Here’s a claim you can mull over and consider as you reflect on your own company: “99.99% of all companies have no standards for effective communication inside the business.”
Truth is, I’m basing that assertion on the fact that I’ve not run across such a company in the more than 20 years I’ve been working within the auto repair and tire industry.
I started studying communication at the age of 30 and became enamored with something I now call the Language Of Commitment (LOC). The LOC is an approach to communication and life. I’ve studied and fine-tuned the LOC with my own team and my mentors over the past 36 years. I was introduced to some of the LOC principles by one Dr. Fernando Flores. Over a six-year period, my study with Flores, who was the economics minister for the country of Chile, was my graduate education and provided a foundation for the past 36 years of my life and the formation of my company.
But I really learned about communication when in 1997, I became a partner in Procare Automotive, a chain of 104 auto repair and tire stores with 1,000 employees. My six years as a partner with Procare was the Ph.D. program of the “College of Hard Knocks” and business reality.
Here’s one of the key things I’ve learned since 1997 and after carefully analyzing more than a million sales calls across a wide variety of industries – most companies have very clear standards for most operational practices. This includes how employees are to handle money and credit card transactions. They have clear standards again for safety, and for handling EPA regulations. They have clear standards for technical processes, as well as many human resource activities. In other words, clear standards exist in most every area of the organization – except for how employees communicate with customers.
Let’s say you have 40 employees and I’m having a discussion in a classroom setting. We’re discussing communication in the workplace and in life in general. And after a while, we are all in total agreement that all results in business and in personal life are directly connected to how well people communicate. Everyone nods their head in agreement. We have reached consensus, “All results in life are tied to communication.” That means “everything” man-made, like how much you weigh, what kind of shape you’re in, what job you have, what hobbies you have, where you work and live, the house you live in, your relationship with your spouse and your children, your income, your overall health, etc. Things not included in the list include: blood pressure, heart rate, nervous system, waste elimination and things like the weather, as these items are clearly not directly related to your skill with communication.
At this point I ask them the big question, “Since it’s true that all the results in your life are tied to communication, what does it mean to communicate effectively?”
I then ask them to write down their answers, which they do.
Here’s what I can safely report, as I’ve done this exact exercise many times: If there are 50 people in the room there will be 50 different written answers.
This is really important because you need to begin looking at your business as the sum total of all the conversations taking place on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. In fact, when you look at your KPIs and your financials, I want you to realize that each of the numbers is actually a reflection of a moment in time when someone in your company was communicating, either effectively or ineffectively. You are, in fact, in the business of communication, and your financials reflect your communication skills. You’re not in the tire business or the auto repair business – you’re in the communication busienss. Your business will amount to little if you don’t communicate effectively.
It’s more like you have a 30-piece orchestra, and every day you have a performance, and the musicians show up and start playing the tire song and the brake song and the money song and the complaint song. And everyone, though well meaning, plays in a different key and has their own interpretation with regard to mood and meaning and tempo. Can you imagine the chaos on stage if a real orchestra performed like that?
Professional musicians and athletes and high performance teams have very clear published standards for how they perform on game day or in a concert. Everyone knows the standards and everyone is committed to practicing the standards and to bringing their very best to every performance within the framework of the published philosophy.
The very best teams represent a historical conversation taking place among the owners, coaches and players. This is about “how we do things” here in New England. There’s a detailed playbook and culture of practice and execution. Then they have all the measurement on top of it. The result is that the best teams are winners, and they have clearly articulated and measurable standards which keep them on track.
This article is about setting the foundation for future articles and webinars about the highly critical topic of communication in both business and life. That said, I want to leave you with this thought.
Personally, I am in the process of ushering in change in the tire and auto repair industry. For those who will listen (and the list is growing), dumping prices and technical information does not generally inspire customers – but being able to express your commitment to take care of them does.
The first part of a model for effective communication is to realize where we are now. As an industry, I see us as hyper-focused on data and price information, while we also need to change our focus toward a commitment to take care of people. We are in the process of turning companies into listening and commitment-based operations.
So what does it mean to be commitment based? When you boil a business transaction down to its essence, the only time commerce is ever produced is when the dealer exchanges commitments with the customer. There is an exchange of commitments, of agreements. So the questions is this – who is generating those commitments? Is it the customer or your sales staff? In other words, who is leading the conversation and closing the sale or securing the appointment?
The other two questions are these: “Does your staff understand the dance of commitment?” and secondly, “Do you have the tools in place to listen and assess conversations in your company?”
As indicated above, this is the first in a series of articles and future webinars on the topic of communication. So until next time, I want you to think about ways you might become a commitment-based, listening operation. We’ll get into this more later and I’ll also provide some specific examples and case studies to show you what a difference having specific communication standards can make to your tire dealership.
Dan Molloy founded Molloy Business Development Group in 2001 with one mission in mind: to help companies grow sales by training and aligning team members on how to handle each opportunity based on rigorous business analysis and data. Learn more at www.molloybdg.com.