Fuel for Thought: Cross-Functional Harmony

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I just returned from Harley-Davidson's winter dealer meeting in Orlando, Fla. While there I had the pleasure of speaking to dozens of people. The question I asked almost all of them: "How's business?" The answer I received most often: "Good." I also had several saying "Great!" and a few saying "Sucks." Why the difference of opinion?

After years of working with dealers, I've come to realize that the shops that are most successful typically have a thriving cross-functional culture. They don't operate with a sandbox mentality where one department or individual bullies others. Successful stores exhibit a harmony, and the music they make has the sound of cash registers ringing in the background.

In this type of culture all employees are open to other employees' points of view. They consider the ideas and concerns of others and do what's right for the dealership, not just for themselves or their department. Individuals are happier in their jobs because they feel as though they have some control over their environment. They feel their ideas are appreciated. In a harmonious workplace no one player exerts extraordinary power over another. Unfortunately, this isn't the case in every shop I've seen. Examples:

  • A sales manager who's against pre-accessorizing new bikes for sale. He tells parts and service that accessories raise the price, making the bikes impossible to sell. He neglects to consider that with several stock bikes of the same model sitting on the floor the customer feels no sense of urgency to buy now. The customer thinks, "If there's five here today, there's bound to be at least one next time." The customer puts off his decision and may not return because he buys somewhere else or changes his mind. In this scenario motorcycle sales are missed, accessory sales are down, and service has technicians standing around.
  • A parts manager who won't stock a new accessory because he doesn't like it. By doing this he never gives customers a chance to decide for themselves.
  • A service manager who won't allow his co-workers in parts to quote accessory install fees at the parts counter. He wants the customer to make an additional trip back to service for that top-secret information, or have the parts pro call back to service for a quote from the "gods." Then I talk to the service writer, who complains he can't get all his work done. Is it any wonder? He's wasting precious time every day answering the same old question: "How much to install this?"

My point is, a store with a cross-functional culture doesn't have a single department or individual ruling over others. Decisions affecting other departments are made with consideration and input from their respective managers and even staff members. There's a mutual desire to improve each other for the greater good of the store and its customers.

How to Change

How do you turn a single-minded management culture into a cross-functional one? It starts with the owner recognizing that a team will always outperform an individual, then making the decision to change his or her store's MO (mode of operation). The next step is to gather your department managers and hold meetings to make shared decisions that will benefit the greater good of the dealership. If this is a big switch from the old way of doing things, the first few meetings may be a bit volatile. There may be a lot of venting, which is normal if employee frustrations have been pent-up for a while. You may lose an employee, maybe even a long-term one, who's used to leading by rule and not by reward. It's not easy changing human behavior.

Is it worth it? Yes! I've never seen a really successful shop that doesn't operate like this. Want to try it? Then look for next month's column, where I'll outline what it takes to play the beautiful music of a cross-functional symphony.

Dave Koshollek teaches sales and service classes for dealership personnel. His career includes stints as a service manager, Dynojet VP and director of technical training at MMI. E-mail him at DAKOenterprises@cs.com.