The Attraction of Action

A friend says never make vodka statements. That's when you say something is Yet here comes a vodka statement: The biggest inhibitor of organizational change can be a dealership's leader. The leader most often wants his or her store to change, but is unsure how to implement and sustain new methods of conducting business. In our industry, as in most others, we talk constantly of the need to change.

A friend says never make “vodka statements.” That's when you say something is “Absolute.” Yet here comes a vodka statement: The biggest inhibitor of organizational change can be a dealership's leader.

The leader most often wants his or her store to change, but is unsure how to implement and sustain new methods of conducting business.

In our industry, as in most others, we talk constantly of the need to change. Yet few dealerships significant change the way they do business.

Time and energy are expended to make incremental improvements on the tried-and-true methods that have made most dealers financially successful.

But big ideas that shake up the status quo and create discomfort are infrequently implemented in our business. We tweak the past, but overlook the present — and the future.

Why is change so difficult? Pass the shot glass because here comes another vodka statement: If the leader doesn't change, the followers won't.

My company has worked with scores of dealerships to help them recognize emerging customer-centered solutions and develop strategies to implement new processes that optimize customer satisfaction and dealership income.

I have seen repeatedly that the store's leader is the key ingredient in successful “opportunity optimization.”

That can only take place when an organization changes its basic sales or service model. Changes to an existing model must be driven from the top.

But the role of the leader in any change initiative is often mistaken or misunderstood.

Step 1: The Big Idea

The first critical step for the leader in any change initiative is to present the “big idea.” That doesn't sound hard. Most dealers are idea guys. They are always presenting new ideas to their staff on how their departments should be managed. The problem is that this “shot-gunning” of ideas creates confusion as managers try to determine which of the new ideas will actually be followed up on.

Consider how many ideas a leader promotes in a typical year. In most stores it would be at least one every other month. How many actually get implemented and last? Very few. The more big ideas that are pitched to managers, the less likely that they will commit to any of them.

Change doesn't happen without big ideas, but big ideas don't create change. Pick your big ideas carefully. Changing behavior is hard for leaders and followers. It takes planning and commitment. It requires that we change our normal daily routines and replace them with something different. Therefore, the leader must define his or her role in a change initiative before the big idea is ever pitched.

Step 2: Do Something Different

The second critical step is for the leader to do something different. This is the hardest part of changing an organization. Leaders must change their behavior. They must demonstrate new behaviors for significant change to take place.

In most stores the leader sells an idea to managers and, because they are quite used to hearing big ideas from the leader, they do the “obligatory head nod.” Most leaders have seen it many times. The managers' heads nod up and down. But what they are thinking is, “I hear what you're saying; I'm not going to do it.”

This is when almost every initiative stalls. Leaders feel they've done their job: coming up with an idea and supposedly selling it to the management team. Job done. Let the change begin.

Leaders who stop here are delegating change instead of personally driving it. Change can't be delegated. To repeat the vodka statement: If the leader doesn't change, the followers won't.

Let's say the leader finally decides to get serious about holding sales managers accountable for performance tracking. The leader wants to implement a system that accurately measures showroom floor traffic and holds both sales people and managers accountable for logging every prospect that enters the dealership.

What is the role of the leader who is serious about implementing the new system? The leader must do something different. That might mean coming in on a Saturday (rather than golfing or boating) and taking personal charge of running the traffic log on the showroom floor. The leader might also have daily log sheets emailed or delivered to him or her.

This sends a powerful message that the leader is serious about finally implementing the system. It demonstrates commitment to the big idea. Followers will notice.

Step 3: Follow Up

The third critical step in change is for the leader to persist. Effective leaders follow up. Getting information in the Step 2 example above is one thing, acting on it is another.

Whether it is taking the time to make feedback notes on the log sheet or conducting a short daily review with team leaders, a store's sales management team will quickly realize that this time the leader is serious about change.

A powerful method for sustaining new behavior is asking new questions. Those drive new behaviors. A sales manager, for example, may be conditioned to respond in certain ways to questions like, “How did that ad work?” or “How many units did we sell?”

The leader who is driving change must construct new questions that relate specifically to the new desired behaviors.

Using the performance tracking example, new questions might include:

  • “What was our traffic count today?”
  • “I see Jim's team hasn't logged anyone yet. Does that mean there hasn't been any traffic or is he not complying with our new process?”
  • “Whose team has the highest closing ratio this week?”

When the store's followers understand that they are going to be asked new questions that relate to an agreed-upon change initiative, they will focus their energy to provide accurate answers to the new questions.

These new questions are a critical follow-up component in implementing new dealership processes that will create and sustain “opportunity optimization.”

Be Known for Your Actions

Contrary to the expectations of many dealers, coming up with a big idea is rarely enough to create change in their organizations. Real change only comes when leaders are prepared to change their behaviors and make the new behaviors the focus of a new routine.

Successful leaders are known more by their actions.

Mark Rikess of the Rikess Group in Burbank, CA, is a veteran automotive retailing consultant. He's at [email protected]

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