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Tag Archive: Training

Brandiss Drummer

Why I Still Believe in Santa Claus

Santa Claus driving a car

I’m pretty sure I may be one of the last few adults on earth who still believes in Santa Claus.  Now don’t get me wrong—it’s been years since I had the unfortunate epiphany that this Santa guy just wasn’t logically adding up. (I mean, really, why would Santa hide my gifts a week before Christmas in my parent’s closet? And why did my parents always think it’s so funny when Santa leaves out a now-empty bottle of my mom’s favorite wine?)

Trust me, when I say I believe in Santa, I haven’t gone half-crazy. I realize, as much as I hate to admit it, that an actual person named Santa doesn’t really exist. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in the idea of Santa Claus.

Santa means looking beyond the everyday

As adults, we are so trained to look at things in black and white: How does x produce y? What are the facts that support this conclusion? How much money did this make me? I realize this type of thinking is critical, particularly in the business world where you can’t just operate off your gut. However, sometimes this kind of thinking limits us. There are so many things that impact us which can’t be directly calculated or measured. As the Director of Education at NCM, I often observe that people will forgo training because they can’t directly put their finger on how this will ultimately benefit them. But not believing in something, simply because you can’t see it, is frequently short-sighted.

Here are a few reasons why I still believe in Santa Claus and how this translates to why I believe in training (and why you should too!):

1. Intangible things can have very tangible results. 

Santa Claus might be an abstract concept, but he has very real effects. For example, the idea of Good Ole St. Nick is what inspires many of the gift purchases during this holiday season, which will account for $655.8 billion in sales, according to the National Retail Federation. In addition, the act of giving can have psychological effects. According to an article by Elizabeth Dun in Science, spending money on other people is correlated with greater happiness. It doesn’t matter whether or not Santa himself is real; what matters is that I believe he functions and impacts us in a very real way.

Santa is similar to training. Although it’s difficult to make a direct and immediate connection between training expenditures and business outcomes, we know it produces long-term results. According to a study by ATD, firms above the 50th percentile in training costs had a total stockholder return that was 45% higher than the market average. In addition, organizations with a strong training culture are 52% more productive and 17% more profitable than their peers. The point is, while you may not be able to specifically forecast how any one training investment affects your bottom line, you can rest assured that the result will be tangible.

2. Belief is motivating.

Every year, Santa inspires people through their beliefs. For kids, often just the idea of Santa checking his list twice is enough to make them straighten up their behavior for a little while. And parents are motivated by their kid’s belief in Santa as well. What else would make them stand in line for hours just to get their kid’s picture taken with Santa? Or wake up in the middle of the night just to move the Elf on the Shelf? Believing in the joy of Santa is enough to go the extra mile for kid and parent alike.

The same is true with your employees. Have you ever had someone believe in you? Wanting to live up to what others see in you is a huge motivating factor for most people. In the same way, showing your employees you believe in them by investing in their professional development can be an additional motivation for them to produce results at your organization. One of the ways it does this is by building loyalty. According to a workplace study by APA, employees who had excellent training programs were three times less likely to want to leave their job compared to those with poor training programs.  In addition, investing in employees gives them confidence that they have an opportunity to grow with you, which was ranked the #1 and #2 priority for workers up to age 35. Even if you can’t promote an employee, by investing in their career, you demonstrate that their growth is important to you. Often, “when top performers leave a company, the most popular comment they make is ‘I just didn’t see the right opportunities here.’” Make sure your employees know that you believe in their success and you will be surprised by how this motivates them to exceed your expectations.

3. Belief unites us in a common goal.  

St. Nicholas, the man who is believed to have inspired the figure Santa Claus, was known for giving gifts to people in need. The belief in this act of giving is what joins people of many different cultures and backgrounds together today. Millions of people across the world continue to perpetuate the fantasy of Santa Claus because they are united in the virtue of giving and the joy that it brings.

Training does the same thing for corporations. It aligns employees and managers behind common goals and, more importantly, a shared understanding of the roadmap to achieve those goals. The purpose of training is to get your people to understand and believe in a vision and the steps that must be carried out to get there. The reality is, none of us can do everything ourselves, and so we rely on our employees and our co-workers to realize our ambitions. If they don’t believe in the same things you do, how can you expect them to carry out your plans effectively? I encourage you to ask yourself, do the people who you manage and who work alongside you believe in the same goals and processes as you? If not, how beneficial might it be to establish a training program that allows everyone to truly understand and buy into the “how” and “why?”

