A few years back, the majority of my work was spent traveling to various car dealerships working to improve their customer and employee experience. Now, for anyone who has done an ideal client avatar exercise, let’s just say since those automotive days, my results never REMOTELY describe anyone in that industry. Perhaps a broad brushstroke. But as they say, car guys–not my people.
I’d pack up my flipcharts and projector, head into a dealership, have focus groups with the team, and then would meet with the GM and come up with a plan of action to turn the customer and employee experience around.
This particular trip had me hopping, skipping, and jumping down 95 to Daytona Beach. I felt it as soon as I walked in. The GM’s disdain penetrated off of him; he was resistant, dismissive, patronizing, condescending, with an undercurrent of misogyny.
I buckled down.
Our chat started with him describing how worthless his team was. Strong start. I nodded my head and remained as neutral as possible, and then headed into the focus group.
First question I asked: “How’s it going?” Now, I had more specific questions in my repertoire. As it would turn out, they were unnecessary. With those three words, the floodgates opened.
My initial impression of the GM and the vibe of the dealership was confirmed: negative, disorganized, uncaring, meanspirited…and then some. I couldn’t get them to stop talking!
When I finally called time, I took a minute to prepare my debrief for the GM. Having sensed the “open to feedback” scale was at about a negative 100, I choose my words and topics wisely. I tied them up in a neutral package and started off with, “Some great opportunities I see are…” and shared a few observations.
He was NOT having it.
“WHAT YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND…” he bellowed at me, stabbing his finger in my face. He rattled off reasons why he had no interest in what I said.
“WHAT YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND…” he admonished again and told me how I knew nothing about the auto industry.
“WHAT YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND is we do things a certain way here…” and then really got in my face. “You come here, trying to dig up dirt. Prying. Asking questions. Stirring up shit…What…did you go in and ask them how bad things are?”
It took everything I had to not unleash my inner Jersey on him and respond with, “What YOU need to understand…” and instead, as calmly as I could, said, “No. I asked, ‘How’s it going?’ And they shared.”
He opened his mouth to berate/defend/condescend some more and then miraculously his trap snapped shut.
There was a moment of quiet. He was bewildered, confused, and dumbfounded that those three words gave me so much intel.
Then he snapped back to his true nature and accused me of lying to him (why?) and finger-jabbed some more and now we’ll move on from that character because thinking about him gives me hives.
Now, I’m going to assume if you are in this community you’re not the sort of person who would scream WHAT YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND in my face multiple times. That you are open to opportunities. So here is an opportunity for you to connect with your team.
Ask them, “How’s it going?”
A few follow-up questions:
What’s working for you?
What would you like to see done differently?
What are you seeing, hearing, or experiencing in your role that I might not be seeing that would be helpful for me to know?
Then listen. No need to necessarily jump in and solve or immediately take action. Listen and HEAR what’s going on with them.
Daytona man clearly had no desire to know. He didn’t ask, because he didn’t care.
My experience with those ideal client avatar types, caring leaders, aka YOU, is that while you DO care, you don’t ask. You don’t check-in. You get removed from the front line with your own work, your own responsibilities, your own priorities, and the inevitable disconnect from the team happens.
The opportunity: ask your team what’s going on with them. You just might be surprised about what you hear and how much they are willing to share when given the opportunity. You learn what’s on their minds, which may switch up your priorities. You learn what’s happening in their worlds, which builds connection and trust.
What you need to understand, said lovingly, is that curiosity and connection with your team are the keys to that employee and customer experience those car guys were after.