IMI Magazine

IMI Magazine


Better than Tesco, but that’s not the point.

A good dealer principal could manage a Tesco store, but not vice versa, says Prof. Jim Saker – director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University – in this appraisal of motor retail management development.

One of the most interesting questions facing anyone in management education is what is the quality of your industry’s management by comparison to others? Is your sector leading edge or does it lag behind others? Are there things that others do that we can learn from, etc?

Historically, our industry has received a battering from a number of quarters ranging from government through to consumer groups, often about the quality of management in the retail auto sector. My view is that much of this criticism stems from ignorance of the industry and the problems that it faces.

Some years ago a comparison was made between the number of lines that a supermarket chain such as Tesco carried and a typical volume car manufacturer such as GM or Ford. It was estimated that Tesco carried around 40,000 lines while the car manufacturer carried 250,000 lines. For the dealership, however, there’s not only the volume issue to contend with but also the challenge of managing a complex portfolio of activities ranging from accident repair to finance and new car sales, often under one roof.

How has the managerial skill base developed?

Since the mid 90s there has been a build up of interest in management development in dealerships. If the 80s had been the decade of the sales process, the emphasis has changed. Manufacturers started to focus on their retail networks as a means of gaining competitive advantage. If they wanted to truly engage with their customers it had to be through their franchised networks and therefore the efficiency and effectiveness of that network became critical. As a result, both manufacturers and dealers have started to concentrate on improving their management. At the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough we have seen numbers grow from an initial cohort of 23 students on the world’s first BSc degree in retail automotive management in 1997 to over 600 registered students undertaking programmes from certificate through to MSc qualifications.

Advent of the Automotive Retail Management Standards.

The impetus of the late 90s has been reinforced by the development and launch of the ARMS standards last year.

For the first time the motor industry collaborated to produce an embryonic management framework that could be used as a benchmark against which the sector could start to examine its management capabilities.

Since their initial launch, work has continued on the development of the standards under the auspices of Automotive Skills. An expert working group under the chairmanship of Dave Cussell from Toyota has looked at the initial standards and has been working at bringing them into line with the national qualifications framework. Cussell states: “ARMS is the positive first step but not the final solution. We must create a culture whereby dealership personnel value the development of their management as opposed to forced participation as part of dealer standards.”

A number of manufacturers have responded positively to ARMS, for example Renault Nissan, but the challenge will be to see if the dealers themselves are genuinely drawn towards long term management development or whether it will be as a response to manufacturer pressure. If it is the latter it will lack sustainability and we will revert to a default mode of short term expediency as opposed to long term professional development.

I think that we are good but there is still a long way to go. The jury’s still out.

Jan Smallbone, people development business unit director of Carter & Carter, providers of outsourced services to the motor industry, reports on the progress and perceived benefits of the Automotive Retail Management Standards (ARMS).

The introduction of ARMS appears to have raised the profile of management training within the industry over the last 12 months and has led to an increasing number of manufacturers and dealer groups carrying out specific programmes linked to these standards.

There is definite value in training providers supporting ARMS to ensure that the motor industry grows managers in line with sound competencies which are recognised as best practice - value added skills which would be expected of a manager in any industry.

However, it would appear that the jury is still out over the mechanism for achieving ARMS accreditation. For instance, as well as specific learning, managers must complete nine work based assignments of some 3,000 words each. In a highly target driven retail environment, how many managers will have the motivation, or indeed skill, to carve out time to formally document work-based assignments which demonstrate how they put their acquired skills into practice?

To help address this challenge, we provide workshop and coaching support – featuring speed reading and essay writing, for example – for those who have never undertaken academic study or have not done so for several years.

At this stage, though, it is less about motivating managers to achieve formal accreditation than in engaging them to really apply their new found skills to improve business performance and evaluate how they have done that. To the uninitiated this might appear to be a given, but it is shocking to see how much budget is thrown at management training, and indeed any training, without any attempt to specifically apply it and demonstrate the difference it has made to the key performance indicators of a business.

As a result, when times get more difficult, the training budget is the first to suffer because historically no one has ever bothered to track the impact it has on performance. The flip side to this is that no budget at all is allocated to management training and managers in our industry are generally being promoted from the operational side of the business without the benefit of any formal management training. The assumption seems to be that if they have proved themselves capable of selling cars, parts or service hours, they will make a good manager!

So what is the answer?

Firstly, training needs to be short, sharp and impactful, delivered via the most cost and time effective blended learning methods possible in a given environment. At the same time, it has to appeal to different learning styles across any audience of managers.

Secondly, training needs to be followed up with on-site coaching from an individual who understands the pressures of a manager in our industry and can provide effective guidance in how they can make use of their learning.There also needs to be effective, time efficient tools to enable the business to track the impact of learning.