I hope you have come to see that my belief in Santa isn’t so crazy after all. No, I don’t believe that an old, bearded, round fellow is going to come through my chimney in a few weeks, but I do believe that just because I won’t see him doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have very real implications for my life. Hopefully, in 2017, you will take a similar leap of faith with training, and realize that while you can’t quantify it, there are real benefits to having a training program in place for yourself and your people. And maybe, if you’re really good, Santa will leave a couple of extra presents under the tree for you this year!

Give your entire dealership the gift of training this holiday season with an annual subscription to the NCM Institute.

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Steve Emery

Get the Most from Your Managers’ Meetings

Business presentation on corporate meeting.

Most managers view meetings as something akin to visiting the dentist. They are time away from “work,” and can range from boring to painful. If canceling a managers’ meeting truly pumps up your staff, perhaps it’s time to look at ways you can make them something to look forward to.

Meet for the right reason

Let’s start with this question: When should you have all your managers gathered in a group meeting?  Some dealerships hold mandatory daily meetings; others hold them only when the dealer feels it is necessary.  Information that could be better distributed by email should be.

Here’s a short list of reasons you might need face-to-face time from all managers:

  • An important announcement (We are buying another dealership.)
  • To solve a problem (Should we change DMS systems?)
  • To discuss a business opportunity (How do we sell more used cars?)
  • Training to be better managers (How to develop a business plan?)

Pick a convenient time

First thing in the morning may be convenient for the dealer and sales staff, but it’s the busiest time for service. I’ve found that meeting during lunch typically has the least impact on all parts of the business. Plus, breaking bread can lighten the mood!

One drawback with a group meeting is that some managers’ time is wasted listening to other departments’ unrelated issues, while other managers get far less time than is needed to resolve challenges. To solve this, try alternating weekly group meetings with individual manager one-on-ones.

For example, say all managers meet on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. On the second and fourth weeks of the month, the dealer can meet with individual department managers on a schedule:

Monday – New

Tuesday – Used

Wednesday – Service

Thursday – Parts

Friday – Office

Make good use of your time

Now that we have a more effective schedule, let’s take a look at a more efficient agenda.

Most managers’ meetings have no agenda at all, which is like driving without a destination. And when there is an agenda, it is typically a review of the numbers—which is like driving by only looking in the rear-view mirror. Your agenda should prompt the management team to take action based on the business situation.

Here are some key items to consider:

Asset Review. If you don’t manage the assets, they turn into expenses and frozen cash.  Review each manager’s aged inventories and receivables. What is each manager’s action plan to purchase faster-turning inventory and turn receivables into cash faster?

Sales Process. Do you have an active process to maximize the revenue from each sales opportunity? What is the action plan for increasing sales and the gross on those sales?

Advertising. Is your advertising effective in attracting new customers and retaining existing customers? What is the action plan for creating more customers at lower expense?

Personnel. Who are the top and bottom performers? What is the action plan to increase gross per employee?

Expenses. To whom are you writing checks? What is the action plan for reducing expenses?

By balancing the agenda of the group and your one-on-one meetings, you can maximize effectiveness. Focusing your managers on where you want to go—rather than on where you have been—should give you and your management team something to look forward to.

Tell us below how you manage meetings? Learn more about Steve Emery and how he and his NCM colleagues can help your dealership through 20 Groups and in-dealership consulting.

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Kory Suppes

NADA Recap: Bringing Innovation to Vegas

NCM Associates had a fantastic time in Las Vegas last week. As a member of NCM’s marketing team, I flew into the convention early and had a chance to explore. I wanted to share my photos with you.

Continuing our Tradition of Innovation


This is a photo of our booth’s construction, taken a few days before NADA started. I flew into Vegas on Monday morning to supervise the arrival of all our materials—culminating months of planning!

A few days later, other team members from our home office in Kansas City arrived on site to make sure every bit of the 1200 sq. ft. structure was perfect; our largest booth ever! It was quite a job, but well worth the work to give you a chance to learn about the exciting new products NCM is bringing to market.


This year, in between the acrobatic madness storming through the aisles, booth attendees experienced sessions led by the NCM partners responsible for creating some of the most innovative software in the industry.

Above, Intelligent Dealer’s Frank Sheets answers questions about our newest product, NCM LiveAudit®. Next to him, NCM’s Director of Software Solutions Steven Banks listens intently.

Partnering with Ultimaker


Demos included latest products and services, such as axcessa and LiveAudit. NCM experts were also on hand to share the best practices of our most profitable clients.

