Picture this, 60+ year-old dealer who has been in business 20+ years. Possibly inherited the dealerships from his/her own family and have tirelessly worked to grow and build the business. The kids are in their late 20’s and have been getting more involved in the dealerships. They are ecstatic to be entering the family enterprise and proudly fly the family name. The company has a fantastic reputation in the community and the family name holds weight and notoriety in the industry. It is well-established with sound business practices and a formula for success that has produced generous profits and provided a great place of employment for many families. Sound familiar?
Now picture the next generation, a generation that has been to dealer academies and workshops, developed an “understanding” of dealer operations from watching their mom and dad avidly stay on top of manufacturer promotions, and has an opinionated and vocal vision of how they see the business changing for the future. Also sound familiar?
All too often, the “new” generation comes in guns blazing, with new ideas and innovative concepts to, in their opinion, make the dealership better. Established owner/operators, who have been in business 20-30-40 years, with sons and daughters coming up through the business ranks get inundated with “let’s do this” and “let’s do that” to increase productivity and profits. They are constantly poked and prodded to adopt new technologies, new advertising techniques, better processes, “can’t-miss partnerships”, and the next best thing.
As most business owners know through time-tested trials and tribulations, throwing “the next best thing” into play is not always the recipe for success. Furthermore, “the next best thing” over and over again can cause more damage than good in interfering with current dealer operations. You can certainly hit the jackpot with a great marketing idea or business partnership, but the successful and time-tested dealers have built their businesses on core policies, procedures, and cultures that transcend the glitz and glamour of the shiny new idea.
The perspectives of both the “new” and the seasoned generation are important to the ongoing success and ultimate growth of the business. Without the enthusiasm and innovation of the new generation (of which I am a part), processes and procedures can become stale and ineffective to the changing world around us. But, the existing generation has put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating the successful business of today. Problems start to arise when established business owners who have successfully run a business are challenged by their heir apparent. Their unbridled enthusiasm and drive to transform the business into the best of the best gets met with a stern reality when the “owner” does not share the same vision. The owner understands the overall scope and interdependence of each department and employee, and the complications that unplanned ideas can have on productivity. Furthermore, what happens when the “new generation” who may be a family-member-employee runs into a GM or non-family leader who does not share their same enthusiasm or passion for the family business? Often, the idea or even they get poleaxed or pushed aside.
So, how does the experienced business owner tell an overzealous successor, whom they have filled with confidence, educated, and many times publicly declared as their successor, to shut up, listen and learn? That is a great question for which I am not even sure Dr. Merlot has an answer. What can be said however, is what is in the title, successor candidates need to first “Win the right to be heard!”
For those of you reading this that need to “win the right to be heard”, this means developing a work ethic and business skill that shows your elders you are learning the job, constantly seeking educational opportunities and ways to improve or expand your knowledge of the business, and are willing and ready to be counted on to come through when needed most. The reality is, “winning the right to be heard” is not complicated, but takes hard work and patience.
There are many different personalities to navigate as a family business successor candidate. First, there are your direct managers; they can be jealous of your name or opportunity, or supportive of your move into the company to align themselves with the next business leader. Regardless, being patient and winning their respect by getting down in the trenches, fully educating yourself on what you talk about, and thus “winning the right to be heard”, gets them on your side.
Second, you have other family members; those who are your competition, parent, or boss. Each case takes a different approach but follows the same formula. Your competition will respect you when you are confident and able to back up your thoughts and ideas. For example, you should know what the total company-wide impact of your idea is and how to seamlessly implement it into the company. Parents will understand that you are a different kind of employee who not only wants the best for the company, but also has worked the hardest, done the most research, and earned the right be heard (not just entertained because of the family name).
Lastly, your family-member boss (Blood Boss) can be the hardest to crack, but the most fulfilling to work with when you have “won the right to be heard.” Getting the blank stare of your blood boss is never fun. No one wants to hear the “best idea” over and over again if they have to do all of the work figuring out its total impact on the company, employees, and customers. When you find your enthusiasm for a new idea is met with a blank stare, you probably have some work to do in terms of “being heard.” Your blood boss is likely being polite and letting you talk, but they are using the time for more productive things such as computing how much the renovation is going to cost, mentally calculating this month’s profit, or realizing that they missed mentioning to the service director that this month’s low CSI is flat-out not going to cut it. Until you have earned their respect, your idea will go down in the file of, “Great idea, let’s talk about that later”, or more bluntly “Get out of my office; I have more pressing matters to attend to.”
Winning the right to be heard, means doing the work. If you have the best idea that is going to triple profits, transform communication within the dealership, or put a man on mars, do the work. Ask the appropriate questions, identify the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities, and earn respect among your team. The majority of us want to be the best, or you wouldn’t be in such a high-reward business. However, those rewards come with risk, and learning your craft, knowing your idea, and communicating it effectively, will serve you best in preparing to be a successor. The best compliment will come in one simple form; when you are the one being asked for advice!
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