Among the many slogans that Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has coined, these two sum up a critical aspect of his championship culture: Clemson aims for a benchmark, a standard of excellence, that is unchanging. That benchmark does not change. Even with yearly changes in staff, players and competition, the benchmark stays the same. And if you want to play for Clemson, then you need to be "All-In" to live and work toward that standard.
How, Not What
The two cultural statements together form a very powerful foundation for high achievement. The focus is not on WHAT can we achieve, it’s on HOW do we achieve.
As leaders in your dealership, do you have an unchanging standard of excellence that your management team and employees strive to reach? Or do performance expectations get negotiated each year during annual budgeting based on the competition, business cycle and employee turnover?
A dealership leader or investor wants higher performance and returns. The management team wants to achieve the goal set. Too often, the budget becomes an unhealthy, indirect negotiating exercise for performance expectations — how many managers pad their budget and expect to pull items out as a part of settling on the final budget? In the end, this type of budgeting process lowers performance, with either management not buying into the target set by you, or the company settling for lower performance than could be achieved.
‘Best is Standard’ Modeling & Benchmarking
What’s the answer? A “Best is Standard” approach that is “All-In” to commit to achieving performance benchmarks (or financial models) that is unchanging and designed for your industry. Instead of getting mired in the minutia of hundreds of lines of expenses, a strong model will simplify the focus and thinking. This approach empowers managers with more authority and freedom — no one is questioning every tiny detail. The goal is to achieve the model so managers focus on the how, not the what.
Once the expectation is set to reach model performance, the key questions become:
- What’s the gap between our current performance and the model performance?
- What contributes to the gap and what changes will close the gap?
For management, the goal is clear — achieve model profitability, achieve model customer satisfaction or both. The focus? The changes that bring their department closer to the benchmark model.
Driving the changes to reach model performance is not easy — otherwise every company would achieve the model (and every team would win their conference). As Coach Swinney said after Clemson won in 2016, “Our goals pale in comparison to the effort it took to achieve them.”
There are 3 Leadership Lessons to achieve the benchmarks of excellence:
- Have the courage to try new approaches
- Take comfort with change and continual improvement
- Know the data
Courage is very important for leaders, managers and employees — no one wants to fail or look bad trying. However, those that have courage to embrace a “Best is Standard” approach, will have the opportunity to achieve better results and greatness. Otherwise, you and your team are limited by what you’ve always done or what you know works.
Comfort with change is really an oxymoron because change and continual improvement are not naturally comfortable. However, I once asked a wise executive at the end of a big project if he would give the team a break. “No,” he said, “they have their change muscles in shape so I want to keep using them.” So develop and use your team’s change muscles. Don’t let excuses — like not enough time, etc. — get in the way.
Data drives decisions and performance. Too often data points are opinions or old memories, e.g., “Customers will go crazy if we raise prices” or “We’ll lose customers to our competitors.” Instead, ensure your company gets the data and turns it into information to drive and validate performance.
Doing this will let your team make adjustments and see how their changes are working. Managers can better coach the team by reviewing performance and game planning for what’s coming. Could you imagine if a football team ignored statistics, didn’t review film or had no game plan? Would you bet on them or the team that spent hours studying film and preparing their game plan?
As Justin McCordy, a cornerback that joined the New England Patriots, said after this year’s Superbowl, “Around the league everyone said it wasn’t fun to play for the Patriots because you had to stay up late watching film and were always working. But this here (looking around at confetti after winning the Super Bowl) is fun!”
And it is fun to beat a standard, achieve high performance and know you’re the best.
Are you ready to adopt “Best is Standard” benchmarks for your company and be “All-in”?