With more than thirty demos scheduled, attendees experienced firsthand some of the advancements NCM is spearheading for the industry. And, they also walked away with one of our inventive booth giveaways, a 3D-printed car or business card holder.

Did you get a chance to watch the printers in action? If not, here’s a quick video showing the process.

Breaking it down

I enjoyed my time at NADA. Even with all the buzz, I found time to listen to attendees’ great success stories and how they began their career in the auto industry.

It’s thrilling to attend the go-to event for everyone in the auto industry. The three-day event featuring booths bigger than they have ever been, jumbo LED screens and more tchotchkes for your kids than could fit in your carryon. (Or, for yourself: no judgement here.) What’s not to love?


A big “Thank you!” to everyone who attended and stopped by our booth. We look forward to seeing everyone in New Orleans next January 26-29.

If you didn’t find the time to stop by our booth during the hustle and bustle of the convention and would like to learn more about NCM, drop us a line at or visit


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Chris Kahrs

Don’t Lose Your Best: Employee Retention Starts Day One


I read something shocking the other day.

According to Forbes, the average annual raise an employee can expect is 3%. But our high inflation rate means that’s really about 1%.

But, if a top employee chooses to jump ship? They can expect anywhere from a 10 to 20% bump in salary. Sometimes as much as 50%.

FIFTY PERCENT? That’s a lot of money. No wonder employee turnover can be so bad!

Money is a motivator, but not the only one

What?! I know you’re thinking. I can’t afford to give a 20% raise each year, no matter how great an employee he is!

I get it. But the fact is that top talent is leaving every day and, unless you do something to stop it, you are likely to see your best people walk out the door.

Fortunately for us, people are motivated by more than money. The Pride Staff 2015 Employee Retention Survey reports that 17.5% of interview job seekers were looking for more money. But nearly as many – 16.2% – were looking to leave because they didn’t like the company culture or wanted more training! That’s means we have an opportunity to fix things.

Good retention starts Day One

When you have a great company culture, top talent will be willing to invest in you. I recommend that you establish your company culture early, starting with a solid onboarding process.

Here’s my 10-Step Onboarding Process:

  1. Before the first day, tell them who to ask for when they arrive. Ideally, have this be someone involved in the hiring process. A familiar face upon walking in the dealership is very welcoming!
  2. In that same conversation, tell them where to park so they aren’t embarrassed by being asked to move their vehicle on the first day.
  3. Email—or leave on their desk – their first month schedule. Include details about meetings and list a goal for each day.
  4. Prior to the new employee’s start date, tell the entire organization to expect them and encourage them to say hello.
  5. Clean and prep their work station before their arrival. Do they have all of the tools necessary? Does everything work? Make sure everything is in order.
  6. Have their paperwork packet ready when they arrive. Most, if not all, new hires know there is important paperwork to sign. This shows the new hire you’re prepared and value their time.
  7. Prepare all needed log-ins and passwords and set up their voicemail. (This helps you, too. Remember: This new employee has told several people where he is working and he/she may get calls on day #1. No voicemail = potential lost opportunities!)
  8. Give them a thorough tour of the facility when they arrive, and introduce them to the staff.
  9. Clarify the schedule for the first week and month. Review the expectations of the employee in their new role.
  10. Explain your organization’s goals and future outlook and how he or she fits into them.

Retention matters … every single day

You can’t forget about retention once that new employee is settled in. If anything, it’s more important than ever!

Show your staff that you’re willing to invest in them with training and career development. Not only will it improve their performance, but it will give them another reason to stay with your business.

My last recommendation is to keep your eye on the ever-changing market. Make sure you stay up-to-date with current employment and benefit trends, so you attract – and retain – the best staff for your business. Review your procedures, such as the onboarding process I outline above, with your management and make sure they are following it.

Remember: The better your company culture, the more likely you are to keep your best talent!

Have a great retention tool at your business? Comment below and share your expertise.

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Robin Cunningham

What Does a General Sales Manager Do Really?


At the NCM Institute we conduct our Principles of General Sales Management I & II classes about every other month. They are often two of our most attended classes, so there’s lots of energy, and we are working with Variable Managers who have had some years of success in order to have claimed the title of General Sales Manager.

Often, even before introductions, I will ask the class something like: So exactly what is a General Sales Manager? Is it someone who has more experience than the other Sales Managers? Or someone who can cover for the Used Vehicle Manager or F&I Manager on their days off?

