Written by Robin Cunningham, former NCM Institute Instructor:
I don't know about you, but I read a lot of books.
I was covering for Steve Hall once, who had to leave town on business at the end of one of his classes. The class had just started taking their exam. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I didn’t have anything to do for 45 minutes. We have several bookcases at NCM, and one of those is right outside the classroom. So, I walked over to it to see if I could find something interesting to read to keep me occupied while the class finished their evaluations and final exam.
I started scanning the books to see which title or author might jump out at me and I noticed several Malcolm Gladwell books. For some reason, I picked up Outliers: The Story of Success and began reading. An outlier, by definition, is a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.
As the title suggests, it includes many "stories of success.” There are many stories of success in the retail automotive business. I think, though, that there are more stories of failure.
The lucky few ...
In many of my classes I do a little exercise. I ask everyone to go back to their first automotive sales position and remember all the people who were on that staff or started at a similar time. I ask them where those people might be right now. When they think about it, they all agree that most of them are no longer in the business at all. It’s not that they are all at other dealerships; they must be in some other job or career. They then agree that they (including me) are the lucky few. We somehow liked the car business enough, and were good enough, that here we are all these years later, still in the business and trying to get better at it.
The book, Outliers, has many amazing stories about success in a number of different fields that have no connection to each other. The common denominator in each story, though, was each individual’s or group’s experience in getting in their 10,000 hours of practice time in order to become phenomenally successful.
I need to practice HOW much?
The first stories of success come from the world of violin players. They were broken up into three groups. The first were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. The second group was judged to be merely “good.” The third group was unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to become music teachers in the public school system. They were all asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, how many hours have you practiced?
They all started at the same age of five and practiced approximately two or three hours a week. The students who would end up being the best in their class began practicing six hours a week, then later eight hours, and by age 12 they were practicing (purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instrument with the intent to get better) well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totaled 10,000 hours of practice.
By contrast, the merely good students had totaled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over 4,000 hours.
In this study, they couldn’t find any “natural” musicians who floated to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. They also couldn’t find “grinders” who worked harder than anyone else, yet really didn’t have what it takes to get to the top. They found that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the distinguishing factor of success is how hard they work. THAT’S IT.
The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers had settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.
I am sure you might be thinking, what in the world does this have to do with selling cars, selling service, servicing cars, selling financial service products, answering in-bound phone calls, or responding to in-bound internet leads? Well, the short answer is: everything!
I have been in and around the retail automotive business much of my life. I know for a fact that, in general, there is a huge lack of practice time for almost every job in a dealership. I say "almost" because technicians have gotten more training and practice time in their positions than any other. I am not talking about the fact that we work arguably too many hours at what we do at work, I am talking about the amount of training and practice at improving our skills and knowledge in each position on a regular basis.
The fact is, many of the people who decide to join the retail automotive business in most positions do not do so with the mindset of turning it into a career. I can also say that, even though both my father and grandfather were dealers, I had all the educational opportunities one could hope for. But until I was 31 years old, I had not seriously considered making the car business my career.
Then and Now
Most of the dealers and general managers in the country started in the business selling cars. I often ask them to go back to the time they were hired into their first car sales position. I ask them to remember what the interview was like, what they were told their responsibilities were going to be, what the on-boarding process was going to be, how much training there was going to be, what the career path could possibly be, etc. Most of the people I work with are smiling at this point because this is not how it went down. And as I said earlier, we were the lucky few.
Now, I ask them to come back to the present; to the dealerships or departments they now lead and manage. I ask them to reflect on the interviewing process they now have; what they tell and show new prospective employees that their responsibilities are going to be, what the on-boarding process will be like, what the training is going to be like, and what they can expect the likely career path to be, if they excel at what they do. In many cases, these managers' personal experiences being new in the business isn’t terribly different than what they now provide their people, now that they are the leaders, managers, and coaches.
There are many more stories in Outliers than I could recount here. But one of the recurring themes in each was that these people or groups had unique circumstances that allowed them the time to spend an accumulative 10,000 hours practicing their skills to become great. Yes, in many cases there were extenuating circumstances and perfect timing involved, but also there were parents, coaches, teachers, mentors, handlers, bosses, or managers who made sure the time was spent on a daily basis for an increase in knowledge and skills training.
Talent can only be identified in any role when the knowledge of what needs to happen, and why, is consistently presented; and when a person is consistently working on the skills necessary to succeed. For someone to take off and become almost obsessed enough to put in their 10,000 hours, they must really like what it is they are doing.
I really love this business and I know there are some 10,000-hour car business stories that could be discovered and told. But I also know that there are far fewer than there could be. There is so much more opportunity available to us in each and every department of each and every dealership. I challenge all managers, leaders, and coaches to work with your people so they have the opportunity, if they so choose, to put in their 10,000 hours of practice to become their own story of success.
Learn more from the NCM Institute by enrolling in a training course or sending your team to a class.