For each print issue of Farm Equipment, I dig through the Implement & Tractor archives to find something to highlight, whether it’s an example of what was a state of the art dealership 40 years ago or a survey that shows that large dealers are ready to start adding computers (a story from a 1984 issue). As I pull a volume off the shelf, I never really know what I’m looking for or what I’m going to find. However, the results never seem to disappoint. One thing I always walk away with, though, is that good business advice is generally evergreen.
In the March 1984 issue, Implement & Tractor covered the Farm & Industrial Equipment Institute’s Marketing & Management Conference (FIEI was a forerunner of the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers). The coverage included a poignant piece on Dr. Eugene E. Jennings’ talk titled “Industry Revival — Why We Have to Step Back to Go Forward.” Jennings was a professor of business administration at Michigan State University, and his comments are just as relevant today as they were 33 years ago. In the article, which you can read here, Jennings talks about the motherhood of seasoning. At the heart of it, seasoning means being allowed to make mistakes — and then learning from those mistakes. While Jennings was encouraging dealers to get back into this habit over 30 years ago, it’s a practice that still is missing from a number of businesses.
Jennings said, “American managers don’t know the meaning of seasoning! It means that if you make a mistake, you must stick around and clean it up. Example: Texas Instruments’ board of directors voted not to fire the management that had made mistakes; rather they told management to get the problem straightened out. If we are going to have entrepreneurs, we have to have risk-taking.”
Potential managers need to be given time to learn and grow from experience. If you move someone up the ladder too quickly, don’t be surprised when they don’t know the answer or how to do something that to you seems obvious that a manager should know. After all, they haven’t been given the time and experiences to learn all those lessons. As Jennings said, “The faster they rise, the harder they fall.” That doesn’t mean you can’t identify the individuals who you see management potential in early on. When you see a young employee who shows promise, take the time to both mentor them and challenge them. Give them the opportunity to make mistakes, correct the mistake, learn and move on. (Of course a key element of this strategy is that the individual actually learn from the mistake and doesn't just keep repeating it.) In the same vein, let them see your mistakes — and how you correct them. Seasoning is important for your dealership’s future.