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Your Chance to Ask an Expert Anything

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — The team here at AE and P&A magazines is pleased to announce that once again we will kick off the new year with special issues dedicated to what agents as well as providers and administrators can expect from the industry, economy and government in the coming months.

To do this, we interview leading executives, thought leaders and industry trailblazers on a range of topics. For the first time this year, we want all of you, our readers, to decide what we will ask the 2018 participants. So now that you’ve got the opportunity to ask an expert anything, what will it be? Are you curious about new trends to be on the watch for? Will new laws or regulations have an effect on your business? Is there a challenge you could use some help overcoming?

To help get the creative juices flowing, here are some of the questions our 2017 Industry Trends participants responded to:

  1. Where do you see the economy going in 2017, and the automotive industry in particular?
  2. What trends will you be watching for in 2017 for the automotive industry as a whole and specifically within F&I?
  3. What F&I products do you believe will be big sellers in 2017? Why?
  4. Do you foresee any developments or changes in processes or technology in the F&I office in 2017?
  5. Now that Donald Trump has been elected president, how do you see the rules and regulations landscape developing in 2017?
  6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Click the button below to submit your questions for consideration in the 2018 AE and P&A Industry Trends articles.

Submit Your Questions!

Posted in Auto Industry News0 Comments

Bigger Than Baseball: Leadership Lessons From The 2017 World Series

Last week’s World Series is now history. But before you turn the page on that baseball story, take one more look, in the context of a bigger conceptual map. The tale has some interesting strategic lessons about a paradigm broader than our national pastime, about leadership in a world increasingly dominated by automated intelligence and the continuing convergence of machine and human learning, reports Forbes.

Embracing Moneyball

Okay, so how about those Houston Astros? They won a thrilling World Series against the Dodgers in seven dramatic games, capping a multi-year strategy to take the trophy. Hats off to them, climbing from “worst to first,” from league-losing laughingstock to the spirited victors that bested three of the most formidable (and bigger payroll) rivals in the final month of play. As Ben Reiter of SI.com nicely chronicles (and even predicted in 2014!), the Astros’ gutsy rebuilding plan yielded a major turnaround. They did it thanks to great new talent and a relentless embrace of the now famous “Moneyball” model.

Moneyball (popularized by the pioneering statistic-based management of the Oakland A’s Billy Beane) has been its own revolution for baseball: a transformational innovation driven by empirical analysis of past player performance, which coaches use to more strategically hire and orchestrate their squads against competitors. Analytics-driven strategy has been evolving for a couple of decades since Beane’s breakthrough, and is now followed in some version by most teams.

But Also Embracing More

Five years ago, Houston’s owner, Jim Crane, went looking for a general manager to take Moneyball up another notch. He hired Jeff Luhnow, a mid-level recruiter for the St. Louis Cardinals; Luhnow was also (more significantly) an ex-McKinsey consultant and tech entrepreneur, trained in engineering and economics.

Luhnow soon built a computer-savvy, scientific and quantitative research team unmatched in pro baseball. Before long, “the Astros developed into the one of the most industry’s most analytically driven organizations, relying almost entirely on data to navigate through a full-blown rebuild,” as sportswriter Jared Diamond reports. After a few years of experimentation, the investment in super analytics started to pay off. The Astros began winning much more consistently.

Discovering Both/And

But as Luhnow also conceded in his interview with Diamond, the new Astros magic was not just science and technology but also “the human element–especially “blending them together.” The sports reporting suggests that the strategy succeeded because, over time, it moved beyond the all-too-common “either/or” choice of automation vs people, and instead adopted a fusion of “both/and.” Astros-style Moneyball was beating other teams because of the more human touch the club brought to algorithm management.

For example, the Astros made recruiting choices that innovatively combined “softer” people-related information(e.g. players’ personal backgrounds, health, swing idiosyncrasies, etc.), with more objective performance stats; their managers also took care to leverage the subjective intuitions of their scouts and seasoned staff during hiring and strategy processes. Numbers-driven talent development was continually buttressed by extra human effort along the way too. At a critical moment, for example, the front office added key (and more expensive) older players to mentor younger newcomers and build more team spirit. Luhnow and players also give plenty of credit to Astros field manager (head coach), A.J. Hinch for his strong leadership, motivational communication and personal trust-building belief in the team.

Evolution And Learning

The analytical-human fusion developed in stages. At first, some players resented being turned into a number. Luhnow reportedly went through his own epiphany, and then launched an educational and relationship-building effort to help players understand how and why analytics could make such a difference to them as a team. The campaign helped further humanize the culture.

As the Astros approached the final games of the championship, Luhnow and Hinch once more added to the people side of the ledger, by turning the local city’s hurricane disaster into community-spirit opportunity. The managers endorsed team members’ efforts (including their donations, volunteering, and public discussions) to support Houston fans looking for solace in the wake of Harvey. No number-crunching can explain the motivational chemistry that arose between this Cinderella team and the 40,000 screaming fans showing local pride in the hometown bleachers.

