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The Culture of People

I admit it. I’m an Apple junkie. Our family has iPhones, MacBooks, an iMac, Apple TV, and several iPads (I bought my 84-year old computer-less mother-in-law one last Christmas and had to increase my data plan just to accommodate her web surfing!). I will not, however, be sporting an Apple Watch since I don’t wear a watch anyway and even with sleek looks, the thought of wearing a ‘computer’ on my wrist reminds me too much of the geeks of yore who wore their calculator watches that required a toothpick stylus to peck at the small keyboard.

Since I tend to follow Apple news and events, I was drawn to an article in Fortune magazine about Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts leaving to become head of Apple’s retail organization. One might reason that ‘retail is retail’ but this was a big leap for Ahrendts. She admitted to Apple CEO Tim Cook that she wasn’t a techie and not even a great retailer (‘I hire great retailers’). These were hardly concerns for Cook since Apple is tops in both areas. No, Ahrendts was hired for her people skills.

Over the past few months, Ahrendts has initiated a weekly video communication with all the stores (motivational), a Share Your Ideas initiative to hear from employees (improvements), a development program for all retail employees that will allow 10% of them to transfer globally to other stores or even to corporate (incentives), and most importantly, she merged their retail store and on-line departments for a more seamless customer experience (a must in today’s shopping environment). Each of these programs was designed to bring her employees and managers together with a focus on how better to serve their customers.

It’s interesting in the retail auto environment that although dealers focus on gross, net to sales, CSI, market penetration, and other key measurements, few really put the same focus on their employees, no matter how much they may claim to.

In an industry punctuated by 6-day workweeks and 10-12 hour workdays, it’s not unusual to experience high turnover, job frustration, lack of commitment, and a focus on ‘me’ instead of ‘we’. Regardless of what measurement manufacturers may want to use to rate your performance, it’s people that make it happen.

With that rather obvious observation, here are some questions to ponder:

  • What training programs are available and what programs do I offer to my employees (at all levels)?
  • In an industry where performance starts back at zero the first of each month, what do you do to recognize performance – not just in sales but also in fixed ops and other areas?
  • What incentives have you put into place to influence and incentivize top performance in each department?
  • Do I have a system in place or a culture that encourages feedback at all levels that can help us make improvements?
  • Have I created and do I personally exhibit behavior that encourages a culture of working together to solve problems and which breaks down the typical silos of responsibility?

While barely scratching the surface, these should get you going towards evaluating your ‘people focus’, or how focused you are on your human assets. We have seen time and time again improvements in performance, attitude, and job satisfaction as we work with companies on getting everyone on the same page with programs like establishing a Management Advisory Board. The MAB, as it’s referred to, provides an environment where managers come together not to evaluate performance (there are other times where that is appropriate), but to evaluate new ideas, learn to communicate and manage more effectively, and how to solve problems together. It’s also a great feedback mechanism for owners.

The first step in improving ‘people focus’ is to get your head out of the daily ‘making the numbers’ trap and start looking long term. Involve your managers. Promote communication and collaboration. Encourage feedback. Look for ways to motivate, train, and provide upward mobility. Each of these suggestions will help provide a more stable and motivated work force, eager to provide great service to customers and that, after all, is your real target.

So why would Ahrendts move from a CEO position to a lower position at another company? Simple. In a word, culture, along with an opportunity to make a difference. Create a people-focused culture and you’ll have people beating a path to your door – both for employment and as customers.


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