We get a lot of looks like: Is this a trick question? Or is there something else we are missing? It for sure depends on the size of the store. In some bigger stores the GSM might very well have had success at the New Vehicle, Used Vehicle, and F&I Management levels; and he or she is in a position to oversee the other Variable Managers. In smaller or medium sized stores the GSM may not have had that same breadth of experience. Or in the case of Used Vehicle Department, they may not have had much experience managing the used vehicle challenges in the Internet era, where everything has changed.

We find there is very little commonality in what a General Sales Manager is and exactly what they are responsible for. So we tell our students that the way the NCM Institute approaches this is that they are the “General Managers of Variable Operations.” That sure sounds like a cool title to have, but what exactly does that mean?

As with every class we teach we start with the discussion of Accountability Management & Leadership. This takes most of the first morning, especially since we are now talking about individuals who will be leading, coaching and managing every aspect of Variable Operations.

Within Accountability Management we refer to the Six Primary Elements of Accountability, and they are:

  1. Planning your work and working your plan
  2. Clearly defining and communicating your expectations
  3. Inspecting what you expect
  4. Measuring what you intend to manage
  5. Rewarding positive results and responding to negative results
  6. Developing and implementing a systemic structure

By this point in time, most of these managers realize they are in for a very different experience than they had anticipated. We then dive into their numbers using the NCM 20 Group Composite and Profit Trend Analysis tools. We start looking at New and Used Vehicle retail unit sales, year over year; per vehicle retail gross, year over year; total New and Used gross, year over year; net F&I income, year over year.  Then we look at several expense categories like: Advertising, Selling Expenses, and Employment Expenses, year over year. How are we trending? Do we know? What are our strategies, based on the knowledge we do have?

After the Financial Management discussion (which we often call “A Punch in the Nose”), we circle back to a full discussion of the second Element of Accountability Management: Clearly Defining and Communicating Your Expectations.

We start this discussion by asking if any of the students’ dealerships has a current organizational chart in use; written job descriptions and objectives; and are any of the processes they use, like the Road to a Sale, in writing? We get them to reflect on just what tools they really have in place to lead, coach, train and manage with. By this point they realize we have huge upside opportunity for improvement and we still haven’t actually begun to talk about what they thought they came to us to learn.

Then we move into the discussion of Opportunity Management and Prospecting. We begin breaking down the sources of all of the Opportunities to do Business. We agree there are four sources:

  1. The walk-in customer
  2. The in-bound phone call
  3. The in-bound internet lead
  4. The salesperson self-generated lead (be-backs, repeat/referral, circle of influence, etc.)

We show them how each category has its own closing ratio and per vehicle income opportunity. We spend a couple of hours showing them how they can help their people focus more on the self-generated leads, which close at 50%, so they can start weaning them off the dealership-generated leads that most salespeople (and sale managers) count on for most of their sales.

Then we get into the discussion of Recruiting and Orientation which elicits some really great conversation. Then we spend a lot of time discussing Training Disciplines and Techniques. Because most of the managers in our GSM class have had quite a bit of experience, the level of interactive discussion amongst themselves, is the most we have in any of our NCM Institute classes. And we know from the evaluations from our students that they value the content of these in-class discussions as much as everything we bring to their attention.

We then wrap up the class with the (much-needed by this point) discussion of Time Management. They are wondering how in the world they are going to be able to fit all of these new, critically important ideas and processes into their daily, weekly and monthly schedules. They come away knowing it’s all very doable, if they make the commitment to begin mastering Accountability Management. They have written a number of Guarantee of Action Plans that will be sent back to their GM or Dealer to begin the buy-in and then implementation process. They can clearly see how they and all the other Variable Operations team mates they lead, can become increasingly more productive and profitable.


Click here for information on all NCM Institute classes.

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Richard Head

Is Story Time Causing Your Dealership Turnover? FIRO and MBWA Can Stop It

open boo

One of the biggest expenses dealerships face each year is turnover. Not only does finding a new employee take a lot of time and money, but you then have to reinvest in proper training to get that new person up to speed.

I’ve found that dealerships – like many other complex work environments – are negatively impacted by assumptions, something I like to call “story time.” Before I go into the details of how story time ruins your employer-employee relationships and leads to turnover, let’s take a second to review what motivates people in the first place.

Motivation in action: FIRO

Developed by observing well-oiled, capable teams working in high-stress situations, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation (FIRO) approach boils people’s fundamental behavior down to three desires:

Inclusion.  Everyone expresses or wants contact with others—to be around others and work with others.

