Author Archive

Managing through the bottle neck (the management bottleneck)

March 2nd, 2009 1 comment


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.  



February 26th, 2009 No comments

Talk about unclear direction!

Ummm! Tough end to the day today. very unexpected feedback from the group workshop yesterday. They all felt the delivery was good and the style was great and the “join it all up” challenge went down a storm, but the over-riding feeling was that there was a lack of direction and content was too woolly. Poor scores on the “happy sheets” too – which kind of suggests they weren’t happy!

Ummm! Challenging, that, because the conversations with the group leader had helped define the content and subject matter – although with hindsight we both felt the ultimate take away was a bit vague!

Ummm! Interesting too that the instant feedback was great, I got nearly everyone’s business cards and agreement to keep in touch and as per yesterday’s post the list of outcomes and actions is lengthy.

So, reflections then;

Clearly people (those who believe themselves to be leaders) don’t like to be challenged – they’d rather be spoon fed information and allowed to think about how it affects them, then probably go away and do sweet F.A. about it (sorry burst of passion there)

The content and the direction could have been clearer, I agree, and this will be a big learning point for me to work on – however, I will not adopt an old fashioned style of present loads of Powerpoints and then occassionally get people to break out and think about – I can’t help having to use my imagination and create other ways for people to learn / take information.

I do need to drop the “trainer” bit and make less references to the “car trade” – will try hard on that as 25 years will be difficult to leave behind.

I believe that this particular group are still in the “forming” stage of their development, so therefore, my approach and subject matter was just a bit too risky for them at this stage!

With this last point, I wonder whether the group leader actually really understood the requirements of the group?

My over-riding conclusion for me (outside of the potential paranoic, life is crap, negative self-talk) is that my style, approach and messages will challenge and therefore, as a human “hand-grenade” not everyone in the audience is going to like what I have to say. So, in order to move this on and learn from it, I will work on the areas pointed out, I will ensure outcomes are more clearly defined – but I will also pitch and market myself as a challenging, thought provoking, “marmite” style speaker (Marmite being a product you either like or hate – there’s not much middle ground) – Works for me!!

As Corporal Jones used to say in the great British comedy “Dad’s Army” ‘they don’t like it up ’em!’

You can’t create change by other’s actions, so if you don’t want to take responsibility for change yourself – you probably won’t like what I have to say.

February 25th, 2009 No comments

Even business leaders need to take time out – work on the business, not in it!

I was invited to run a workshop today with a bunch of business leaders. I didn’t want to just talk to them, and besides it was a workshop not a keynote! So, thinking about the issues that the current downturn can bring up about leadership, I set about creating a workshop based around my “Death of a Car Salesman” theme – in other words, how to manage the changing face of your customers’ requirements. After all, change is not necessary – survival isn’t mandatory!!

Thought I’d share with you a selection of the “take aways” or actions that the leaders committed too or got from the workshop –

  • Have more empathy, don’t be so stuffy (re Facebook and email etiquette)
  • Consider needs of future employees (I call them the ipod generation)
  • Focus on people not task
  • Revisit the habits of new people
  • “Are my communications clear – do I need to remind people?”
  • Balance proactive with reactive
  • Balance people management and account management
  • “I may have assumed they understood, when perhaps they didn’t – I need to check now!”
  • Use the HR matrix
  • Give clearer instructions
  • Work on attitudes – invest time in them.
  • Have Development plans
  • Be more tollerant
  • Describe the “picture” a bit more – (this will make sense to those who’ve been on my workshop).

Wow – what a bunch of true leaders! Total respect.

What’s the bloody point? Dis-jointed management

February 23rd, 2009 No comments

Why do so many organisations have this “management bottleneck” where they seem incapable of joining it all up? Their processes are poor, their people are not engaged, their performance is weak and when you ask ‘what’s the purpose of the business?’ you get varied and mis-aligned replies?

At the top of the organisation is a founder, owner or CEO who believes in their own mind that everything is well. At the bottom of the organisation is a team of people who feel differently. They’re like loose cannons, rudderless ships and any other analogies you can think of for people who’ve lost their way. In short, no-one has defined the direction let alone the journey so people use their initiative and make it up – aaarrrgh!!! Frustration Ahead!!

When people are left to make it up they’ll feel unloved, unwanted, unmotivated, uninspired. Or they may just go along with a ‘we’ll do it in spite of them’ attitude – either way disaster is not far away! At the very least it’ll be in low morale and a bad reputation as an employer at worst it’ll be HR issues, long term sick absence, high attrition and plummeting performance – none of which is great in this current climate!

With so much doom and gloom about, many people will be affected directly or indirectly (people they know) by the recession, so many will begin to question thier purpose, meaning and role – especially if they feel insecure, unstable, threatened etc.

So, at this time, it’s more important than ever that people are lead positively, purposefully, inspirationally – if you’re a CEO, take a look at your business and ask some questions, if you’re a manager question your own skillsets and get the development you need. Re-evaluate your business approach and as you define yourself in the downturn, involve your people, give them a purpose and you may just protect your performance!

February 13th, 2009 No comments

There’s nothing more motivating as a facilitator, trainer or consultant than working with a great group of people who really want to change and bring about results in their business.

We lined up a really innovative event involving things they would never have guessed. Wanting to get them out of their office environment, with all the distractions and the “same old, same old” everyday feel of being at work, we took them to Cook’s Barn in Cambridge for an event whereby much work was done, but the evening was spent in the masterchef kitchen where everyone mucked in and cooked a fabulous meal for all!

The purpose of the event was to take the latest Competition Commission report on PPI (yawwwwnn!) and turn it into a short, high impact presentation to take out to their clients.

There was a need to do a little team-building as everyone is so busy, and with the current economic downturn they are fighting fires and dealing with problems for their own clients and subsequently could feel quite lonely and isolated.

So, taking them away from their office, facilitating a structure meeting, cooking their own dinner, eating together, an after dinner speaker (Ian McKendrick – Creating Killer Presentations) followed by a second day where everyone got stuck in to create a highly effective presentation, has resulted in an amazing set of outcomes.

Result – motivated, inspired, enthused individuals within a high impact team ready to proactively present to their clients and blow them away! Oh and one very happy facilitator too.

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