Performing the Art of the PossibleWritten By: Ron Slee
Article Date: 10-01-2007
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Everyone nice and comfy? That's a problem.
Imagine if you were to become less tolerant of the conditions and circumstances of your work and became obsessed with what could be possible. We don't simply resist change because we want to continue to do what we always have done - rather, we resist change because we are comfortable with the reality of our lives and our work. We tell ourselves: "I know how to do this job, and I fit into the company hierarchy. Things are good."
Isn't that a shame? We are settling for the current level of performance in our work and hiding our true potential. We can and must do better.
The Japanese have a truly wonderful approach to work that I am sure everyone has heard about. It is Kaizen, and it means "continuous improvement" or doing something better in your job each day. It doesn't have to be much, but it has to be something. This runs counter to the North American model in which we teach people what we want them to do, then expect them to become more efficient. This is a trap of obedience. If you think about the education system that we all went through we were taught to be obedient. This is the way things are done, and that is what you need to do to pass or to excel. Remember that? Well, we do that in business, too.
Our processes and our systems are also traps of the possible. Employees seldom ask the question, "What if?" of themselves. We need to encourage people to search for those things that stand in the way of doing a better job. During our Quest classes and the training that I do worldwide with parts and service management I always ask if the participants could have done what they did the previous week better. Without fail every person says yes, they could have done everything better, but there's always a disclaimer: if they had more time.
That is still unacceptable, isn't it? We are using our skills and talents far below our abilities each and every week that we work. But no one challenges us to do better. They are happy with things if everything else is in balance.
This is not an issue exclusively for employees but for management, as well. Management in every respect is about getting things done through other people. It is about leadership. Don't forget: You lead people through your management process. You can't manage people.
So how do we get through this wall of comfort? Well, how about providing standards of performance for work groups and targets of performance for each individual within the work group. Wouldn't that make sense? We have a series of metrics for department performance that I view as a minimum performance standard. You remember them: sales/employee, asset turnover, gross profit, expense ratios, and then specific departmental items like labor efficiency and freight recovery.
But how do we motivate each individual to provide the best of themselves to the company every day? You do this, in my view, by sitting with each employee and establishing individual targets of performance.
This is a simple process but one that is rarely done within a dealership. This is also one of the major barriers to implementing change. We must become more effective at implementing change, particularly
in the work environment we are in today.
"One prays for miracles, but works for results" is a well known quote from St. Augustine, but at month-end or year-end many managers might really be thinking, "Gee, I hope everything is going to be alright."
Just hoping isn't enough. As the economy slows, it's more important than ever to be working for results. Remember earlier this year I suggested that we were talking ourselves into a slowdown? Well, what better time than now to examine everything we do? Look at process, systems, customer coverage models, the skills of your employees; look at yourself and how you can make everything a bit better.
This is the time to redouble training efforts and customer contacts. Ask them, "What can we do for you?" Whether it is an employee or a customer, they will tell you. But it's a process you need to approach with care. If you ask the question and they tell you what you need to do, then you must be prepared to do something about it! If you don't, they will know you weren't serious at all, and that will hurt you as a person and as a business.
This is a great time in a great industry that is undergoing significant challenges and change. You can make a difference. It is about achieving the art of the possible.
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