One of the advantages of working with many owners of small businesses is that I have the opportunity to compare the stronger ones with the weaker ones. By watching how they perform I can validate the importance of strong leadership and management practices. The way owners lead and manage successful businesses compared to those who struggle is often stark. The following is an example of the leadership and management practices of an owner of a successful business.
I met Terry over 20 years ago by way of referral from a business associate. He presently owns two automotive dealerships in a community with a population of less than 20,000 and serves a trading area of over 1400 square miles serving more than 150,000 people. His approach to leadership and management has developed over the years. Here's what I found about "Terry's Way."
Strategic Planning: Terry involves his key people in planning and keeps control over the outcome. He spends time ensuring his business plan is current and uses it to keep his business on a growth trajectory. He has a measured approach to development and change and a clear understanding of his marketplace realities.
Management Team: Terry surrounds himself with a strong management team who have well defined roles and responsibilities. He grew his team from within, and when talent and strength were lacking he attracted members from the wider community.
Meetings: He holds regular management meetings. The meetings have agendas. Minutes, and decisions are recorded and are followed up after the meeting. Policy issues are discussed and the over-all activity of the company is monitored against the business plan. He holds general "State of the Business" sessions with his employees and ensures their concerns are heard first hand. He also makes sure his employees interact socially and encourages times for individual and business celebrations.
Delegation: Terry has no trouble delegating important matters to his management team. He allows employees to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. When he delegates he doesn't interfere with how they carry out the action.
Hiring: Job descriptions are well defined and employees are hired based on those job description requirements. Terry's main concern is that there is a proper fit between the person and the position. If there isn't a fit, he has no trouble moving the person to a better fit within the organization, or moving the person out where a more suitable fit may be found.
Learning: Terry regularly reads business related books and articles. His books find their way to an in-house library of current business literature; and, he encourages employees to borrow them. He holds regular technical and people skill training sessions. He understands that the core of his business is all about promoting positive relationships and everyone within the organization needs to continually improve those skills. There are no exceptions including himself. He attends training sessions not only to sharpen his own skills but also to be a role model for ongoing learning. An important by-product of his attending training is, as he states: "to find ways to reinforce the training during the months following the training." He asks himself and others how training fits within the vision and values of his company and what results he should expect.
Customers: Terry knows that customers come first in his business. Without them, he has no business. He has a "make it easy for the customer," mantra that permeates the business culture.
One of my consulting firm's first interventions with Terry was to help him understand how his customers viewed his business and service. We did this through a series of customer focus groups. Terry and his key managers attended those sessions. To this day, Terry continues to glean feedback from his customers through a formal follow-up process and by meeting with them first hand. It's not that he doesn't receive "customer service complaints" but it is his approach to those complaints that is important. He sees them as an opportunity to "do better," and as he says, "we're here to fix what isn't working and make it right."
Technology and Systems: The auto industry has experienced tremendous technological advances since the 1980s, and Terry's Service Department has kept pace with the challenge. But technology has not only affected the way cars and trucks work, it also has impacted the way business systems and processes work. He has developed an improved automated Customer Relations Management system and a more effective use of Microsoft Outlook through the Priority Working Sm@rt program. Terry sees the importance of keeping current with changes in technology hardware and the software that goes along with it.
Terry is first to admit that his business doesn't always run like clockwork, in fact he is sure it never has. No business does. They all have emerging people or technical issues in search of solutions. What's important is that Terry is open to learning, and change and does what is necessary to "fix" the problems as they arise, and does what he can to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
By now you get a sense that Terry is a successful business owner and a leader-manager. His business has grown over the years, kept pace with changes, and developed a loyal customer and employee base. He has improved business systems and processes through a continued learning and application. He has kept his employees current with best practice technological and people skills. He is an authentic, unassuming, and supportive leader who is well respected within his company and throughout his community. He, with the support of his employees, has received numerous industry and community awards and citations. This is one example of proof that strong leadership and management works.
Questions to Ponder: How well do you lead and manage? Do you have a business plan? Do you work the plan? Does your management team show both leadership and management qualities? Do you hire the right people? Have you encouraged a culture of learning, respect and growth? Do you know what your customers say about your business? How do you know? Is your technology current? Are your systems and processes effective? How do you know? The right answers to these questions will put your business on the road to success. They are worth exploring, begin seeking the answers today.
Up-dated from the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.