Control. Everyone expresses or wants influence over things and people.

Openness. Everyone expresses or wants to be known, seen, appreciated—a curiosity about others and a willingness to be seen ourselves.

This chart shows how each area relates to the others:

Blog graphic

For managers who typically can’t create a team from scratch based on compatibility, we have to focus on the thing we can change. Will Schutz – the psychologist who invented the FIRO method – says that creating an environment that encourages openness is the best method. And openness is what story time is all about.

It’s story time

First, let’s address openness. I’m not talking about some touchy-feely “new-age” thing. Instead, “openness” means a willingness to consider other interpretations of behavior.

Whenever something happens to us, we almost always make up a story about it. Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t make the effort to check out our made-up story. We simply create this fantasy world about what’s going on. As time goes on, those stories get hairier and stranger.

Just think about the last time you were baffled by something your boss said. You probably found yourself thinking, “I bet they’re irritated with me,” or “They probably think that ….” In reality, you just don’t know what’s happening with your boss. But your brain doesn’t like uncertainty, so it’s compelled to make up a story that gives you some understanding. And our people do the same about us!

Story time has a huge impact on businesses. Dealerships (and all businesses) are composed of multiple, competing stories about what’s going on and why—stories that are rarely discussed openly and almost never examined in a way that could prove or disprove the stories. Left to run unchecked, story time can give your best performers misinformation, and lead them to walk out the door.

Putting story time to bed.

In work relationships, we have two choices:

  • Let people make up stories about what is going on with us
  • Tell people what’s actually going on, so that they stop making up their own stories

As a leader, you set the tone.

When you stay holed up in your office, I can guarantee that your staff is making up stories trying to understand your decisions.

“Management By Wandering Around” (MBWA) is a great way to stop story time in its tracks. And, what better way to interact with the dealership?!

When I get out into the departments, I share with my staff what’s going on in the department, what’s keeping me up at night … and, critically important, what my hopes and dreams are for the dealership and the department. As an added bonus, the employees relax a bit and tell me things they might not in more formal situations. Everybody wins! And everyone stops inventing stories.

Give it a try in your dealerships. Manage by “wandering around” and find out what’s really going on. Stop the stories and deal with facts! What do you have to lose?

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Dustin Kerr

Are you insane, hard-headed or just lazy?


Insane. Hard-headed. Lazy. When it comes to the car business, I’ve probably fit into each of these categories at one time or another. And—just between you and me—I’ve definitely ticked all three boxes on a few occasions!  If you’re honest with yourself, you probably have, too.

And before you get mad: I can explain!

Old habits are hard to break …

How often do you find yourself trying to fix things by doing the same stuff you’ve done since starting in the business?

I know I have. And I do it even though I agree with Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It’s the same problem with being hard-headed. Did you or do you still fight against change in your own dealership? Were you one of the people that kept saying this “internet thing” won’t ever catch on in the car business? Or that the internet will make it impossible for us to make a profit?

What about laziness? Do you want to train your staff, but find yourself procrastinating on seeing the process through?

… but you CAN beat them!

Here’s the thing. It’s not the end of the world if you fall into one—or more—of these categories. But you can’t let them rule you. Take a hard, honest look at yourself and your habits, then make the necessary adjustments.

Why do I bring these things up?

Well, I’ve realized there’s a common theme between poor performers: They want quick fixes.

First, let me just say that there’s no issue with wanting to solve a problem fast! Dealerships need to be swift and flexible when course correcting. But, there’s a big difference between immediate action and slapping a Band-Aid on a problem.

Quick fixes aren’t always best fixes

Unfortunately, many of the struggling dealerships I’ve seen want quick “Band-Aid” fixes.  When things are bad, they focus on seeing results improve. And demand that they improve fast! Excellent performers, though, focus on activities. They know that investment in training and examining and changing processes—while slower—will yield improved results that can be sustained.

Unless you’re strategic, quick fixes are just those bad habits acting to undermine your business. I mean, it’s easy to just fire your staff. (Ahem: laziness.) Or demand that they produce a certain number of car sales per month. (Hard-headedness and a smidge of insanity.)

Without changing what your dealership does—and how your staff handle their work—you shouldn’t expect anything different. Unless you’re crazy. And, we both know you aren’t crazy.

So, what should a successful dealer do? In my opinion, one of the quickest ways for us to increase profitability is by teaching our employees how to properly manage the activities that lead to results.

