When Gill, owner and president of the Florence, Ky.-based Tom Gill Chevrolet, asked the employee why he missed the meeting, his reply was that his department was understaffed. To Gill, that’s inexcusable. Team meetings are priority No. 1, and schedules have to work around them. To maintain a culture of self-improvement, everyone must be committed to conversations on progress at the dealership, which had 2006 revenue of $44 million.
Smart Business spoke with Gill about how he builds a culture where people strive to improve every day.
Q: What is the first step in building a culture of improvement?
We take time at meetings to let people know it’s OK to make a mistake; it’s OK to realize that you have a weakness. What makes us different is we’re allowed to talk about those things and come up with plans to improve upon them.
It’s a matter of working with the weakness. So what we’ll do is formulate a game plan with an individual, and we’ll measure it and come back to work with them on it, talk about what they are doing to improve and how successful that’s been. You have to do that regularly. Everybody has to be in that frame of mind.
We’re about being more productive, and what we strive for is improvement in our weaker areas. So we’ve built a culture of self-improvement by having people be comfortable with what they need to work on and marking their improvement.
Communicating that vision to your employees is so important, and once you start and get some momentum around it, then employees get more into it. And by tracking the gains people make, you can show them improvement, and that’s exciting.
Q: How do you get employees involved in improvement?
Management has to show commitment to it. They have to be sincere, and they have to be willing to share information. And not only share but explain because you’re teaching. Most employees aren’t privy to what managers know, so lots of times you’re in a situation where you’re educating, and employees appreciate that and they like that. Employees have to get that support, and once they’re comfortable, then they’ll be able to open up and they will. We emphasize that they can bring things up.
What they see is that either you’re committed to the process or you aren’t. They see that I’m going to give equal grief to the management team if they don’t commit to this and that we’re really taking the time to educate them as a management team, and then sincerely turning to them and asking for help on how to improve.
We tell them, ‘Hey, we see that this is an issue, but we need some help coming up with a way to fix it, help us out.’ And that builds trust.
Q: What steps do you take to bring in new people?
I don’t believe that you get very good applicants through the newspaper. Most people, if they were really doing a good job, then they wouldn’t be out looking. We take time to recruit. I recruit through consultants that I’ve met; I’ll hire headhunters. We look nationwide for the right person. I just filled a position that took me 120 days to fill because you have to focus on getting the right person in there.
Q: Once you find a candidate, how do you determine if he or she will fit your company culture?
I’ll personally meet with potential managers two or three times before anyone else meets them, and the reason I do that is because my managers are going to spend more time with me than they are their wives or their families. We have to make sure from a relationship standpoint we feel comfortable with each other. That’s important, and you can’t do that in an hour interview.
When we get someone in here for an interview, I share with them what our mission is and that we’re trying to hire people for a certain culture and tell them what it takes to be a part of that. They know from the interview process that’s the way it is. I ask them, ‘Can you fit into an organization like that, and before you answer, make sure. Think about it. Because this isn’t easy.’
I also want people that are truthful about themselves. It’s amazing in an interview, you ask people what their strengths are, and everybody will blurt them out. But if you ask them what their weaknesses are, they really struggle with that.
If I have somebody that really knows their weaknesses, then to me that’s a person who is open with themselves, and they’re willing to work with that, and so are we.
HOW TO REACH: Tom Gill Chevrolet, (866) 211-5676 or www.tomgill.com