It’s scary to think about changing the way an entire business is run when a system has been in place for a number of years. Here’s the thing: it’s scary and necessary if the business practices are turning off customers, causing internal stress, and overall losing money as a result. I saw this happening the most recently when I was invited to work with a national trucking company. This company had about 13 dealerships, and 12 of them were run one way, and one did things completely differently. Guess which model was more successful?
Why Change is Necessary in Organizations:
This trucking company hired me to develop collaboration among the many agency offices. Naturally, I asked to visit some of the offices to see how they operated as separate entities and as a part of a larger company. The first dozen offices all seemed pretty much the same to me: sterile, non-communicative, and impersonal. The employees were really good at looking at every part of a truck, and spent a lot of time ignoring one another.
Welcoming Customers is Key:
As soon as we walked into one of the last dealerships (the odd one according to the rest of the franchise) everything looked and felt different. Even the surrounding roads on our way from the highway to the office were filled with signs welcoming the trucker clients that read, “We know—Your Truck—Is Your Livelihood and Home—We’ll Treat You—Both with Respect”. I noticed the welcoming vibe even more when I stepped inside the office door and there were warm cookies and cold milk and a sign that said, “Check in” (arrow pointing to desk) “Check out” (sign pointing to showers, gym and rest area).
At the desk there was a sign that read, “Manager of First Impressions” in front of a smiling woman. (I later learned that everyone in the dealership, including the owner, took a turn greeting people). I scheduled a day to return to interview the employees and customers. I was interested to see how this dealership compared with the first dozen or so I had visited which as you may recall did not give off such a warm and welcoming vibe.
Integrating What’s Working and What’s Not:
When I told the people who hired me about my plan, they were not enthusiastic. They didn’t see the value in the welcome signs and cookies, and when I asked them why they hadn’t implemented similar strategies in their dealerships they said, “Yeah, well they’re not like the rest of our dealerships, their owner is a maverick, we don’t share many of their approaches because we can’t implement such changes.” Apparently the welcome signs, the rotating check in person, and a small snack were considered big changes.
Listening is Necessary:
When I went back and interviewed that “maverick” and his dealership’s employees I learned that five years ago the dealership was the second-to-lowest performer in the company. When Michael, the present owner and veteran driver, bought the dealership four years ago he immediately brought everyone together, opened the books, and asked the staff what they’d do if they were in his position. He listened to their feedback and from some of the advice he received, he took these actions:
- Held an open house for clients who went out of their way to avoid their location.
- Ran weekly meetings that all employees were required to attend and bring at least three things that they believed were going well in the company and three things that were not.
- Brainstormed how to keep doing what was working well to come up with ways to change what wasn’t working.
- Michael and his employees selected three people to help him create a reward and evaluation system.
- Gave employees, vendors, and customers his cell phone number and made himself available 24/7.
The interviews turned up a gold mine about how to run a model dealership. Michael was running a dealership with a significant amount of Listening Intelligence. He turned a dealership that was failing into a thriving and successful business by making some important changes. The reason I share this with you is to demonstrate the power of Listening. Even though the changes were resisted with the rest of the franchise, once they saw the value it brought to the dealership, and the money they were losing as a result of not making the effort, within two years’ time every dealership embraced the Listening Intelligence model.