Make changes to things you and your staff can control. And be sure to clearly communicate goals associated with the change. For instance, it’s fairly easy to manage the number of confirmed appointments each salesperson has each day or the number of customer pay service vehicles that get a full walk around inspection.

There’s nothing crazy about that plan.

Do you agree with Dustin? Have business bad habits affected your ability to get the best results? Tell us what you think below. 


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Robin Cunningham

Have You Put in Your 10,000 Hours?

Businessman pointing at his wristwatch.

I don’t know about you, but I read a lot of books.

Recently, I was covering for Steve Hall, who had to leave town on business at the end of one of his classes. The class had just started taking their exam. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I didn’t have anything do for 45 minutes. We have several bookcases at NCM, and one of those is right outside the classroom. So, I walked over to it to see if I could find something interesting to read to keep me occupied while the class finished their evaluations and final exam.

I started scanning the books to see which title or author might jump out at me and I noticed several Malcolm Gladwell books. For some reason, I picked up Outliers: The Story of Success and began reading. An outlier, by definition, is a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.

As the title suggests, it includes many “stories of success.” There are many stories of success in the retail automotive business. I think, though, that there are more stories of failure.

In many of my classes, I do a little exercise. I ask everyone to go back to their first car sales position and remember all the people who were on that staff or started at a similar time. I ask them where those people might be right now. When they think about it, they all agree that most of them are no longer in the business at all. It’s not that they are all at other dealerships; they must be in some other job or career. They then agree that they (including me) are the lucky few. We somehow liked the car business enough and were good enough that here we are all these years later, still in the business and trying to get better at it.

The book, Outliers, has many amazing stories about success in a number of different fields that have no connection to each other. The common denominator in each story, though, was each individual’s or group’s experience in getting in their 10,000 hours of practice time, in order to become phenomenally successful.

The first stories of success come from the world of violin players. They were broken up into three groups. The first were the stars, the students with the potential to become world class soloists.  The second group was judged to be merely “good.” The third group was unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to become music teachers in the public school system.  They were all asked the same question:  over the course of your entire career, how many hours have you practiced?

They all started at the same age of five and practiced approximately two or three hours a week.  The students who would end up being the best in their class began practicing six hours a week, then later eight hours and by 12 were practicing (purposefully  and single-mindedly  playing their instrument with the intent to get better) well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totaled 10,000 hours of practice.

By contrast, the merely good students had totaled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over 4,000 hours.

In this study, they couldn’t find any “natural” musicians who floated to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. They also couldn’t find “grinders” who worked harder than anyone else, yet really didn’t have what it takes to get to the top. They found that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the distinguishing factor of success is how hard they work. THAT’S IT.

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers had settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

I am sure you might be thinking, what in the world does this have to do with selling cars, selling service, servicing cars, selling financial service products, answering inbound phone calls or taking inbound Internet leads. Well, the short answer is: everything!

I have been in and around the retail automobile business much of my life. I know for a fact that, in general, there is a huge lack of practice time for almost every job in a dealership. I say “almost” because technicians have gotten more training and practice time in their positions than any other. I am not talking about the fact that we work arguably too many hours at what we do at work, I am talking about the amount of training and practicing at improving our skills and knowledge in each position on a regular basis.

The fact is, many of the people who decide to join the retail automobile business in most positions, do not do so with mindset of it being the career they had always planned on. I can also say that even though both my father and grandfather were dealers. I had all the educational opportunities one could hope for. But until I was 31 years old, I had not seriously considered making the car business my career.

Most of the Dealers and General Managers in the country started in the business selling cars. I often ask them to go back to the time they were hired into their first car sales position. I ask them to remember what the interview was like, what they were told their responsibilities were going to be, what the onboarding process was going to be, how much training there was going to be, what the career path could possibly be, etc.  Most of the people I work with are smiling at this point because this is not how it went down. And as I said earlier, we were the lucky few.

Now, I ask them to come back to the present, at the dealerships or departments they now lead and manage. I ask them to reflect on the interviewing process they now have; what they tell and show new prospective employees that their responsibilities are going to be, what the onboarding process will be like, what the training is going to be like and what they can expect the likely career path to be, if they excel at what they do. In many cases, these manager’s personal experiences being new in the business isn’t terribly different than what they now provide their people, now that they are the leaders and managers and coaches.

There are many more stories in Outliers than I can recount here. But one of the recurring themes in each was that these people or groups had a unique and conducive set of circumstances that allowed them the time to spend an accumulative 10,000 hours practicing their skills to become great. Yes, in many cases there were extenuating circumstances and perfect timing involved, but also there were parents, coaches, teachers, mentors, handlers, bosses, or managers who made sure the time was spent virtually on a daily basis for an increase in knowledge and skills training.

