When I was a child, like his father before him, my father was a volunteer firefighter. He was part of a humble group that was in charge of protecting the surrounding communities that were not part of the city. With a couple of firetrucks and a few support vehicles, they had a lot of ground to cover. If for whatever reason, they became overwhelmed, they could rely on nearby fire departments to lend a hand. However, if you are managing a small car dealership, you don’t enjoy that peace of mind of being able to ask for help. Nearby dealerships are often the last people to lend a hand. If there are too many fires, something is going to burn to the ground.
Professional management is a rather new vocation, as such, much has been written about it (if you can only read one, Peter Drucker’s book, coincidentally titled, Management is all you’d need to check out). Many would point to World War II as the factory that first produced today’s strategic management. With millions of moving parts, thousands of men and women needed to coordinate the interactions in between. Had they failed their jobs, thousands of lives would have been lost.
Although a car dealership isn’t a multi-continent battlefield (some conferences would suggest otherwise), there are still many moving parts that need to be synchronized. Unfortunately, far too many rely on just one or two people to keep all of the parts working. Like bees moving from flower to flower, these individuals feel the obligation to touch everything all of the time. In their mind, they are thinking they are doing what best for the dealership. However, like the rural fire departments, they have limited resources. If too many fires break out, these micromanagers can’t be all places at all times. They must decide what fire needs to be put out first, what can smolder, and what’s salvageable.
Without getting all dramatic, we could also take a simple mathematical look at it. The potential productivity could be measured as the product of employees multiplied by the hours in a workday (e.g., 10 people multiplied by 8 hours equals 80 hours of potential productivity). However, if those employees are not free to make their decisions, the amount of productivity is capped by the number of people who can make decisions. Simply put, if a sales person requires a manager to make decisions, the hours of potential productivity are tied directly to the sales manager. To make this point crystal clear, the sales staff can be there for 8, 12, or 25 hours a day. It doesn’t matter. If the sales manager has to make all the decisions, the amount of potential productivity revolves around his or her schedule.
Like a city, as the dealership grows, it must add more fire stations. Most dealerships don’t need to add more managers, per se. They do, however, need more people who can actually manage.
Managers are not synonymous with management. You probably had to re-read that a few times, however, it’s not a typo. A good organization has clearly defined tasks, expectations, and obligations throughout its ranks. As such, all ranks have the ability to manage the accomplishment of their own tasks. If a superior has to be depended on to complete those tasks for their subordinates, then that superior has no time to manage their assigned tasks. Every desk should come equipped with the necessary tools to put out its own fires.
Nevertheless, most desks don’t come equipped with anything more than a terminal and a phone. As a camper in a forest fire, the only strategy is to dial 911 and wait. And wait. And wait…
Call me a heretic, but car dealerships could stand to take a few pages from the rest of the business world. From ice cream chains to brokerages, performance is measured based on the culmination of the team efforts. The best managers are those who get the most out of their teams. They spend their time instructing those who are lagging at the bottom. They coach those who are consistently performing at the top. They lend a hand when they need to, and disappear when it is appropriate. Like a bucket brigade, they delegate and SHARE responsibility. The best managers indoctrinate the expectations so that they don’t have to show up when a match gets lit. They only get brought it in for cataclysmic events. Anything else is micromanagement.
If you feel like you’re a fire marshall, then it’s time to take whatever liquid is nearby and put out your own fire. You Sir, Madam, Miss, Maestro, Khaleesi, whatever your title is, are the problem. You have created an environment where no one can possibly take care of themselves. Instead of being able to handle their issues, the subordinates are forced to wait, breath held, for you to hold their hand. Why would they bother? They know you’ll be there to fix it.