ATLANTA-``It's not enough to give a hoot'' about customers and the members of your business team. ``You've got to be a hooter'' and tell them so, advised speaker Stephen M. Gower at the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's recent Atlanta convention. ``A hoot minus a hooter equals hootlessness,'' the president of The Gower Group Inc. of Toccoa, Ga., jokingly reminded dealers in a management seminar entitled ``Thinking like a giraffe: Looking for ideas in all the right places.''
Thinking like a giraffe, Mr. Gower explained, means sticking one's neck out and reaching higher up on the tree for ideas.
He listed three factors influencing the outlook of tire dealers as business owners and operators: 1) the direction in which they look for ideas; 2) the determination and discipline with which they look; and 3) their delight in the experience of implementing them.
Tire dealers obviously appreciate their customers' business. But as with most business owners, they often fail to communicate this fact. And the same is true when it comes to communicating with employees, Mr. Gower said.
We give a dangerous amount of power to assumption, he said. ``And assumption minus articulation equals agravation for the business owner.''
Employees, he said, represent an excellent reservoir of potential ideas. And when employees (or ``team members'' as Mr. Gower prefers to call them) claim ownership in an idea, rather than feeling it's being funneled down to them, ``they work much more feverishly to bring it about.''
Everyone is familiar with the suggestion box in which customers and sometimes employees are asked how the company can improve. But placing such suggestions on a bulletin board makes them much more conspicuous and helps fuel excitement and competition in the contribution of new ideas, Mr. Gower said.
Urging his audience to lead rather than attempt to manage those they employ, he reminded dealers that: ``People don't work for us. They work with us. And they're not part of my staff. They're part of our team.''
Troublesome behavior, he said, often is eliminated when employers learn to affirm the praiseworthy actions of employees as excitedly as they confront them about mistakes.
``People do not grow through confrontation. They grow through affirmation,'' Mr. Gower said.
Most employers also tend to particularize more when confronting than when affirming the actions of employees. Serving up such verbal pabulum as ``good job'' or ``nice going'' doesn't cut it,'' he told dealers. ``Catch them doing right and be specific. Tell them why they did well and what you appreciate about them, Mr. Gower advised.
``I've studied this stuff for more than 20,000 hours and I'm convinced you cannot motivate another person,'' he said.
Moreover, trying to persuade workers to do what they don't want to do is seldom the most effective use of an employer's time. ``There is something far superior to external motivation and it's called leadership through encouragement,'' he said.
Employers can operate with the assumption that: 1) employees are fundamentally lazy and must be forced to work; or 2) that they ``really do want to go to bed every night with satisfaction and wake up with excitement,'' Mr. Gower said.
Unfortunately, ours is no longer a culture where people either work or quit their jobs. Because of today's uncertain labor market, reluctant workers often are ``quitting before they quit,'' thereby making the employer's task all the harder.
But the relationship doesn't have to be that difficult, Mr. Gower said. And surely, he added, an employer's time can be better spent than in making certain every job list is full, continually checking and rechecking everyone's work or constantly reminding employees that the dealership's bathroom has to be clean.
Other places where Mr. Gower suggested dealers prospect for good ideas include:
1) Advertising. ``We can learn a great deal if we listen, read or watch advertisements. Unfortunately, many times we learn how not to do it,'' he said.
Above all, make certain important customer benefits also are communicated in the company's advertising, he reminded dealers.
2) Competitors. Many dealers learn from their competitors' mistakes; and some from their competitors' strengths. ``But how of you many of you have learned from a relationship with your competition?'' he asked dealers. ``That's an area most of us should explore more than we do.''
None of this can be accomplished without commitment and discipline on the part of the business owner, he added.
Mr. Gower reminded dealers of the sign in most public elevators reminding passengers: ``In case of fire, do not use the elevator.''
Unfortunately, he said, when trauma strikes a business, there is a tendency on the part of most managements to look for quick ``elevator-type'' fixes rather than taking the ``steps'' necessary to achieve a longer-term solution.