Best PracticesDealership Operations & Processes

A Thanksgiving Day Lesson in Leadership

It happened one Thanksgiving Day. My Mom, and her sisters, gathered around the dining room table and placed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I’d seen them do it every Thanksgiving Day of my life. They were a remarkable team when it came to placing those puzzles. And one of them, in an unrivaled gesture of leadership, would always stand the box top on its edge at the head of the table. What I had always seen, but never really noticed until then, was the role of the box top.

That box top was the vision. It was a crystal-clear exact representation of the goal. There was no mistaking it. There was no margin for error or confusion in what to do. The placing of that puzzle was a “zero defects” process to a T.

It all started with an outline. Identifying the straight edge pieces and working together to form the boundaries of the puzzle. After the outline was established, they worked with precision and purpose, each teammate knowing exactly what to do and how their efforts fit in to the overall picture.

Adding team members was a cinch. One of my cousins would walk up to the table, and by simply looking at the box top, know exactly what the goal was and how to help reach it. Someone may say “That’s what we are doing” and that was all it took.

When they finished the puzzle, they admired their work and congratulated each other. And why not, those puzzle placers had reached the goal, and it looked exactly like the goal defined in the beginning. The results were built into the process. The finished puzzle looked just like the box top.

Does your dealership have a box top for 2021? Just how good or great 2021 will be in your store depends on how clearly you project your vision to your organization, your managers and your front-line employees. It goes beyond training. Well trained dealership employees will instinctively do things right, but are they doing the right things?

For example, if one of your goals for 2021 is to increase owner loyalty through more personalized service to your customers, does everyone know what that looks like? Without a mapped-out process for making your services more personable, how do front line employees know what is really helping and what just feels like it is helping? Is every detail stamped out to fit perfectly with the other pieces of the equation? Each teams’ initiatives interlocking to reach the goal.

Do your Sales personnel, BDC staff and Service Advisors all understand how to do things in a way that helps the other teams be successful?

As business grows, so will the need for hiring new employees to take care of the customers. Can you honestly say you could hire a new employee today and point to something and tell them this is what we are doing?

Chances are that you do have a box top-in your head! All leaders do. But are you demonstrating that “unrivaled gesture of leadership” to your troops by standing the box top on edge for all to see? This is really more than a metaphor. It’s a model you need to adapt. Clearly state the goals for your company and precisely where you want the organization to be at the end of 2021. Then, put it in the hands of your talented and “we are the ones actually doing it” front line consultants, advisors, appointment coordinators and support staff.

Show them what you want and let them map out the processes to get there. With a box top, they’ll get it done. It will be easy for them to see what fits and what doesn’t fit. When front line employees get to define the “how” they take responsibility for it. Instead of doing the right things because you told them to, they are doing the right things and doing them right because it fits their game plan. They own it.

We’ve all heard the saying “A leader’s job is not to see the company as it is, but as it can be.” You see it; now share it with the rest of your team! At the end of 2021, you will be able to stand back and admire your work as the puzzle placers did.

Just follow their process, the results are built in.


I like to camp and fish in Canada, been going for 35 years! Work is all about the BDC business since 1992.