From the NCM Institute Blog: What do you do if your "rock star" producer wants to be a manager?

Here’s your dilemma: One of your top performers--maybe a vehicle sales consultant, maybe a service advisor, maybe a technician, maybe an F&I producer--just advised you that he really wants to become a manager. Although you don’t really want to lose his production, you know that if you don’t appropriately address his request and desire, he might quit and leave, or maybe worse, he might quit and stay.

Here is what else probably bothers you about this situation; you’ve been here before…several times. And most always, the results weren’t pretty. I expect that your experiences mirror my own. In my 20 years as a general manager and dealer principal, one of the following things usually happened:

  1. I promoted the guy, and he ended up being a “rock star” manager. This was a wonderful result. However, that result happened rarely.

  2. I decided not to promote him, and he was able to find another dealer willing to take a chance on his untested management abilities. Maybe he succeeded, or maybe he failed. This was not a good result for me, but fortunately this was also a rare outcome.

  3. I promoted the guy and he failed in the management position. Although I offered him his former role as a producer, his ego wouldn’t let him accept the demotion. Then he became a “rock star” producer with one of my competitors. This was the most frequent result, and my decision was totally driven by the hope that #1 would happen and the fear that #2 would happen.

Sound familiar? So what should you do in this situation to end up with the best possible outcome? When we first field a request like this, we need to commend the producer for his desire to further his automotive retail career. Then we need to diligently investigate his motive(s). Is it money? Is it ego? Is it the desire for challenge…experience…responsibility? Is it external pressure (spouse or other family members)? Next, and maybe most importantly, we need to assure the producer that we regard him as a valuable member of our team, and we’ll do everything we can to position him within our organization in the best possible spot for both him and us.

I don’t know about you, but my experience proves that I don’t personally have sufficient skills to effectively identify management and leadership potential. I’ve made too many mistakes. The only way I could be certain that someone would be a good manager and leader is if they were currently demonstrating that performance level for me or for someone else. In most cases, this certainty was not available to me.  I learned to depend on a combination of psychological testing and the “gut” instincts of me and my senior management team.

There are a number of good psychological testing services that specialize in the retail automotive industry. Most are capable of determining the strengths and weaknesses within a person that will predict his potential success as a manager and leader. These evaluations should be the primary determinant in deciding whether a top producer should be promoted to dealership management. If the evaluation recommended my producer for promotion, that’s when I needed to bring gut instinct into the decision making process. If the evaluation was negative, even if our collective guts said we should promote, my experience has proven that, when we let our gut override the psychological test, our decision would be wrong 80% of the time, and we all should know better than to bet against those odds.

The documented results of these psychological tests can also be very helpful once you’ve made your decision about the promotion. I have clients who have used these results to effectively defend their decision not to promote and also to counsel the employee about why he should remain a producer at the client’s dealership, rather than seeking a management position elsewhere. These test findings are also often useful in coaching the newly promoted manager, helping him to build on his strengths and overcome any weaknesses that the test identifies.

If you have any additional tips on how to best handle the top producer who wants to transition into management, we welcome your comments. 

Prickly issues like this are frequently addressed within the leadership segments of the management training courses conducted by the NCM Institute Center for Automotive Retail Excellence. 

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Comment by Garry House on October 23, 2012 at 7:30pm

Chris...

Great contribution! Thank you very much!

Comment by Chris Spensley on October 23, 2012 at 5:36pm

I can relate this in 3 ways:

I was the top producer that aspired to a management/leadership position

I was in the position where I have top producers approach me about management positions 

I have been in a consulting role where leaders asked me to make a recommendation about whether to promote a top producer.

You are right on point: When you recommended asking why the person wanted a leadership position and I also agree with your 3 potential outcomes. I am not in full agreement about the likelihood of outcomes as I have seen more top producers held out of management jobs because of fear of replacing their production than those that fail because they are not a suitable match for the position. As we discuss the potential of such a person and the testing that can help reveal strengths as well as weaknesses it is important to consider why the person is a top producer and see if those reasons are compatible with your definition of success in the proposed management position. Example: A hard working person with a never say die attitude wins in a sales job and in a management position but a lack of organization is easily overlooked in a sales role but a glaring deficiency in a leadership role. So you develop organizational skills in your candidate  and you then perpetuate the hard work attitude across an organization- no test will tell you that but good training can help make it happen. The management promotion question is a good one but it also perpetuates the cycle of placing people in a sales role and providing limited training and "hoping" they succeed.The same goes for a management promotion- the job requires a lot of skills training and the sad news is in many cases the person being replaced is the only one in the dealership equipped to help. The solution is to hire as many A players as you can, understand why they succeed, reinforce behaviors that perpetuate success and train train train, then with promotions rinse and repeat. The successful promotions I have seen from within with top performers always included the dealership providing training to round out any skills deficiencies that may exist and an extensive interview and (as mentioned) evaluation process going in so the training will match the need. In short handing a top performer a management job without developing them into it is a recipe for trouble-

Comment by Doug Davis on October 17, 2012 at 12:28pm

Bobby, that is a perfect example of what I mean by managers having the servant mentality.

