Reasonable Excuses?

Part of my job as a consultant is to implement new processes. Since most of us spend our days in a comfortably rhythmic cycle, you can imagine how people react when I come in and change their routine. No one likes change, let alone a shift in how they perform their job. The tougher part about my task is that I am making these changes in a commission based environment. Meaning if I slow them down, they feel it in their wallet.

I am, of course, introducing the employees to a process that will streamline their job and make them more efficient. By becoming more efficient, they will be able to produce more and inevitably make more money for themselves. The trick, is to get them to see the vision of the full plan. Most people I talk to however, don’t want to see that far ahead, they get frustrated, and the excuses start coming my way.

In life, we are all so conditioned to hearing excuses, that we tend to tune them out. We brush them off, tell the person, “tough luck, do it anyway”. This can be students in a classroom, our children at home, our employees, our spouses or even ourselves. Sometimes however, there are reasons behind the excuses. Reasons we can fix, make changes on the fly and adjust. How do we find out the difference between a reason and an excuse? We take off the blinders, and we simply look around and listen.

Last week I had a great opportunity to put this practice into action. I was in a dealer for a short visit. Without going into specifics here is how it went:

We have certain metrics we watch, and this dealer on a high level, was doing a great job. They were going through all the motions and clicking all the right buttons, but as I dove further into their reports, I found that they weren’t using the tool to be as profitable as they could be. All the steps were being taken, but they were empty. “Why?” I thought to myself.

I got to the dealership early in the morning and everyone was in a great mood. This is always a great way to start the day. All the advisers, techs, and parts staff greeted me with a smile, proud of their great performance with the tools.

I sat down with the dealer and we dove into reports to show that surprisingly, the tools weren’t helping them be as profitable as they could be. We talked about how it has helped streamline the process and how the customers loved the technology. The tools and processes have helped increase the customer satisfaction scores at the store. I showed him how his staff was missing steps to increase opportunities.

He was surprised to see this, and told me to go tell the staff that I demand they change their ways. I instead asked him if he had any ideas as to why this might be happening, “they just need to do their job,” was the answer. One I have heard before, one that doesn’t work.

Knowing that going out there and telling these guys to do their job was a waste of time, I decided I’d go find out what is really going on. Each technician told me the same thing, that it simply takes too long. Sounds like an excuse to me, also, that’s not true. I asked them why it takes to long. Well the parts department takes too long to do their job, or the advisors take too long to do their job. Finger pointing, more excuses.

I asked each person, “specifically, what is the problem” when they gave me an excuse, I would ask them again. “No. Specifically, what is the problem.” As they gave me specifics I started to gain a picture of what was going on.

It turned out, one of the employees wasn’t there during the original training of the tool. He didn’t understand the tools and got frustrated, he started to instill doubt into the other employees. This particular employee was a key piece in the process. Since he had stopped trying, over the following months, everyone stopped doing their part.

Unfortunately, since I had inherited this account, I didn’t perform the original training. I did however have access to this information, and it was my fault for not knowing this prior to my arrival. For that I apologized and corrected the issue. I retrained this employee, had a quick meeting with everyone and got commitment to restart the program.

I told the manager what I had found and explained to him how it happened. He was shocked there was an actual reason for the drop of utilization of this part of the tool. He assumed that if something was wrong, he would have heard. He just knew they gave small excuses here and there, he ignored the words they were saying. He never thought to slow down, and listen to what the actual reason for the problems were.

As I left, I couldn’t help but think about what happened that day. How many times do we just hear excuses and blow them off as someone lazy, or whining. Maybe we need to slow down and find out if there is an actual reason we can correct behind the excuses.

Excuses can only be fixed with effort. Reasons can be fixed with tactical solutions. Next time I hear an excuse, I will take off the blinders, and find the solution.