Whether your training resource is internally or externally provided, it is important to remember that the days of the training ‘happy’ sheets should be behind us. There are many resources for designing and delivering engaging training on the day - but are processes being offered to monitor the effects of that training and deliver impactful business results?

We need to embrace ARMS and produce managers who can stand up and be counted among their peers inside and outside industry, as well as delivering the performance results which our competitive environment demands.

The boss comes in from the cold.

Being the boss can be a lonely job, with your team depending on you for guidance and inspiration. Time is your biggest enemy and you work silly hours just to stand still, with no-one to advise you on specific things. Until now.

Enter Jason Cranswick, SEAT UK’s dealer principal development programme coach. Jason’s very keen on the title ‘coach’, for he’s not there to judge. He’s been in the motor industry almost half his life, and in 15 years has progressed from sales trainee to dealer principal and managing director. He’s walked the walk regarding management, leadership and running a successful business and now he’s passing on his experience from a totally independent position. He is backed by Carter & Carter and though his services are funded by SEAT UK, the work remains confidential.

Five dealer principal development coaching days, incorporating a third of the network, have already taken place and by the end of this summer Jason hopes that all DPs will have taken part.

Entry point in the scheme comes in the form of development days at a regional hotel venue. What happens next is that either relevant development modules are recommended or bespoke development coaching is created, sometimes both.

“Dealer principals are responsible for everything, including motivating and coaching their staff, and until now nobody has been there to coach them,” says Jason. “The initial response has been very encouraging and we haven’t had a dealer principal say it was a waste of time; all have gone away with something positive to think about for their own future development. We’re not here to judge and there is no pass or failure. It’s just quality time to think about themselves for once, not the people in their team.”

What some DPs thought:

Robin Livingstone (W. Livingstone Ltd, Glasgow): “I was a little apprehensive about it at first, but I found it extremely challenging and very rewarding. The feedback highlighted areas that I need to develop and things I could do better on a daily basis. I could recognise myself in the feedback, so it’s obviously very accurate and there is no question that Jason knows what he’s talking about.”Jim Macklin (SMC Windsor): “The level of coaching is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It was really thorough and I felt shattered at the end of the day. The entire approach was very genuine and it was so focused and personal that it was far more than just a business assessment. It’s something I want to be more involved in and I’m going to milk this opportunity as much as I can.”David Penman (David Penman Cars, Darlington): “As a result of my meeting with Jason I’ve already introduced a number of new measures within the company. I’ve pulled all my line managers together and encouraged them to buy into a new system of reporting on a daily basis, with the aim of giving us all a better feel for the business and keeping what we want to achieve at the forefront.”

Why Most training tees me off!

Using a golfing analogy, John Gardiner – head of learning and management development at sales training and recruitment company TALENTStream – claims that most training provision simply lands in the rough.

While listening to Radio 4 the other day I was intrigued by a report about the golf business. It seems we’re spending something like 20 times more than we used to on equipment. Technology has made the shafts more whippy, the drivers hit further, the irons straighter, the balls fly further and the putters seem to have the benefit of global positioning systems to help accuracy.

The sting was in the tail of this particular report: despite us all being seduced to part with more money for the technology, the average score among all golfers for 18-holes is still 104 - the same as it was in 1965.

This got me thinking about the millions spent on training in the motor industry. Are you convinced we are getting that much better as a result? I was recently talking with a field manager from a volume franchise who was in despair that a mystery shopper had managed to be in a retailer for eight minutes, look at four cars and pick up a full set of brochures without being approached in a business brimming with so called sales staff.

Here are four reasons why I believe training as we know it isn’t working:

Missing three quarters of the learning equationWe are in a business obsessed by ‘process’. We are quick to say that every buyer is different, but we insist on treating them all the same. The problem with a process-only approach is that the learner doesn’t get to make any of the decisions. No decisions means no learning and if people don’t feel motivated to learn because they are just following the process and have no opportunity to excel, it just becomes a production line.

Learning is most successful when it works with all four elements of motivation, principle, process and skills.

While early phase learning will tend to be linear through the first three elements, after early process the introduction of a blend of process and skills is essential to increase the decision opportunity for the learner. This early introduction to decision making will encourage engagement with the material and means you have a good chance of making it happen in the workplace.

Too rigid in delivery styleWe have all heard the quote about the average attention span being 45 minutes at a training event or presentation. So why does our industry still insist on delivering the majority of its management development and training in one-day off-site formats? At the beginning of any learning design, assess what the key learning elements are and realistically assess the time required to get the learning across. Then select and design the format around that. Don’t round it up to a full day to ‘make it worthwhile’. You are just diluting the learning. Be creative. At TALENTStream we now deliver our Momentum programme over 6 x 90-minute sessions on-site. This meets the needs of the learner, provides an instant opportunity to apply the learning delivered in the workplace, assists the business and costs less than off-site delivery overall.

