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Automotive Service Management Newsletter
Vol 3, No 4, September 2009

Management Sets the Tone Through Tumultuous Times

by Valerie Ziebron


It seems that everyone has had their role and job description changed by these challenging times. What impact has this had at your dealership to the duties of upper management and the dealer principal? What new things have you taken on to help get through tough times and what important roles have fallen through the cracks in the meantime?

One of the greatest or worst things about being in upper management is that everything that you do is AMPLIFIED to your staff. Take a small act like adjusting the thermostat at the dealership. If anyone else in the store were to turn it up a notch, they would likely be seen as prudent. If a dealer is seen ratcheting up the AC, it's "Oh my gosh, did you see the boss getting crazed about the air conditioning? I bet he's worried about paying the utility bill this month! Do you think funds are that tight? Is he going to make payroll?"

It's important to understand that this amplification will work for you or against you. In times like these, it can prove to be a very useful tool that will get your team to band together to pull harder than they ever have or it can wreck havoc. Let's look at common dangerous tones that are affecting some dealerships.

APATHY. In the beginning of the economic downturn you rallied the troops into action to unload inventory or to crank up service sales. But let's face it: How long can you keep up that level of intensity? How many months of reviewing bad financial reports in an all too quiet showroom after nights of watching the evening news and reading financial analysts' reports of many more months ahead before a turnaround - how much more can you take?

So you fall into a rhythm of 'get through each day' that somehow just crept in before you realized it. How can you recognize it? Think about what your job used to entail. What healthy best-practices were once a part of your day to day that have now disappeared from the radar? "We used to do daily sales meetings. Find out what deals were being worked on, what leads were being followed up. Now that just seems a little silly with next to nothing happening in sales," admitted one manager recently. And I know he is not alone.

VICTIM. An even more dangerous role to amplify is that of "victim." Let's take a look at 3 statements and scenarios:
  1. 'It's just so unfair. We made investments in this dealership right before the crash and now that has us upside down. Most of our customers don't have any money because it's hitting everyone from losing work or being afraid of losing work to having the values in their homes and investment portfolios plummet. Things are just plum awful, and there really is not much we can do but ride it out and hope we can keep our doors open.'
After seeing it in print, the first statement really looks dismal. What affect will that one have on the dealership when it is amplified? This is a classic victim mentality, even if everything said is TRUE. Just because it's true doesn't make it helpful.

Choosing to allow 'victim speak' will always put you in a position of weakness. Do you want WEAKNESS amplified at the dealership? "But, hey, I need to vent!" Indeed you do, and by venting you may see the facts more clearly and may be able to make a stronger game plan. The question is, who can you vent to?

Ideally, you have a strong 'inner circle' that you can rely on, bounce ideas off of, or just share. It may be a spouse or someone in a 20 group. Some dealers prefer to keep it closer to the vest and just write down their vent. There, now it's on paper and I can do something useful with that.
  1. 'Well, I am not going to lie or sugarcoat. These have been the most challenging times our dealership has ever seen. We got caught off guard by the recession and the credit crunch, but we changed our tactics and pulled through somehow.'
The 2nd statement might not sound so bad. They are just being truthful, reasonable even. Be aware that what you are looking at there is the wolf in sheep clothing. This one is the "victim" who overcame. One big problem: It is still a "victim!" If that is allowed to amplify to your staff…weakness results.

So how can you tell if any bit of "victim" is leaking out of you? It leaves three distinct clues. Do you blame, justify or complain?

These are the droppings left behind from a "victim." They can also be described as the pain pills used to dull the pain of not having success. Don't get addicted to the pain pills of blame, justification, or complaining. They are quick-forming hard habits to break, and above all they make you and your dealership WEAK.

I heard an interesting story from a man who survived terrible burns over a majority of his body. In the burn unit during his excruciating rehab he got some sobering news. All burn victims are changed for life. Most of them adopt either a victim mentality and use it as a crutch, or a survivor mentality of someone who made it but still allows it to have power over them and define who they are and what level of success they can achieve. These are the majority. A very small few decide to accept this life-changing event as a gift that has reminded them to kick life into high gear and start THRIVING. (I found it interesting that the ones who chose to thrive always go on to be wildly successful.)

  1. 'We have learned a lot in the past two years. I know we are so much smarter than we were before, and we have changed both our short-term and long-term strategies to help us move forward as a stronger dealership. We are excited for the future.'
So it is a choice and the beauty of choice is that we can 're-choose' if the position we took or got sucked into is not serving us well. Imagine the 3rd statement amplified. It comes from a position of strength. It provides empowerment, hope and energy that is amazing to be around and a joy to work in. Creating this strength and amplifying it is the most important role that you play at the dealership. Choose to be that wildly successful minority that uses this gift of crisis to decide to thrive.

© Copyright, 2009, Valerie R Ziebron/J. Daniel Emmanuel, AutomotiveServiceManagement.com

Your can learn more about Valerie and her work here.


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