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Conquering the Fear of Change

Over the recent month, I have spent much more time visiting dealerships than I had imagined with my semi-retirement, but these welcome occasions always allow me to both learn from those that I am consulting, as well as to reflect on some of the timeless adages of the world. Additionally, you never know when you might actually find a nugget of useful information in the latest edition of one of the airline magazines that you are reading for the eighth time that month.
Buried in the bowels of Delta’s latest well read issue, I came across an article that was referencing how change in technology impacts our lives. Duh. But, it did reference some thoughts on the fear of change, which immediately caused me to think about the dealerships that I had most recently visited.
Certainly one of the common occurrences that I had observed during my visits was the reluctance of key personnel to want to change the way they were doing business. Mind you, each of the organizations are very successful, but they had all “peaked” a few years back and, while still profitable, they wanted to find their way back to their previous levels of success, which is why my phone had rung.
The old adage, “If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” presents a difficult quandary in today’s retail automobile market. It is, at the same time, both very accurate, and totally off base. Consider the plight of many domestic franchised dealers, especially in the upper Midwest. Many of their sales volume peaked between three and six years ago. Many of their talented teams are doing business in similar fashions expecting the same results they previously achieved. The problem is the manufacturers they represent have products that have fallen out of favor with the retail public. Regardless of their retail proficiencies, the sales teams at these dealerships are finding it more and more difficult to sell vehicles that don’t seem to inspire the passions of those signing the checks.
At the same time, these dealers have assessed the situation and realize new initiatives are needed to increase their sales levels. Whether it be in the ever growing sub-prime sector, or finally getting onboard the Internet marketing train, the still-savvy operators realize that change is necessary to increase their business, wherein the timeless adage above, certainly does ring true.
What really strikes me is how many people really are resistant to – and in fact, terrified of -- change. While interviewing and working with the personnel in these stores, it really stood out. Often, it is accompanied by a lot of lip service, but it is easy to see through.
Personally, I embrace change. Just ask my editor and director of operations. Nearly ten years ago, I hired her to be my controller. With her impeccable credentials and experience in accounting, it was a great choice. However, I am quite sure that the comments she made in late November 2003 when I told her was going to become a magazine, and, she was going to head it up, are still not printable. But she did embrace the change (this certainly wasn’t the first time) and I am proud of where she has taken us today. But I digress.
The problem is, in your dealership you have to give talented people, who are indeed already successful, the ability to overcome that fear of doing things differently. Simply put, ultimatums are not the answer.
First, encourage them to read or re-read Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson. (We mandated it for our employees nearly 10 years ago.) It is very short and a very easy read. Take it one step further by discussing it’s pertinence in staff meetings. Being able to admit their reluctances and discuss them openly may help individuals clear hurdles.
The next tact comes from an article I once read on addressing change by Joe Fowler. It made sense, and it was very simple - I like simplicity. He offered, if you applied the four rules of life to change, it would make it very easy to both look past the fear, as well as guarantee success. His four rules were to 1) Show up; 2) Pay attention; 3) Speak the truth; and 4) Let go.
Showing up is to honor the commitment you made. Be at your post – and be engaged. Ask how you can be involved and how you can help – or in other words don’t just make excuses.
Paying attention is not simply staying awake; it is listening and making sure you understand. It is also asking questions and seeking to understand other perspectives.
Speaking the truth is simple but not always easy. (Our editor is very good at this.) Let people know how you see it through your eyes. It may show failure, fear, lack of understanding or even disagreement. Sometimes people choose not to speak at all, rather than be categorized, but that is just as detrimental as fabrication. This simply creates festering, which then is shown through actions, not words.
Letting go can be the most difficult. You must know what is in your control and what is not. Pontiac dealers knew that the Aztec was not in their control. Did its release near the time to that of Toyota’s Highlander have a negative impact on sales? Sure, it did. But, they weren’t in control. Shrug off the result – both failures and successes – and look to learn from them. Then, let go.
Change is necessary in all aspects of life - it is not simply limited to opportunities in retail autos. Those that find a way to conquer fear of change may well stub their toes as they try something different. They will certainly experience a failure or two. As long as they learn from it and keep trying with equal certainty, they will enjoy much more success in both their professional and personal lives.
Vol 3, Issue 6


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