Welcome to NCM's Up to Speed Blog
Welcome to NCM's Up to Speed Blog

Three Ways to Build an Innovative Culture

Written By: Paul Faletti, Jr.
Posted on March 08, 2016

Our offices are abuzz with excitement about the upcoming NADA convention this April. We’re finalizing travel plans. (If you still need help, just contact our Travel Solutions office and they’ll take care of you. Tell them that Paul sent you.) Our experts are putting the last touches on their product demos and workshops. And the Marketing team is rounding the corner to the finish line.

In other words, things are busy.

Even with the rush to get everything done, preparing for the event has given me a few precious moments to reflect about NCM Associates and how our tradition of innovation has created a dynamic, versatile company. It’s a model, I think, that any business can follow … and creativity can mean the difference between success and failure.

When you stop creating, you stop growing

The digital era is defined by innovation. The internet offers us unusual opportunities to disrupt traditional business models and communicate directly to consumers. This is great for companies like Airbnb, but I think it’s more challenging for an established, mature industry like automotive to find its way—especially when so many of the new models are dedicated to dismantling the old ways.

Trust me, we get it. NCM Associates is nearly 70 years old, and our primary service, the automotive 20 Group, was invented shortly after World War II in 1947. That’s a very mature product. So, let me share the secret to our success.

Innovation isn’t a thing; it’s a culture

You can’t just demand that people innovate. Instead, you have to build a business—and, yes, a dealership—culture that encourages people to do more than the everyday. You also have to show employees that new and unusual ideas aren’t just tolerated, but welcomed.

Here are three of the ways we make this culture happen:

1) Let’s do this: Get everyone invested. NCM Associates is a 100 percent employee-owned Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Each and every individual in our company has a personal investment in our organization’s growth and performance. They feel the impact, every year, when our business is valuated. This approach means that we all work together to propel the company forward.

Now, not every company is an ESOP. (But I encourage you to learn more about them). However, I challenge you to think of ways you can encourage your employees to feel a strong and deep-rooted commitment to your business. Consider events that encourage camaraderie and collaboration. And, if all else fails, performance-based bonuses are a tried-and-true motivation method.

At NCM, we like to focus on teamwork as a motivator. Each of our associates has this little sign on their desks:

Let's do this“Let’s do this” is important to me. I’d like to take credit for the statement, but I didn’t invent it. (Sadly, I also can’t recall where I first read about it, so if you know the source, please comment below!) Another writer, Matt Frye, has a great explanation of what it means.

To me, “Let’s do this” is a good reminder that successful businesses are the result of every person working together as a team to achieve a particular goal. The more creatively we can accomplish this, the better.

2) Share your knowledge. The cornerstone of NCM’s business is information and experience. We require that all our moderators, consultants, and instructors come from a solid background with many years spent at the dealership. And we have the best minds aggregating member information to create the best benchmark data in the industry.

Even though we keep lots of things private, the true value in knowledge comes when you share it. Our experts travel throughout North America to present their knowledge at conferences and workshops, and many of them write thoughtful articles for this blog.

We’ve recently launched our NCM Fundamentals whitepaper series, which includes insights our clients have used to successfully address many problems commonly encountered in the dealership. More books are in production, because we believe it’s important to give everyone an opportunity to improve their business and create an accountability culture. If you’d like one, request them here.

NCM Fundamental BooksNow, few dealerships have the resources to write whitepapers. But there are lots of ways you can share information. Encourage team members to discuss new ideas during daily roundups. Support training for your employees, and offer a monthly book club that encourages them to better their personal and professional lives. (And, please, supply the books!) Consider writing an article for one of many industry publications and, if you have a team member you plan to groom for management, encourage them to write about and share their successes with others.

And, speaking of knowledge sharing, no community has done a better job of collaborating than 3D-printers. That’s why we’re so excited to announce that NCM has partnered with Ultimaker, a 3D printer developer and manufacturer, to offer a complimentary 3D-printed business card holder or moveable car for visitors! Here’s a sneak peek:

3) Take risks. Have you heard about NCM axcessa?  I remember the day I signed the papers establishing a partnership between NCM and ReverseRisk, the developers.

There was no question that the product was remarkable, but I certainly didn’t know how the market would react to this innovation. While NCM axcessa offers an entirely new level of transparency and accountability for dealers, it requires a significant change in dealership culture to be the most effective. Are people be willing to do that?

A few years later, here we are! NCM axcessa has exceeded all our expectations, and we’re proud of giving our clients such a useful software solution for managing their operational and financial needs. In 2016, NCM will be launched the NCM LiveAudit dealership payables monitoring platform that allows you to dive deep into your payables activities to watch for unexpected expenditures and fraud, as well as manage recurring contracts.

How can you take risks as a dealer? Remember my suggestion to encourage idea sharing during meetings. Invest in one of them. Try a new marketing strategy. Offer a new promotion. Whatever the idea, make a small investment in testing it and see what happens. The results may surprise you, and your willingness to try something new—even if it fails—may drive the next big thing in your business.

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