Up Your Business - March - 2016

Monte’s Tree

Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature in which I share stories, insights, and reflections about real business and life challenges.

There’s a particularly frustrating hole at one of the golf courses where my friends and I frequently play. It’s a dogleg left that requires three shots to reach the green, unless you can “cut the corner,” in which case, you can make it with two, high-quality shots. A tree is precariously situated as a distraction and to redirect the flight path of your ball if you’re too aggressive cutting the corner.

My friend, Monte, hits his drive straight into the tree so often that we’ve named it “Monte’s Tree.” The tree has become such a mental barrier for him that you can practically hear his thoughts as he steps up to hit his drive: “Come on Monte… whatever you do, don’t hit the tree.” If he avoids hitting the tree, even if he hits a bad shot, he’s been known to mutter, “At least I didn’t hit the stinkin’ tree.”

In reflecting on Monte’s dilemma, I realized there are some basic business principles and life lessons to be learned from Monte’s Tree.

Our subconscious mind has
tremendous influence
over our performance.

I think much of Monte’s problem is he’s focused on not hitting the tree rather than the process and subsequent desired result: hitting the ball onto the fairway.

Our subconscious mind has tremendous influence over our performance. Without realizing it, our subconscious often determines the very actions we take and results we get. For instance, when we hit a golf ball, our subconscious thoughts can influence our swing to direct the ball toward whatever we’re thinking about… in Monte’s case, the tree.

I’ve observed many shop owners who suffer from “trees” in their businesses. This occurs when they pay so much attention to the problems that they can’t see anything else. In short, the problem is the problem.

There’s no shortage of examples of how we allow trees to influence our decision making. Trees often show up merely as distractions, but often they manifest as things to fear or avoid. Let’s face it, problems are everywhere and they’re easy to see. We see the problems so easily that they obscure our vision for success. Here’s a short list of examples from my client files.

  • We fail to recommend the best solution to customers because we think they’ll object to the price. So we try to come up with more economical solutions. We don’t even give the customers the chance to say “yes,” because our experience convinces us they’ll say “no.” This not only costs us sales, but it deprives customers of our best recommendations.
  • We don’t demand excellence from our production team because we’re worried they might think we’re too demanding and we’ll impact morale negatively. This is like saying, “At least I didn’t hit the tree.”
  • Similarly, we choose not to fire an employee that’s underperforming or is a cancer to the team and, consequently, the business as well. The underlying reason is we fear we won’t be able to find a replacement. We decide to settle with unsatisfactory circumstances to avoid getting a worse result.
  • We choose not to provide technical training for our employees because we’re afraid they’ll quit and take their new knowledge and skills to a competitor. One management speaker at last year’s Expo posed this alternative: “If you think training an employee and having them leave is bad, try not training them and having them stay.”

Your subconscious mind
doesn’t distinguish
between positive and negative.

Many times, when we’re faced with a tree, we can overthink things instead of allowing our instincts to come into play. A great example of this is when you wad up a piece of paper and unconsciously toss it into a trash can located behind a file cabinet, 20 feet across the room. The only thought was “paper in trash can” and boom you just sunk a game-winning 20-footer! So, now you think, “That was easy; I can do it again.” Right; 10 shots later, you give up. The difference is you now have other thoughts, negative and positive, getting in the way.

Your subconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative. It only receives the operative portion of the phrase. For instance, if I say don’t think about a camel, what picture immediately jumps into your mind? Mine had two humps; how many did yours have?

So, when Monte is thinking about what he doesn’t want to do — “don’t hit the ball into the tree” — his subconscious mind is only hearing and visualizing “hit the ball into the tree.”

This is why you’ll notice that, whenever possible, highly skilled athletes practice visualization before executing their respective skills. They’re trying to clear their conscious mind of clutter, distractions, and negative thoughts, leaving room only for the subconscious to influence the perfect process leading to the desired result.

This is particularly evident in sports that allow the athlete time to prepare prior to taking action: golf, gymnastics, weight lifting, track-and-field, shooting, etc. But even athletes who participate in reaction sports, like soccer, football, basketball, etc., regularly practice visualization to prepare for game situations.

To prove this, a few years ago a research study was done involving college level basketball players. In each experiment, one group of players practiced shooting 100 free throws per day for two weeks. Another group wasn’t allowed to actually practice shooting free throws during the two week experiment, but they were instructed to stand at the free throw line and visualize shooting 100 perfect free throws while going through the motion without a ball. The result was a significant improvement with the group that only visualized shooting free throws.

The conclusion was that those who actually shot the free throws experienced failed shots as well as successful ones, resulting in only incremental improvement. Meanwhile, those who visualized shooting free throws subconsciously experienced only successful shots. So, when they returned to actually shooting baskets, their subconscious minds took over.

In Monte’s case, he’d be better served by picking a spot on the fairway where he wants his ball to land, visualizing himself perfectly executing the process of hitting the ball to that spot, and then swing and let it fly. Note that there are no thoughts, positive or negative, about the tree, the barking dog, the chatter from the players on an adjacent hole, etc… just the focus on hitting the ball to the desired spot.

For visualization to work in business, you need some level of routine and repeatability. Most things that take place in a typical day in your shop are routine:

  • Answering the phone almost always has to do with answering the “How much?” question. Most shops have routines with respect to quoting prices, estimating prices, or not giving prices over the phone.
  • Explaining to the customer that you need to do a complete diagnosis and computer scan to determine the extent of the problem. Most shops have a routine for what this includes and the price for doing it.
  • Providing the customer with a summary of the damage, a description of the recommended repair service, the price, warranty alternatives, and asking for their authorization. Again, most shops have routines for these steps.
  • Completing the repair process… the parts and labor functions. Likewise, most shops have certain things they do in connection with making sure the repair is done right.
  • Returning the car to its owner and collecting payment. By now, most shops have a process for doing this. If you don’t have a customer-centric process in place, you should.

After years of owning and operating shops and observing hundreds of others, I’m convinced that about 90% of what takes place on a day-to-day basis in a shop will fit into a fairly simple routine. Why not design specific operating procedures that fit the typical 90%? We’ve talked about it for years, but how many of you actually have done it? And if you’ve done it, are those procedures so well defined that you can visualize yourself doing them?

  • Telephone procedure — even a script.
  • Diagnostic procedure — both a script and the technical steps.
  • Repair recommendation procedure — technicians should use damage and repair recommendation checklists; service advisors should follow bullet-point sales presentations.
  • Doing the job right — include the technical quality standards, parts ordering, repair steps, and the quality assurance steps, with a focus on repair excellence.
  • Car delivery procedure — includes reviewing what was done, explaining the warranty, clarifying mutual expectations, collecting payment, and asking for referrals.

Just like the skilled athletes, once these routines have been established and reduced to a specific procedural process, you can visualize yourself perfectly performing the process and achieving the desired result. Practice them, rehearse them, measure your results and celebrate your success!

If you don’t already have a manual of operations for your shop, there are many ways to get one. The ATRA Bookstore is a good place to start. Also consider any of the industry experts you are fortunate to have at your fingertips. Feel free to give me a call for suggestions as well.

Take a few minutes to review and reflect on this article and see how many other ways that you can apply the lessons from Monte’s Tree to help your business.

By the way, Monte has since eliminated the tree as a problem: He now focuses on a sand trap, off to one side of his tree. Normally you’d want to avoid a sand trap too, but it’s well beyond the range of his drive, so aiming for it puts Monte right on the fairway… and allows him to miss the tree entirely. Good for you, Monte!