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Managing through the bottle neck (the management bottleneck)

 

During these days of dark economic gloom, many people are feeling down and despondent. That’s why situations like these, call for great leadership and inspirational guidance at all times.

 

This can be difficult to muster and turn on at the best of times, but when business is tough and managers may be feeling a little insecure, uncertain and are worried about low sales and low profits, the pressure can be on enough as it is, without then having to provide pastoral care as well as great strategic leadership.

 

The car industry has called on its managers to perform at ever increasing levels expecting year on year growth in every aspect now for many years. But I think we all know by now that this year (2009) and maybe part of the next are going to provide some stormy waters in uncharted territory for many.

 

In our work as coaches and business care specialists, management or “the ‘M’ word” crops up time and time again as being the area of main focus – why is this?

 

We believe that in looking at this, it’s necessary to ask some fairly uncomfortable questions;

 

—       Does the business have a clear purpose, vision, mission and direction?

—       Has this been shared and communicated with the first line managers?

—       How well equipped are they at communicating this?

—       How good are they at making this live and breathe within the organisation?

—       Do managers get the balance right between task and result orientation?

—       Managers demonstrate an ability to manage the financial KPIs, but what about the behavioural KPIs.

—       Do managers really engage with their staff and encourage great teamwork, high standards and outstanding attitudes?

 

We conducted an exercise recently with a privately owned car dealer group where some basic fundamentals were being missed in the showroom activity – inconsistent levels of sales, poor add-on sales, lack of customer follow-up, little prospecting, no measurement of closing ratios, standards a bit slack.

 

The owner didn’t understand this as in his mind everyone clearly knew what the business was about and where it was going. However, when asking the staff, the answers were alarmingly inconsistent from “I’ve no idea” to “well, it’s just to sell cars isn’t it?” During those staff discussions though, we did discover one big consistency – all the staff desperately wanted to feel as though they are a part of an organisation where everyone rows together.  In the absence of this feeling, people reverted to a more selfish, “I’ll do what I need to do to keep myself going” approach.

 

So, a clear belief (and in fairness documented evidence) that the vision is clear from the top matched with clear desire and commitment coming from the bottom, leaves the question ‘why isn’t it happening?’ Why does this business have a high staff turnover, why is morale not great? The answer, we found was the middle management – the upward and downward communication was ‘stuck’ in a bottle neck (see diagram 1).

 

Now, before we start getting hate mail for this big generalisation, we do know that there are some fantastic managers in the automotive industry – but, it has to be said there are some who struggle too – and this is one such manager we’re referring to here. 

So, why do they struggle? Our first question is ‘how is s/he the best person for the job? Who decided that, when and why?’ our next question and probably the most important is ‘what development has s/he had?’. I’m not talking about going off to the Lake District 5 years ago to build a raft in the cold, I’m talking about real, pragmatic, on-the-job coaching and development on the fundamental day to day issues. And finally, what do we expect of our managers? More and more now, we are seeing that, Sales Managers in particular are finding the job involves more and more admin and less people ‘stuff’ – is this right? Does this create a bit of a management bottle-neck in your business?

 

So, what can you do about it?

 

Give them a structure – outline the vision, purpose and mission of the business – not just to sell cars but “to be the best providers of xyz cars in the town, consistently delivering amazing customer experiences in sales, service, parts etc through teamwork, commitment and dedication” or something like that!

 

Put in some disciplines – yes I said disciplines. Not archaic, Dickensian style strictness, but encouragement of good habits, standards, performance, knowledge and skill development – these make up the outline of the behavioural KPIs – and businesses reading this who are achieving budget, targets and have great morale will recognise those traits within their teams.

 

Work to the process – one of the issues in our case study is that the Aftersales part of the business is so process driven that it leaves the sales department behind – in aspects of performance, staff turnover, morale and so on. There needs to be a consistency of process across the business and one that’s measured too! (But for sales, not just in terms of profit and units, but in terms of standards, skills and knowledge etc)

 

Talk to anyone who works in a business they’d describe as “great” and you’ll hear that the things above are in place – but moreover, this is brought to life by managers who are engaged, engaging, energetic, empathic (a great leadership quality – look at Winston Churchill!).

 

In the main, people need direction, guidance and inspiration and above all to feel part of something important – managers have a critical role to play in achieving this.  

 

 

  1. April 17th, 2013 at 00:19 | #1

    I will appreciate if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing.

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