In today's tire and automotive repair industry, harnessing the power of technology is just one element of growing a successful business.
After working with my family's tire and auto repair business, Sandone Tire, and starting the online marketing and software-as-a-service firm Net Driven, I realized that the proper use of technology is essential to growing and maintaining any business. I would argue, however, that leadership is the most important part of creating a prosperous enterprise.
Leaders display discipline, ingenuity and influence. In a company, leaders lay the foundation for the organization through a clear mission, focused goals and developing people. At the end of the work day, effective leadership must extend beyond the entrepreneur to the people working in the company.
My thoughts on leadership can be best summarized through my experience coaching my 4-year-old son's soccer team. As his coach, I could see that Max's skills were not up to those of other kids on the team. He loved the game and he had promise. He also had the desire to be great but needed help realizing his potential.
First, we both made a decision to focus on becoming a better soccer player for the course of the season. We removed distractions and created a mission, thus gaining focus.
Next, we defined success. In soccer for that age group, there is no defense, no offense and no positions. Only one thing matters: scoring goals. So we focused on scoring a goal as our primary objective.
Finally, we developed a coaching plan. We took incremental steps toward our target by identifying areas for improvement and methods for progression. Max wanted to score goals, so he needed to be around the ball more. Gaining possession of the ball was a problem, so he needed to learn how to assert himself. After he had the ball, he had to kick with purpose in the direction of the goal. Through practice, all these little things would add up to him becoming a better soccer player, I told him.
With a little coaching, my son worked on his problem areas and soon enough he scored his first goal in the seventh game of the season. He was the last player on his team to score a goal but he had reached his target. Max made a great progression over a short season, demonstrating the power of leadership and the latent potential that exists in all people and organizations.
Here's how I see leadership differentiated: focus, goal setting and developing people. They're the same principles I've used to help grow Net Driven and my family's tire businessand they are essential to realizing the promise of any organization.
Focus on the soccer field drives performance and decisions to score goals and win games. In the same way, focus inside your tire dealership can drive growth and business activity on a daily basis. But what defines this focus?
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, framed it best with a series of questions called the Hedgehog Concept that should be used to define core values of a company.
At Net Driven, our Hedgehog Concept can be summed up in those same three quick questions:
c What are you deeply passionate about? Answer: Helping independent businesses thrive;
c What can you be the best in the world at? Answer: Providing results-oriented digital marketing solutions to the automotive industry; and
c What drives your economic engine? Answer: Revenue per employee.
The Hedgehog Concept is symbolized by three intersecting circles. The area where all three circles meet is where an individual or organization can be great. Staying true to these values may be difficult but can ultimately be very powerful.
At Net Driven, for instance, we have had to make tough decisions and turn down profitable business to stay true to our mission, but in the long run these decisions gave us time and space to focus on our core business and serve our clients in the best way possible. Everyone in the company knows, adheres to and believes in our Hedgehog Concept because staying true to this focus has made our success.
Whatever pursuit you may embark on, you need to define your focus. What's your mission? Are you and your dealership's or service shop's team staying true to this mission during day-to-day operations? If not, time, money and resources will be wasted on projects that do not correspond to the mission or contribute to the growth of the company.
Ultimately, it is hard enough to be great at one thing, never mind two or more things. Indeed, losing focus can rob you or your organization of the opportunity to be great, while maintaining laser focus one can propel you to levels of success you never thought possible.
A simple yet powerful mission will govern the direction of any successful tire dealership, but a company must also target how much distance it will travel in that direction over a defined period of time. This is the purpose of setting goals. It sets the pace for how much ground to cover and creates a benchmark to measure performance on a daily basis.
American architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham once said, Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.
Goals have the power to motivate people. These goals should be big yet realistic and stretch the limits of the organization in order to accomplish them.
I started Net Driven in 2007, each year striving for 100-percent year-over-year growtha lofty goal for sure and a rate of growth that would make even Facebook and Google jealous. By stating and restating this audacious goal, people started to believe in it. More importantly, they started to get excited about what we could achieve.
In fact, we achieved over 100-percent growth and have been at or near that rate of growth every year since. As the company continues to grow, I set multiple benchmarks that help us track our success and break those down into daily and monthly goals that allow us to measure ourselves and appreciate our successes every day. I want to show people this is where we are today and this is where we can be tomorrow because building a company is a journey, and the people inside the company make that journey a reality.
One simple goal I think many tire dealers can benefit from relates to auto service. At my family's tire dealership, we were able to double our auto repair business over two years simply by creating a goal and measuring it every day. Tire dealers have great car counts but often don't take the time to look at what else a car may need when they change the tires. Creating a focus on service and a specific goal draws attention to the opportunity and can quickly generate extra profitability.
I believe if you clearly define your goals and focus on achieving them, you will be successful.
A focused mission and firm goals will not be realized without the right team and the right training. Once a company sets a direction and determines how far they will travel each year, putting together a team willing to make these things happen is critical.
Recognizing the latent potential in people helps leaders place employees in the proper spots inside a company. Someone who identifies with the core values of the company and understands how to translate this focus into daily work is a worthy asset.
Identify a person's strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and remember there's a difference between can and want. What a person wants may not be what he or she can be the best at, and it's important to identify this difference and get the right people in the right positions as early as possible. Help people see where they can be most useful and what they truly can be the best at.
This brings us back to the coaching analogy. As my son's soccer coach, I had a realistic vision of his potential as a soccer player. He had more than passion; he had potential to be goodmaybe even great. Neither of us had any illusions. All he needed was help identifying the steps and methods for progressing toward his goal. He might not become the best soccer player in the world by season's end, but he could certainly become the best player on the team.
I'm not trying to oversimplify the conceptit's a real world representation of how harnessed, focused potential and taking incremental steps toward one goal can lead to definable and trackable success.
Similarly, growing your tire sales by 20, 30 or 40 percent may be as simple as finding the right sales people and creating the right motivation.
The journey from good to great can be long, so it's vital to set a strong foundation through focus, goals and helping people realize their potential. Only then will a business and its individuals be poised for greatness.
While the concepts are simple, having the discipline to apply them day in and day out is not quite as easy. Good luck unlocking the potential in your organization. Regardless of the outcome, the journey is enjoyable.
Patrick Sandone is the founder and president of Net Driven, a software-as-a-service technology firm. He also has worked with Monitor Clipper Partners in Boston and Paris as a venture capitalist, and the investment banking firm of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in New York. Net Driven's mission is to drive superior results for the automotive industry by producing distinctive Internet solutions. The Scranton, Pa.-based company serves more than 3,500 automotive businesses including tire dealers, repair shops and distributors. Its website is www.netdriven.com.