Talent can only be identified in any role when the knowledge of what needs to happen and why is consistently presented; and when a person is consistently working on the skills necessary to succeed. For someone to take off and become almost obsessed enough to put in their 10,000 hours, they must really like what it is they are doing.

I really love this business and I know there are some 10,000 hour car business stories that could be discovered and told. But I also know that there are far fewer than there could be. There is so much more opportunity available to us in each and every department of each and every dealership. I challenge all managers, leaders, and coaches to help and work with your people, so they have the opportunity, if they so choose, to put in their 10,000 hours of practice to become their own story of success.


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Tony Alessandra

Using DISC Styles To Build Teams That Work

Businesspeople in Meeting

“Round up the usual suspects,” the gendarme ordered in the famous line from the movie Casablanca. And frequently, that is how executives think when they create teams, committees, or task forces. The boss says or thinks something like, “Let’s appoint anyone who might know something about this issue.” Or, even more likely, “Grab anybody who’s got a stake in this thing.”

Organizations, of course, love such groups because when they work, they can improve coordination, help employees feel more involved, and maybe even spur innovation. However, when they flop—or, more commonly, just lapse into mediocrity—they can drain an organization of its vitality and leave a legacy of posturing, power struggles, and misunderstandings.

Designing a Group

We naively assume any group can automatically be a team. However, one of the biggest reasons that teams misfire is that personality differences are ignored.

If, when you create a team, you employ knowledge of the four behavioral styles, you greatly improve its chances for success. You need to take into account that there are natural allies and antagonists among the styles and also that each style functions best at a different phase in the life cycle of a team.

The Natural Cycle of Groups 

Work groups typically follow a cycle, just like the organizations which spawn them. They face predictable obstacles, rise to the occasion or fail, and as a result, either evolve or deteriorate. At every stage in that cycle, each of the various behavioral styles can be a help or a hindrance.

Phase One: Finding Focus

Any new group, at first, gropes to find its focus. Members think: Is this going to be worth the effort? Is this going to be a useful team that can get things done?

In addition, each member at this point is seeking to define his or her role. They silently ask: Do I fit in here, or am I an outsider?  Am I going to be an important member of this group with real input, or am I just here for appearances? Is this going to waste my time?

Conscientious Styles and Dominance Styles can be especially helpful during this first phase. They are both skilled at getting to the heart of matters, though in different ways.

If the challenges the group faces are intellectually complex, the Conscientious Style will be in his element. Because they are so good at reasoned analysis on tasks, Conscientious Styles can help clarify the mission and give the team focus.

Similarly, if the main hurdle the group faces is more of a conflict—say, a history of discord among members and/or a split over its goals—a Dominance Style likely will shine. In fact, the group may be yearning for just a strong leader who can tell the warring members to quit butting heads and either commit, or leave. That is a situation ready-made for the Dominance Style.

In either case, those with these two behavioral styles may be able to get the group to psychologically buy into the idea of moving forward together, to convince the team that progress will be possible.

Phase Two: Facing the Realities

While a tough-minded Conscientious Style or Dominance Style may get the group going, this stormy second stage often cries out for the buoyant optimism of the Interactive Styles. Their friendly, informal brand of leadership can send out a strong, clear signal that this group can work together and make things better for everybody.

A people-oriented approach is needed at this stage because at this point that reality often intrudes. The group may begin to see how difficult its task really is, how little time and resources are available, and how members may need to settle for a half a loaf rather than a stunning breakthrough.

All these factors can breed frustration, confusion, and disillusionment. This is when it will be decided if the group tackles the real issues in meaningful ways, or is mired in its own internal power struggle. That is why Interactive Styles, who are good at smoothing over rough edges and encouraging all to share their thoughts and feelings, can be a key here.

Many groups, of course, never transcend this them-versus-us mindset. They continue to silently debate: Who is the top dog? Such a team is not likely to accomplish much. Instead, members will continuously collide with one another, limiting themselves as a team and as individuals.

However, if the Interactive Style, with his or her upbeat attitude and people skills, can get the members to quit keeping score, they may yet learn to work together.        

Phase Three: Coming Together

Cooperation and collaboration become increasingly apparent, and it is now that Steadiness Styles can help meld individual differences into group progress because they are especially good at coalescing differing views.

