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Reflections while Rafting

My oldest son decided that he wanted to celebrate his recent birthday by going whitewater rafting with “the guys.” So we drove up to the Kennebec River, along with my father, brother and nephew, and proceeded to spend the day “playing in the Big, Big Water,” as the rafting ads like to say.

Now, I know I was supposed to be enjoying the time together as a family, and we certainly did that, yet I still couldn’t help myself from also thinking about how the lessons we learned rafting that day could also be applied to making our business better. (I blame it on a gene that most car dealers seem to have causing an inability to stop thinking about the business for more than about five minutes. And the gene must be hereditary, as I find myself “just taking a quick swing through the lot” whenever we take the kids to get an ice cream, just like my Dad used to do to us!) So what in the world could rafting have to do with our business? Let’s take a look.

Listen to the Guide. “All Ahead!”, “Right side back HARD!”, and my personal favorite, “Take a break!” were all commands we heard many times that day. And I can tell you in the middle of those Class IV & V rapids, we were very thankful to have someone with us who had been there before. He knew where to go, and more importantly, where not to go.

Thankfully, we too have lots of resources we can turn to for guidance as we navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of BHPH. We have talked before about the industry experts, state and national conventions, and trade publications available. We would be much better off if we seek out mentors in this business, so we can learn from the experiences of others who have been in this unique industry for some time and know firsthand what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t!

“Nose and Toes” If you don’t have a healthy fear of the river before arriving, you will have after the guides finish their “safety talk.” One area they really emphasize is if you “go swimming” (guide-speak for “fall out of the raft”) in the rapids to make sure you are on your back so that your nose and toes are sticking out of the water, so as to minimize your potential collision area with the rocks underwater.

Just as we were “expecting the best” that day (which was the likely result), it was still important that we be “prepared for the worst,” so that we knew exactly what to do if we found ourselves in that situation. In the same way, we need to have a contingency plan in place in the event something catastrophic happens to our business. I’m sure our fellow dealers in areas affected by recent hurricanes and tornadoes would second this motion. Obviously, we hope nothing like this ever happens, but now is the time to develop a plan to help minimize the downtime your business would experience if such a disaster impacted your area.

Motivate or Mutiny. Since it was my son’s birthday, the guide let him come to the back of the raft and “take over” the guiding duties through some of the tamer rapids. After a few lessons on the different strokes, he asked my son if he wanted to know the secret to being a successful guide. Pulling granola bars out of his bag, he smiled and said, “It’s called avoiding mutiny by ordering breaks in the paddling, and rewarding the crew with a snack!”

We need to make sure we are sensitive to the attitude of our “crew” as well. Unlike the T-shirt message that says, “The beatings will continue until morale improves,” we should continually be looking for ways to reward and motivate personnel. Sometimes it is a big gesture, such a pay raise or a weekend off. More often, it may just be a simple “thank-you” or “great job,” or maybe a quick pizza party to celebrate a great sales month. (Remember the worst day of a record October is November 1st, when the board gets erased, and everyone starts back at zero). We all work hard; let’s try to make work fun at the same time! Making the workplace enjoyable will also help avoid the unseen mutinies, which can be even more damaging.

Teamwork…or Else! Yes, it may have become a cliché, but it is true nonetheless that teamwork is essential to maximizing our companies’ profits. Honestly, the first thought that popped into my head after surviving the whitewater was, “Man, that would make an awesome teambuilding exercise!” You see, when you get in the middle of some of the wilder parts of the whitewater, the only way you can control the raft enough to keep it upright is by everyone working together. In much the same way, we need to make sure that everyone on your staff is “paddling together,” particularly when selling BHPH, sub prime and conventional credit customers on the same lot! The entire staff, led by the various managers, needs to be focused intently on the “big picture” of maximizing your entire company’s net profit, rather than everyone protecting their own little fiefdoms, which inevitably leads to time-wasting turf battles.

One way to accomplish this is to pay an annual bonus or dividend of an equal dollar amount to everyone in your company from the General Manager all the way down to the porters. This would be based on the net profits of the entire company, and should motivate your entire staff to work towards the ultimate goal of maximizing the company profits, and thereby maximizing their bonus.

But if all else fails, and if you still have managers in your company that can’t seem to get along, one approach might be to throw them in a raft, and send them down river. Think about it. They’ll either learn to work together and get along very quickly… or else they won’t. But either way your teamwork problem is solved.
Vol. 3, Issue 10


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