One Size Won’t Fit All

In the wake of the World Series victory, Luhnow acknowledged the importance in rebuilding the winning team of people, culture and analytics together. But he was also quick to downplay any universal formula. As he told Tyler Kepner of  the New York Times, “Not every plan makes sense for every team . . .  But where we started, with the worst team in baseball . . . we really had no choice. We had to focus on developing our own, and when the time is right, adding to it.”

But Lessons Nonetheless

Luhnow rightly waves off proclaiming a generic blueprint for World Series victory—every Major League team is different, and no step-by-step replication of Astros 2017 will guarantee someone else the next trophy. There are just too many variables in play.

But the Astros’ story does hold a few deeper lessons for leaders, beyond baseball. I’ll mention four.

Lessons No. 1 and 2 affirm what strategist Michael Porter long ago taught. First, if the rules of competition shift—e.g. baseball brings quantitative analytics to what was once just a gut-judgment sport—you have no choice but to join the arms race. Owner Luhnow knew he needed to play Moneyball too, if he wanted to have any hope of bringing the Astros back. Whatever your game, you can’t fall behind the  protocols of today’s competition.

But then Lesson No. 2 says: Getting in the new arena is simply the price of admission. To win the now more serious game, you have to also go above and beyond—be different or better than everyone else. The Astros raised the stakes in the Moneyball wars by putting extra horsepower into their analytics—but then went  another step further, artfully combining human and organizational strategy with the hard numbers. What will you do, to be better and different in your game?

Lesson No. 3 echoes the wisdom of more recent strategy thinking: innovative business models iteratively evolve. The new leaders of the Astros grabbed analytics full-on, but then dynamically adapted, adding more human aspects, based on year-by-year experience. Like the Astros, you need to have the patience and fortitude to keep experimenting and learning as you develop your strategy over time.

A Deeper Insight For The Future

Lesson No. 4 takes us into more subtle issues, of a global economy increasingly transformed by technology-enabled knowledge. As we hurtle towards a new reality of algorithms everywhere, growing artificial intelligence and robotic work, how will leaders in fact make strategy? Or does the forthcoming “singularity” now trivialize the question?

Nobody knows, of course. But savvy bettors believe that at least for the foreseeable future, victory will go to the entities that most adeptly combine computing and human intelligence,  both learning aided by technology and learning still in people’s head and hands. The Astros are a micro-case of an organization that successfully combined the two for their sports challenge. But this is only one more small datapoint in an ongoing trend. How will you find the right combination of algorithms and people for your challenges?

Each New Algorithm Forces More Human Innovation

For every leader today, success in building tomorrow’s strategy must begin by exploring the relative value-added of machine versus people in doing work—and then deeply understanding the boundary where the utility of algorithms stops and human effort still matters.

That search continues a process traceable to the dawn of civilization (as nicely explained in Philip Auerswald’s Code Economy). Since earliest time, man’s knowledge discoveries have been progressively turned into tools and technology, at each stage creating a platform of codified intelligence on which the next phase of human endeavor then improves. Cave symbols allowed for writing, which in turn spawned printing, which then led to industrial machines. And then on to calculators, computers, algorithms. With every inflection point, a new need—and opportunity—emerges for the next phase of human creativity to develop. Each new smarter machine impels yet another S-curve of even smarter human work.

The cycle continues today.

So pay attention to it. The final and deeper lesson of a small historical event called World Series 2017 is to think intentionally, now more than ever, about the ever-shifting boundary between codified knowledge and the spirited creativity of people—in whatever you do. The more acute your understanding of that boundary and the more clever you are in finding new ways to bridge it, the more likely you are to hit a really big home run.

Posted in Small Business Tips0 Comments

First Things First: The 5 Secrets to Prioritization

Time is money and for entrepreneurs starting out, it is imperative both are utilized to their fullest. To maximize both, founders must prioritize, reports Entrepreneur.

When we first started out, we were wrestling with some problems on how to build our personal-finance website, NerdWallet. I got some great advice from my friend Drew Houston (the founder of Dropbox).

“It’s OK to have growing pains, as long as you’re prioritizing correctly and working to address them. Every company looks messy from the inside,” he told me.

Am I prioritizing correctly? There’s the rub.

When I was working on Wall Street, prioritization was dictated by the situation. Compared to growing your own business, prioritizing on a trading floor is easy, because you’re always putting out fires but you know what the fires are.

But knowing how to prioritize to ensure your startup makes millions of dollars in the next six months — that’s a more difficult task.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.