Comment by Garry House on October 17, 2012 at 12:28pm

You're right, Bobby! This is turning out to be a Great Thread! Thanks for your contribution! I really like your "understudy" concept!

Comment by Garry House on October 16, 2012 at 2:32pm

Thanks for the comment, Nancy! Without question, the "rock star's" motive should be an important consideration in the promotion decision.

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on October 16, 2012 at 2:23pm

I think each case is unique and needs to be addressed on an individual basis.  If his/her true passion is to make a difference and feels that with the additional power and authority which accompanies a management role, he/she can do that...then I would promote with a blessing to make multiple rock stars via servant leadership.  On the other hand, for example, if the motive is ego-driven, wants the title and "presitge"...then my answer is NO...

Comment by Garry House on October 16, 2012 at 1:39pm

Doug...

You make some great points in your comment. Thanks much for your very valuable contribution!

Comment by Garry House on October 16, 2012 at 1:23pm

Dixon...

Thank you for your comment! As you may not know, "Training is my Game," and I totally agree with you. Retail Automotive Dealers invest very little in Human Capital Management. I'm sorry to hear that you were one of the many victims of this industry deficiency.

Comment by Doug Davis on October 16, 2012 at 1:22pm

I don’t know about you, but my experience proves that I don’t personally have sufficient skills to effectively identify management and leadership potential.

Garry, I feel that way about potential salespeople.  That is an area where I have made too many mistakes but not with managers.  We have heard, "he/she is a born leader".   They all are.

I have a three year old grand daughter.  If you put her in a room of kids, she will have them organized in thirty minutes.  She doesn't come off as having a dominant personality, in fact; she is a really sweet and loving child.

Drafted into the military, I went through several leadership schools but the best was in Vietnam.  It was open to all branches, of the service, so we trained along with Marines, Navy and some Air Force.  To the man, people said it was the best school, they had ever attended.  It was very physical and some quit.  Most were released. The school only graduated about 40% and all had been recommended by their Commanding Officers.  Instructors rotated between teams and there was one for every three men.  Even though it was a school for team leaders, there was no "leadership training".  They identified those that had a "take charge attitude", the right culture and helped, encouraged and nurtured the others.  There was no room for renegade spirits.  Honestly, if you were lazy or had a bad attitude, you wouldn't make it through the first couple of days. 

Most of your "rock stars" tend to be renegade spirits.  They have job security because of their performance.  Most, push the envelope by not being on time and refusing to do the menial tasks like blowing up balloons or lining up cars.  I'm looking to promote, a good salesperson, that takes the initiative to organize that activity and  has adopted the dealership's mission statement.  These people, go out of their way, to help others.  The best managers are not dictators.  They have a servant mentality. 

Normally, that isn't your "rock star" but they are easy to spot.

Comment by Dixon Pulver on October 16, 2012 at 12:04pm

Garry, 

Is there an elephant in the room.  I'll say it.  I have been doing this since 1983.  I was put into a position to young and I bombed.  I went to another dealership and made my way around until contacted by competitor to make some leaps and bounds, but still not there yet.  I got bored and started looking around.  A friend found me a position at a company I stayed at and grew and promoted for 14 years.  Yes I was bored again and passed on for General Manager position.  I left within a year.  Went backwards and switched jobs repeatedly.  Found the perfect job and low and behold the dealership was sold, only to find myself starting over again. 

What's the point of all this.  Let me say it.  NOT one dealership sent me to any training or school of any significance.  Sure I went to seminars and to some two day trainings, but never anything of real quality for such a position.  In dealerships we often find car guys that do not have a formal degree other than experience and hard knocks.  Just think what could that person do with the knowledge and proper training.  The way I look at it.  A dealer cannot afford not to send the choice person to school.  Would you take your child to the best surgeon in the world or a first year med student? 

Have great day.

Dixon

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