In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings, he stresses the necessity of pruning to create a healthier business. Pruning is a proactive process that allows an organization to reach its fullest potential.

In the dictionary, pruning is defined as: a function of cutting away to reduce the extent or reach of something by taking away unwanted or superfluous parts. I’ve long liked the concept of pruning as it allows leaders to leverage strengths and narrow focus on the people, processes, strategies and business units that bring the greatest return to an organization. 

To maximize people, processes, strategies or business units within a dealership a leader must intentionally and purposefully prune “branches and buds” that fall into any of the three following categories. Use the gardening metaphors as calls to action where necessary within your dealership.  

1.)    Pruning Scenario One: Healthy entities that are not the best ones. These may include processes, strategies, daily tasks, business units and more.


In the gardening world, rosebushes and other plants produce more buds than the plant can sustain. The plant has enough life and resources to feed and nurture only so many buds to their full potential; it can’t bring all of them to full bloom. In order for the bush to thrive, a certain number of buds have to go. The gardener constantly examines the bush to see which buds are worthy of the plant’s limited fuel and support and cuts the others away.

Result of pruning: The gardener frees the needed resources so the plant can redirect them to the buds with the greatest potential to become mature roses. Without this type of pruning, you don’t get the best roses.


Possible pruning opportunity: Engaging too much time in tasks that bring some return during the day (reviewing reports, budgets, forecasts) and not enough time working on higher-return tasks like motivating, training, coaching and mentoring your human capital; a classic example of how the enemy of what’s best is what’s good.


Reflection question: Which “good” daily tasks do you or others in your dealership spend too much time with that get in the way of what’s best and need to be pruned? How can you more highly structure your days so priorities are scheduled, and the day worked around them; rather than trying to squeeze priorities into the day?


2.)    Pruning Scenario Two: Sick entities that are not going to get better. These may include underperformers, low-return tasks, ineffective strategies, weak business units, outdated processes and more.


Some branches are sick or diseased and are never going to make it. For a while, a gardener may monitor them, fertilize and nurture them, or otherwise try to make them healthy. But at some point he realizes that more water, more fertilizer, or more care is just not going to help. For whatever reason, they are not going to recover and become what he needs them to be to create the final picture of excellence he wants for the garden; they must go.


Result of pruning: The bush now has even more resources and life to pour into the healthy buds. The plant is now fully on its mission, focusing its energy every day on feeding and growing the buds that are destined to reach full potential.


Possible pruning opportunity: “Profit” centers (or products) needing to be pruned because they aren’t profitable but drain so much time, talent and resources away from your strongest units that you’ll never realize your full potential with your most promising assets.


Reflection question(s): Based on past history, where are you locked in tactical struggle; where you’re pouring more and more into something and not getting a return? If this entity hasn’t made measurable progress in reasonable time, what grounds do you have for believing something will change in the future?


3.)    Pruning Scenario Three: Dead entities that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive. These may include underperformers, low-return tasks, ineffective strategies, weak business units, outdated processes and more that are beyond hope.


In most dealerships, as on most plants, there are branches and buds that are dead and taking up space. The healthy branches need that room to reach their full height, but they cannot spread when dead branches force them to bend and turn corners: they should be growing straight for the goal. To give the healthy blooms and branches unobstructed room to grow the dead ones are cut away.


Result of pruning: Pruning what’s “dead” enables rosebushes and other plants to reach their full potential. Without it, they are just average at best, and far less than they were designed to be.


Possible pruning opportunity: The perennial five-car Fred, or five-hour Fred in service who never gets any better despite your investments in them; and because you spend so much time with them you have none left to mentor and stretch those on your team with the talent, drive and skills to become exceptional.  


Reflection question(s). Considering the Native American proverb: When the horse you’re riding on dies, dismount, how much longer are you willing to rob and ignore your best performers in hopes that taking a stronger whip to the dead horse at the bottom will move it? Have you set your clear objectives with deadlines and pre-established consequences so that if expectations aren’t met underperformers will essentially fire themselves?


The goal of pruning is never to cause pain, but in reality that does happen. Reality makes us face things that can hurt, and that can be very healthy at the same time. The harm pruning saves other team members and the organization can be substantial in the long-term. There is never a perfect time to prune, so I recommend you evaluate all three scenarios for needed action now and follow the advice of former GE CEO/Chairman Jack Welch observed: Good leaders look reality dead in the eye and act upon it with as much speed as they possibly can.

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Comment by Pat Kirley on December 2, 2013 at 6:08pm
It makes perfect sense, three brilliant ideas.
Thanks Dave

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