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Shop Talk: Dead Wood Doesn’t Burn

What about your staff? Are they dried wood or dead wood? Are they tempered for the task and able to burn hot for a long period of time or have they decided to serve the rest of their time living in their former glory?

I remember my first winter in New England. I bought a home with both a fireplace and a wood stove. The fireplace was for atmosphere and the wood stove could heat the house on those cold winter nights. However, living most of my life in the New York City area, there wasn’t much call for wood, so my only experience with burning any was on a camping trip. You went into the woods, gathered some wood and made a fire. Simple, right?

As the temperatures began to drop, I started to think about where I might get some wood. At the time, I was driving a Thunderbird demo and took off for some nearby woods. I figured if I could fill up the trunk with some wood, it should get me through some of the season. But, what kind of wood? I couldn’t cut down any trees, as I didn’t have any equipment. I was fairly certain that mere branches wouldn’t work either. So, I went hunting for log-sized pieces of wood on the forest floor. That’s when I learned the difference between dried wood and dead wood.

 I came upon a stand of birch trees. Some had fallen and conveniently enough had broken into the size logs that would fit perfectly into my wood stove. As I started to load them into the trunk, I found that part of the log would crumble in my hand. I thought that once they were in the house and dried out, it would be just fine. Wrong.

From lying on the ground, the birch had become waterlogged and rotted from the inside out. It would take weeks to dry, and once lit, only minutes to fill the house with smoke and then burn out. No fire — no heat. Dead wood.

 Yet, these trees served the forest well for many years. Leaves for shade, nesting places for birds and even food for insects. If they had been cut down and allowed to dry, they would heat for quite a while and provide wonderful fires in the fireplace. How could you let something that had done so much simply get tossed back into the place it originally came from? After all that, it seemed a shame to cast it aside. But, once you realize that dead wood serves no future purpose and will simply waste away wherever you put it, the only logical thing to do is let it go.

What about your staff? Are they dried wood or dead wood? Are they tempered for the task and able to burn hot for a long period of time or have they decided to serve the rest of their time living in their former glory? It’s hard to see that they are rotting from the inside out. They look the same; probably even sound the same. But there are signs.

1. Total resistance to change. Whether new technology or how to sell to the internet educated, do they cling to the piece of paper, magic marker, smoke-and-mirror gibberish of the way things were sold in 1986?

2. Their performance swings with the market. When the economy booms, their numbers go up and when things take a turn for the worse, the numbers go down. No consistency, no repeat customers and no real plan. “Things will get better boss, they always do.”

3. They have an answer for any poor performance and it never involves anything to do with them. It’s things like: wrong inventory, banks, the guy up the road, the internet, customers are becoming jerks, blah, blah, blah.

They know the boss will stick with them because they go way back. (Hint: Hey boss, when you had to take out a second mortgage to make payroll, did these people take a cut in pay to help you out?)

There is plenty to be admired about loyalty. I still have many dealer friends who taught me, let me work for them, and helped me reach my level of success. I am glad I can count on them to give me a good recommendation or even to let me discuss something that might benefit them. But, I’d like to think I earned that loyalty because from the day I started working, right up until the minute I left, I gave it 100%.

Sometimes loyalty goes too far. If you’ve realized that to continue as a business, you need to bring your level of technology up to the 21st century, bring your people to a point where they can deal successfully with the internet-educated buyer, and you’ve put those pieces into your business, you have to realize that real loyalty means your people will give you a solid effort to adapt.

Then, loyalty can bend. If your long-term people are moving into your new business plan, they may have a tough time, but as long as they are sincerely trying to get there, loyalty can give them a cushion of forgiveness. However, if they are just resisting new technology because they never needed it before, are sabotaging your efforts by constantly complaining about minor glitches or just plain doing things their way and pulling the loyalty card, congratulations. You’ve now seen the difference between dry wood and dead wood. 

John Fuhrman is director of training for OptionSoft Technologies and has trained over 15,000 sales, management and F&I professionals since 1996. He can be reached at [email protected]. He has conducted webinars for MPN, which are listed on the MPN website.

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