By opening their hearts and heads to one another, the Steadiness Styles can blend the discordant elements into more of a single melody. The team begins to narrow the gap between what it earlier said it wanted to do and what it is actually doing. There has been a shift of identity, and it has become a true team because members who previously thought in terms of “me,” begin thinking “we.”

Phase Four: Reaching for Stardom

The final stage is more the exception than the rule. However, when reached, it means a team really is performing at its best and is functioning as a whole, not just as a collection of individuals.

Its members enjoy being part of the team and express that fact. They have learned how to work together. Morale is high. The group continually produces quality and quantity output and is effectively self-managing.

In the previous three stages, Dominance Style-type behavior might have been called for on key decisions. However, at this stage, a hands-on, controlling style is not needed. In fact, once a group has this momentum, such a strong-handed style can be counterproductive and could even torpedo the group’s progress. Instead, the team’s decisions flow naturally from its deliberations. Differences among its members become a source of strength, not dispute.

Differences, not deficiencies

Love’em or hate’em, work groups are here to stay. (Some estimates are that as much as 50% to 80% of a manager’s time, for example, is spent with groups.) However, while they can be high-performance vehicles, they can also be high-maintenance, especially in the early stages. Only a team that fully understands and savors its members’ styles is likely to be genuinely productive.

If members were chosen carefully and if they practice adaptability, the advantages of stylistic diversity can quickly outweigh the group’s liabilities. Remember: We are talking about personality differences here, not deficiencies.

Therefore, in the final analysis, working with groups all comes down to suspending judgment, empathizing, and trying to play to people’s strengths. The result, despite our differences, can be a wonderful synergy.


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Robin Cunningham

Good Failure and Bad Failure, Part II

failure and success

I recently wrote a blog for NCM, Up to Speed, titled: There is Good Failure and Bad Failure. That idea had been floating around in my mind for a while, and since I wrote that, I have noticed other articles in several other places essentially talking about the same concept.

I know from my many years in the retail side of the automobile business, that there is an unintentional focus of quantity of time spent at the dealership vs. quality of time spent. I say unintentional because no one would actually say, “I think we need to just be here for long hours and not worry about what we actually do while we are here!”

But since there is so little in writing in most dealership (organizational charts, written processes, written job descriptions and objectives), it is very difficult to hold people accountable if we have not clearly defined and communicated our expectations.

In Part I of this blog, I used scenarios of good and bad failure. In the bad failure scenario, most everyone in the variable operations was just coming back each day, picking up where they left off, and doing it all over again for ten or twelve hours. There was not a lot of incremental growth to show for it. In the good failure scenario, they were having very specific meetings, processes, and training each day. Everyone was gaining more momentum by becoming more knowledgeable and skilled at their various responsibilities.

In the Fixed Operations, an example of bad failure would be having too many customers coming in first thing in the morning because they were told that was the quickest way to get in and out on a timely basis; or having Service Advisors taking the inbound phone calls from customers who had questions about their car’s needs, which can lead to over or under-diagnosing. This can also lead to the Advisor making time commitments to the customer about shop capacity, and also making commitments about specific Technician availability. This can have a negative effect on gross profit margins if too high a skill level technician is assigned to work on lower skilled work.

Good failure can happen when we begin transforming the service drive and the customer experience by having a Service Appointment Coordinator or Service BDC taking all inbound service calls.  Finding out not just what the customer thinks is going on with their car, but also other things based on time, mileage, or history. This allows us to find out the ideal time for both the customer, and the shop to have the customer come in. This then can give the Advisor time to do a walk-around with the customer, which is critical to forming a long term, trusting relationship with the customer. As the vehicle ages, this relationship is necessary so that the customer will allow us to be the one doing all the routine and mechanical maintenance. At the end of each visit the customer’s next service appointment can be set based on time or mileage and entered into the CRM tool for proper follow up.

I say good failure, because it takes an all-out commitment from the Dealer, GM, Service Manager, Service Advisors, Technicians, Parts Department and the Support Staff. For those who have read and remember the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, there is going to be a lot of cheese moved, to successfully transform this critical department to be the dealership’s primary customer retention tool.

Good failure is the trial and error it takes when committing best practice processes into your dealership culture. Good failure is when all managers become committed to daily training and managing activities. Good failure is when you begin identifying your people’s true talents by continuing to increase their knowledge and skills.

I love it when Jared Hamilton says, “We need to be committed to daily training, on a weekly basis.” Meaning….ALL THE TIME!!!


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