Article

Become the Exception to the Rule

June 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jim Jackson - Also by this author

Five Keys to Hiring Quality Personnel

I’ve traveled to just about every state in this country and visited dozens of dealerships. I’ve worked with dealership owners from Maine to California and everywhere in between. Business attitudes in Tallahassee may differ from those in Seattle, and a sales approach in Los Angeles is probably different than in Chicago. However, the one thing I’ve noticed all dealerships have in common is the weakness of their staff. I always ask the obvious question: Why are you hiring mediocre people?

The answer usually includes an endless stream of excuses and reasons they can’t hire great people. It’s as though a long-winded response justifies (or obscures) poor hiring practices. You can’t find good people and if you do, you can’t keep them! People don’t mind being the president or manager, but no one wants to be the used car salesman. I hear excuses like these regularly. These dealers tend to believe that these justifications are simply “the way it is” in the retail automotive business. After listening to them rant and rave about the poor quality of their own people, I ask each dealer what he or she believes they need to do differently. In other words, how can they and their staff become the exception to this apparent rule?

Dealers usually defend their position because they believe the problem is both real and common, and consequently, their defense is often laced with anger and resentment. I have tried everything. I've tried paying more. I've sent them to workshops. I've stood over them with a stick trying to fire these people up. Sure, they change – for about three days – then they go back to their old behavior of poor quality and poor accountability. I wish it were different. But, there’s a high turnover in this business. There’s nothing I can do about it.

Again, I ask, why don’t you be the exception to the rule?

Those are some pretty convincing excuses, and I’ll bet it wouldn’t be hard to come up with some industry-wide statistics about how turnover in certain dealerships has increased in the last decade, how employees feel less accountable, how things are difficult for everyone, etc. Maybe it isn’t your fault, but does that give you the results you want? You’re either getting the results you want, or you are making excuses for why you're not getting those results. You always have a choice to change.

It’s not about what’s true or even what’s normal for everybody else. It’s never about that. No matter how many statistics you can find to back up a position, there will always be people breaking the pattern, proving the exception to the rule. Why shouldn’t that be you?

Southwest Airlines has a hiring problem also, but theirs is a little different. Actually, it is a lot different. Southwest has hundreds of thousands of people applying for jobs daily; not because of the pay, which is one of the lowest in the industry, but because it is fun and a great place to work. They are the exception to the rule.

If you really want to break the cycle and get results, you’ll have to change your beliefs. And as soon as you do, as soon as you allow for the possibility that things might be different than you previously thought, a whole new world will open up. You might find that if you change the way you're hiring or the way you're coaching people, you won’t hire inadequate people. By being willing to give up your excuses, you shift your focus to what you can do to get different results.

Often, management and leadership are getting exactly what they coach their people into, what they hire into. If they believe it's hard to hire good people, then they will almost always hire bad people without even knowing it. The only time you should be talking about how hard it is to hire good people is when you are talking to your competition down the street. Let him believe how bad things are relative to hiring good people.

Here are five keys to hiring quality personnel that I have found to be true in all businesses that thrive and prosper.

1.  You must hire people who share the same core values. It is very tempting to hire someone who sells 20 cars a month, but has very different work ethics than you. It only seems easier to overlook someone’s lack of ethics or team spirit, especially if that person has a high sales volume. Once you make that compromise, sooner or later you’ll become one of those guys in the parade who sweeps up after the horses.

2.  Hire people you do not need to manage. If you find you are always having to manage people by telling them how to do their job, or worse, actually doing the work for them, then you have the wrong people. The biggest reason dealers keep people like this is they feel it is better to have less than what they need than to have no one at all. If you still feel you have the right staff, then raise your expectations and empower them to exceed your expectations.

3.  Hire the best in the field or those who have the potential of being the best. I learned this lesson in the early 1980s from one of my mentors. He said to hire people better then you, with greater self-esteem. Then, ask them what resources they need to achieve greatness and get out of their way! They will not only tell you what they need; they will take accountability for their performance—good or bad.

4.  Hire people who understand the differences between having a job and holding the responsibility. That is why I like flying Southwest Airlines. They don’t just show up to punch a time clock every day; they show up with purpose. My experience has been that these people genuinely take their jobs personally; it’s their responsibility to make my life wonderful while I am in their care. High-performance people are always on the lookout for ways to go the extra mile in exceeding your expectations as well as those of your customers.

5.  Finally, you need to ask yourself this very important question: If I had it to do all over, would I hire them again? If the answer is no, then re-examine your hiring practices and expectations; maybe a change is in order. I have found that extraordinary leaders know when it is time to make a change and make it. Great leaders know they can always find somebody better because they believe they are the exception to the rule.

You may or may not always get what you want, but you certainly will always get what you expect. If you expect mediocre people working for you, then you will hire to meet your expectations. Great leaders look to hire exceptionally well because they believe everyone wants to work with them.

The problems in the auto industry probably won’t go away any time soon. The statistics might stay the same for years or even get worse! But, no more excuses for you. You can change your beliefs about yourself, your staff and the potential success of your dealership. When that happens, other business leaders will notice and begin asking you for your secret. And you can tell them the truth: We are the exception to the rule; everyone who works here is exceptional.

Vol. 6, Issue 3

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