Regarding high school, the question exists; is it better to be a senior or a freshman? Sure, seniors may often have the run of the school, but they’re looked at by those in the classes below them as a group on their way out. Ask people if they could go back in time, few pick senior year, but rather an earlier year so they can relive the journey and make changes to their time.
In some cases, seniors rest on their laurels having made it through the first three years of high school and understand how to bend the rules without breaking them. They hang onto those skills that got them there, even if those skills may be less than relevant. Why? Because those tactics worked for them in their time, so they must still work in their opinion. Seniors like the way they have it and believe they’ll remain perched at the top, so why change?
Meanwhile, sophomores and juniors work to improve their grades and connect with others. Even if some of the things the old school classmates above them do are a bit long-in-the-tooth or behind the times, they show respect to those that have come before. Yet, their goal is still to rightly revolutionize what has been passed onto them. Freshmen, on the other hand, have received no guidance whatsoever. They show up to school with little understanding on what it takes to succeed. As cool as they think they may be, they’re lost. They have to “wing it” as they have no experience with which to pull from yet still have a strong sense of self-worth.
Subi Ghosh, now of Stream Companies, once made the analogy that the way a high school student views their position at their school based on their year is akin to the way automotive professionals approach their career. Their seniority determines, in some cases, their acumen, but most specifically their outlook. She implied that each grade had something to offer, but each viewed the industry entirely differently. I couldn’t agree more. This is the current division within dealerships. As I train retail professionals throughout North America, implementing processes, templates, workflows, marketing mixes and the like, I run into dealership personnel and vendors with all types of experience.
Seniors, in this case, were the first to arrive in school all of those years ago. They were the first to walk through the doors, having lived through countless technological changes and survived. They were the first to play with these new mediums and should be respected for that. Seniors tend to be a bit elitist, though. The most important legacy the upperclassmen of automotive provided is the importance of training to improve.
Juniors came in and fought for change. They saw what was wrong. They built technology themselves that would advance the school. They challenged the school board to offer more, and give more. Juniors tend to be the ones leading the charge and running for student council. Juniors tend to champion others as they yearn for the day their industry matches the one they long envisioned, though they may never see it come to fruition. Nonetheless, they’re not without fault. More than others, Juniors seek validation for all that they’ve accomplished and built.
Sophomores came in with many of the battles won for them, but they still persevere to make things better and carry the torch from the juniors. They tweak technology to make it evolve to meet consumers’ changing needs. They speak their mind and preach the gospel to the freshman, as they too hope to become mentors one day. However, unlike juniors who champion others, Sophomores are more akin to cheerleaders. They sing praises socially to make others in their circles feel good, but don’t work as hard to empower each on a personal level behind closed doors. Climbing their own social ladder takes precedence. Regardless, Sophomores know they’re the future.
Freshmen are new to this. Some believe they will take the world by storm even without outside assistance. Others are shy, tentative, and seek guidance. Both have the unsurpassed technological know-how to be successful. While some feel Freshmen are entitled, they’re misled. If anything, they’re impatient. The world has come at them fast and they’ve absorbed every advancement along the way. They’ve mastered the tech, and moved on. Why should sales be any different?
Automotive professionals have existed in this ecosystem under these high school rules for some time. The problem comes with any single grade believing they have it all figured out. Training needs to remain at the forefront of everyone’s day, but it falls to the wayside when different grades don’t see eye to eye. There is a history of Seniors not relating to Freshmen and this has soured the training experience. Senior pranks (or tricks of the trade) do not appeal to the transparent tactics of Freshmen and Sophomores. Juniors pull sparingly from those above them, but do their best to evolve it for those below them. That still may not be ideal.
I consider myself a Junior. (Subi labeled me as much so given this is her original analogy, I’ll submit). As a matter of fact, I think most of the leaders of DealerKnows (Bill, Shaun, Melissa, and myself) are Juniors. Subi is a Sophomore herself. (Let it be known your grade is not solely based upon your time in the industry, but your mindset.)
What training dealers over the last decade taught me is that education works best when it is delivered from just one grade away. In other words, I learn from Seniors and from Sophomores, but as much as I’d like to, I find it difficult to learn from Freshmen. Every grade wants to believe we can get along and fit in with each clique, but attend any conference and you’ll see who is rubbing elbows with whom. While some may not relate to those identifying with other grade levels, every grade has something they could learn from the others. Yes, Seniors need to learn from Freshmen as much as Freshmen must learn from Seniors.
Moreover, It is the method of training which may not always connect with different grades. Seniors knew training came in one form and one form alone: In-person, on-site training. That is what they grew accustomed to, and in turn, what they developed curriculum for. As Juniors, we created virtual training programs to offer a channel that appeals to different grades. Sophomores are joining to Juniors in building out Learning Management Systems (LMS) to reach another audience. I can’t even predict what Freshmen will create to enhance training for future incoming students of automotive.
What I’m challenging our industry to do is to look past grade barriers (if you too see the similarities) and instead just champion training as a need. Every training program needs to understand the mindset of the other grades around them and offer training curriculum that appeals to each type. One cannot just rely on in-store training to influence an audience, nor should all training be hands-off. Training must be ongoing, consistent, and most importantly embraced.
Longevity doesn’t equal experience. And experience doesn’t equal expertise. Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach others. If we open our yearbooks from now, we will want the signatures and well-wishes from people at all grade levels, not just our own class. Being true to yourself and sticking to your beliefs is important, but being remembered after graduation for imparting wisdom should be the automotive industry’s legacy.