A formal approach

Clearly, the industry’s leading dealers understand how essential it is to get the right people in the right positions and then grow and develop them along with their businesses. But despite the many best practices they employ to attract, retain and ultimately cultivate their employees, few have a formal leadership development program in place.

But that’s about to change. One of the many new products and services Spader Business Management will launch this year is a leadership development program created in partnership with Dr. Michael O’Connor, an internationally recognized speaker, author, coach and mentor who has contributed to fields such as human resources, behavioral management, leadership and organizational development.

Oftentimes, leaders are chosen for their aptitude with task-specific skills, which is only about 25 percent of what is required to succeed in a leadership position, O’Connor points out. As a result, most leaders are not high performers. And, ultimately, low-performing employees cost a business money while high-performing employees not only make a business a lot of money, but also build high morale, which pays huge and ongoing dividends. O’Connor’s leadership development programs are designed to turn employees into high performers and give them the tools to influence and coach others within the business.

The Spader program that is being created has a lot in common with the custom leadership development programs Dr. O’Connor has designed for various other businesses, including Caterpillar dealership H.O. Penn. Similarly, dealerships will choose key employees to participate in the program, which can last as little as nine months or as long as two years, depending on their preferred time line. Participants will meet five or six times during the length of the program for two to three days at a time. And each session will be focused on specific insights based on key company stakeholder groups, such as customers, employees, owners and partners. In between these sessions, participants will be coached on how to put what they’re learning to work in their businesses, which they’ll practice through various practical application assignments.

If their experience is anything like H.O. Penn, those dealerships that commit to leadership development will see dramatic performance improvements, the likes of which brought H.O. Penn from a low-performing Caterpillar dealer to one of the best in the country year after year. Executive Vice President and General Manager Jeff Mitchell says his company’s employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and financial results have all improved substantially since his team began working with Dr. O’Connor.

Other benefits Mitchell cites are the ability to promote the vast majority of participants to higher levels in the company; an increase in teamwork; a better employee understanding of the owner’s perspective, which helps in decision-making; and a decrease in turnover. Mitchell points out that one of the main reasons people leave companies is due to a lack of opportunities for growth, training and development. Now, on his employee satisfaction survey, this has gone from an employee concern to an area of strength for the dealership.

Another benefit, perhaps one of the most important for this industry, is the choices it may provide to owners when it comes to succession planning. Through this type of program, dealerships will be able to develop new leaders who are qualified to take on the critical roles necessary to carry their business forward once current leaders are ready to pass the baton.

“No matter what your size, one of the really critical pieces to being successful for the long term is knowing who your ‘A-Team’ is,’” says Mitchell. “This program allows you to do that. So much happens when the owner is not there, on the phone, at your locations, in service. Owners need to know that their people will handle it how they would handle it if they were there.” — Liz Walz

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