Businesses that have used Momentum include the Scottish based Glenvarigill Audi group, whose director Derek Clelland said: “Sales targets have been exceeded month on month, demonstrating the effectiveness of the strategy.”

Too departmentalisedThe customer sees only one business when buying or servicing their car, not a collection of departments. All income comes from that single source, the customer.

All customer-facing training needs to be wrapped in the values associated with the brand the retailer represents. A seamless interface between the customer and the business, no matter where the contact is. To achieve this, organisations must stop looking at training ‘for departments’ from different providers and start planning learning that will improve the experience of the end user.

Their satisfaction, not yours“The operation was a success, but the patient died,” as the saying has it. An unacceptable outcome, but the industry puts up with it so often and keeps commissioning the same training from the same agencies. The motor retail sector needs trainers that make the learning happen and delivers the results. Expect more for your money and think ‘learning’, not ‘training’, look beyond the process, be creative with the format, design learning for the market and make sure your providers take responsibility for the service they deliver. Old idea given new lifeRichard Sivers of consultancy Mice Aga looks at the roles of assessment and development centres in helping to recruit and retain management talent.

The concept of assessment centres and development centres is not a new one. Used by the Armed Forces during the 1940s to identify senior officer potential, these events have found their way more and more into everyday businesses and provide a valuable tool for line managers.

Assessment centres are a means of helping an organisation to identify the strengths and potential development areas of its staff in relation to a particular job or role. They are structured events (usually between one and three days) containing a series of exercises and activities, often including psychometrics. These events have the specific objective of assessing competences in a group of people through their observed behaviour and also their performance in certain tests.

The competences should relate directly to the profile and personal specification of the advertised role.

Development centres are assessment centres but with key differences. Though both involve assessment, the difference lies in the end use of information. An assessment centre should be used for selection purposes and a development centre for personal development. In a nutshell, development centres take the assessment process inside the organisation and not only help to identify key talent for the future, but also give participants and their managers action plans to make the most of their skills.It is vital that during the initial design stage everyone is clear about the objective and the overall ‘look and feel’ of the event. The table below summarises the key, and sometimes subtle, differences.

Assessment Centres• Usually have a pass/fail criteria using scoring matrix / performance grids.• Are geared towards filling job vacancies or selection.• Used with external and/or internal ‘candidates’.• The look and feel of the event is typically more clinical and objective.• Are primarily geared to meet the recruitment needs of the organisation.• Focus on what the individual can do now.• Assign the role of ‘assessors’ to observers.• May give no/little feedback to the individual.• Retain ‘ownership’ of the outcome/feedback within the organisation.

Development Centres• Do not have a pass/fail criteria as the focus is on development.• Are geared towards developing the individual’s skills and performance in key competence areas.• Used with internal ‘participants’.• The look and feel of the event is typically softer, creating a more supportive environment.• Are geared to meet needs of the individual as well as the organisation.• Focus on the individual's potential.• Assign the role of ‘facilitator’ to observers.• Always give detailed feedback to the individual.• Pass to or share ‘ownership’ of the outcome /feedback with the individual and the organisation.

When working either as assessors or facilitators, it is important that the right observer style is employed to match the function and objective of the event. In development centres, for example, it would not be uncommon to provide a steer and some guidance to a participant if they have some queries or concerns about a particular activity. Conversely, in an assessment centre, observer guidance typically is limited to answering process or functional questions rather than providing the odd ‘tip’ or ‘hint’.

In terms of outputs, development centre reports are usually more detailed and focus on providing constructive feedback based on an individual’s performance against the pre-determined competences. A follow-up 1-2-1 meeting with an appropriate facilitator provides an opportunity for the participant to discuss and reflect on their performance and to agree strengths and future development needs. Across a group of participants, these outcomes can be aggregated to offer a deeper insight into the overall performance strengths and gaps of that ‘slice’ of the organisation population. It’s useful information to human resources and the executive when needing to account for people issues in times of organisational change or changes to business strategy and direction.While it is recognised that using assessment or development centres involves more management time and cost, the benefits seen by those organisations that have made full use of them have more than repaid initial investment.

Typical benefits cited are:• Greater belief by employees that the organisation takes recruitment and development seriously and, therefore, as a result they feel more valued by the organisation.• Reduced long-term recruitment costs through mitigating the potential of poor recruitment and selection decisions and thereby reducing employee turnover.• Development opportunities for those who wish to be trained in and who participate as event assessors.• The competences assessed can be integrated into the organisation’s appraisal system allowing a broader review of performance.

In the motor industry, DaimlerChrysler UK has introduced man-agement assessment and development centres as a means of improving recruitment and development of senior dealership staff.

John Bailey, the company’s head of training, said: “Management assessment centres have provided us with the ability to ensure high quality management competence of new senior management appointments within our networks, while development centres have helped the network to identify talent and support growth, development and succession from within the business.”