to: “let’s see how the election, then the inauguration, the then see how the financial markets go, then General Motors.” How about when the moon turns green? It’s like watching cake batter in a bowl and expecting it to magically turn into a cake. Action is required to enhance anything.
There is a new fundamental process that regularly has to become as much of your store’s activity as putting the key in the door of the dealership every day and opening it. The world has changed as we know it and would you want to know the best secret to not just surviving but to give you a tsunami of business? Develop, train, encourage and appreciate your team members and keep them engaged in the business. This will change your entire perspective on your business. It is time to stretch your world and plant deep cultural roots in an ever-growing environment to allow team members to enjoy heightened levels of productivity and engagement. Go ahead, take hold of your dealership and make it better. When it starts to get dark you need to get up and turn on the grow lights.
Author: Chuck Barker
CHUCK BARKER is President & Founder of Impact Marketing & Consulting Group, located in Virginia. He has assisted Dealers & Corporations across the country in Sales & Service Development training programs, Management Leadership Workshops and Business Improvement/Analysis Consulting. He is a pioneer in BDC, CRM, Best Processes and Team Member Development since the early ‘90’s. Chuck has held Automobile, Corporate and International Executive positions for over 27 years. Chuck has been a monthly author/contributor for Dealer Magazine for over 11 years. Email: email@example.com.