A critical tasks of a dealership leader is coaching employees to perform better. Developing employees is a form of teaching. Much like teaching, managing people involves expanding knowledge, changing behaviors and encouraging performance at increasingly higher levels.

There’s a saying in education, “The key for success in teaching is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a pail.”

The size of a pail is limited. It can be over-filled, especially if done too quickly. But fire, once ignited, will grow provided there is sufficient fuel and air. It may take some huffing and puffing to get it going but once lit, it grows and spreads by itself.

It takes effort to coach employees, but once you inspire them (air) and recognize, teach and pay them (fuel), they will grow. What’s the psychology behind this saying? Another comparison can help explain it.

The Elephant & The Rider

We humans have two sides. One side is emotional, automatic, irrational and intuitive. That’s the elephant. The other side is analytical, controlled and rational and has willpower. That’s the rider.

According to this model of human behavior, the rider is rational and can plan ahead, while the elephant is irrational and is driven by emotion and instinct.

As individuals and as managers, success is defined by finding the proper balance between the two sides.

The elephant is big, strong and powerful. If it decides to go somewhere, it can whether it’s a good thing or not. Like elephants, our emotional, automatic, irrational, intuitive side can dominate.

The rider is smart and also has enough strength and will power to guide the much bigger elephant. The rider guides through their ability to train, convince and earn trust. Our non-emotional side is smaller but is powerful as well.

The book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, enhanced this metaphor. They present a third aspect to this model, which is relevant for managers who need to get work done through people.

The third element is the direction or environment. Think of the path the elephant and rider are following. It can be literally the road to getting things done. The elephant may want to wander off the path. The rider’s job is to guide the elephant to stay on the path.

Our emotions may cause us to wander off the path, but our willpower keeps us focused on the task at hand.

Let’s get back to lighting fires. The rider in each of us must understand the overwhelming power of emotions in ourselves, but also in each of our employees. Lighting fires means appealing to the emotional elephant. To keep the elephant and rider on the path, we must know how to train the rider to light the fire in the emotional side of each of us.

Parts Employee Example

Filling the Bucket: Teaching the importance of inventory turns, productivity, counter fill, breadth vs. depth, etc.

Lighting the Fire: Inspiring the importance of anticipating customer’s needs and feeling good when customers have all the parts they need (this is different than just “up-selling”).

You might inspire by teaching them their role to “feed the techs” is critical and doing so is vital to the functioning of the whole dealership. Customers often buy machines because of good service. Technicians are more likely to fix a machine correctly and efficiently only when the parts department is operating at high efficiency by anticipating and providing the correct parts in a timely fashion. Light a fire by convincing them the parts department is the key to the overall success of the dealership.

Service Department Example

Filling the Bucket: Tracking technicians on their productivity and efficiency in completing jobs on time and billing out all their time.

Lighting the Fire: Technicians are motivated by doing a good job — diagnosing and repairing machines professionally and with high quality. They feel good when a broken machine is back up and running well. Tapping into this motivation of accomplishment, competence and quality can help in the productivity and financial parts of their jobs.

Light a fire by ensuring they understand the professionalism that drives the best technicians extends to achieving high levels of efficiency — billing out equal or more work than assigned.

Sales Department Example

Filling the Bucket: Daily follow-up on number of calls and quotes made.

Lighting the Fire: Coach sales reps to incorporate the core message of this article (the huge role of emotions in human behavior) into their sales approach by seeking to light a fire in their customers. Trust, relationships and affinity are all positive emotions that help close sales.


March 2017 Issue Contents