1. Beware the seduction of task-based lists.  The elements of prioritization are simple: Know what tasks need to be done and rank them in order of priority. Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame suggested ranking tasks across four metrics: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. Obviously, tasks both urgent and important go first, issues not important or not urgent go last, and the rest fall somewhere in between. You’ve got your list.

This is fine, so far as it goes, but the process can create a sense a false sense of satisfaction: If I cross everything off this list, will I have done my best work today? This might work for middle managers at a mature company, but for a startup entrepreneur this can be a Sisyphean exercise in futility. You’re never going to finish that list and would waste time each day revising it on the fly.

2. Focus solely on themes that will drive growth. Of the 100 things that crowd the entrepreneurial mind as things you “need to do,” about 98 will incrementally improve your company — but two have the potential for exponential growth. Focus on those few, and the rest of your niggling worries will take care of themselves.

A better way to think of prioritization is not tasks but themes. What are the two or three principal things that will drive growth? You really have to understand the key drivers of your business and anything that doesn’t move those drivers isn’t a high priority.

For example, in the early days of NerdWallet, a key driver was getting the most amount of web traffic in the least amount of time. That became a filter through which we sifted every task and decision. If it didn’t meet this metric, it wasn’t a priority.

3. Forget perfectionism. Entrepreneurs are often Type A overachievers. For us, it’s really hard to let things go unfinished and not be perfect. But if you are serious about prioritization, you need to be able to drop something in midstream to focus on another task that has greater potential to drive results.

It may feel counterintuitive, but in the rough-and-tumble drive to start a company, perfectionism can be a problem. You have to be willing to do things half way just to get more done with the higher chances to yield strong results. And that isn’t easy for high performers.

4. Do the hardest thing first.  Procrastination isn’t a species of laziness, it’s avoidance — and we naturally avoid things we don’t want to do. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, once said that the first thing he does in the office each day is the task he dreads the most. Whatever you don’t want to do, do it first, and it eliminates the nagging dread that will sap energy away from other tasks as you postpone the inevitable.

5. Don’t plug leaky boat holes — switch boats. If you’re spending your time spreading your fingers and toes across leaks springing up through the hull of a business venture, you may wish you had more feet and hands to cover the deck.

But maybe the real problem is the boat itself.

As NerdWallet co-founder Tim Chen puts it: “Don’t spend your time plugging a leaky boat, spend your time switching boats.” Time spent bailing is time taken away from adding more profitable vessels to your fleet.

Prioritization pressure never goes away. If things are going well in your business, something will always seem on fire. If you’ve got things under control, that’s a big red flag — it’s a sign you are doing what is urgent, and not what is important.

Posted in Small Business Tips0 Comments

5 Ways to Lead Even if You’re Not an Executive

As an entrepreneur, there has been a constant thought running through my mind. It’s about choice. Specifically, what choices do we make and why do we make them?

We are always making a choice, no matter what, reports Inc. Not only is every action you take a choice, not doing something is also a choice. I love this quote from Stephen Covey: “Leadership is a choice, not a position.”

No matter your role–whether you’re a CEO or an intern–you have the choice every day to be a leader. Especially if you’re working in a startup, there are countless opportunities to step up and make a 10X impact.

We all desperately want to have an impact. I believe subconsciously we are always thinking of how we can make a difference at work, for our family and friends, for our customers, and impact billions of other people on our planet.

But ultimately, it comes down to making a choice to be a leader for yourself.

Thomas Watson, former Chairman and CEO of IBM said, “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.”

As a co-founder of my startup, Terminus, I know that every day will be filled with tough choices. One of the most important choices I can make is to have a positive impact on our entire company, for every “Terminator” at Terminus.

A choice we recently made as an executive team was to start a leadership speaker series. Every Tuesday, our entire company convenes for an “All-Hands” lunch meeting. To kick off our new speaker series, we hosted Clay Scroggins in our office.

Clay recently published How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority. One of my favorite quotes from his book and presentation is:

“There is a myth in leadership that says, ‘Until I am in charge, I cannot lead. When I am in charge, then I will lead.’ Too often, we mistake our organizational positions with our leadership abilities. However, if leadership is influence, all of us have influence.”

A part of Clay’s thesis breaks the myth that a person must be in charge in order to lead. For all the individual contributors, regardless of title, there’s always a choice to be a leader. Influence is power.

Here are five ways to lead in your organization, even if you’re not an executive:

1. Be a Sales Leader

For all the account executives and salespeople, you have a choice to leave a lasting impression. You want your prospects and opportunities to know that you care about your customers’ problems more than the products you’re commissioned to sell. Choosing to be authentic will help elevate you as a sales leader.

2. Become a Customer Hero

To folks on the front lines in client services and customer success, you have a choice to empathize with the pain your customers may be experiencing with your product or service. Going the extra mile to find a solution–and over-communicating along the way–is a daunting task, but the rewards are great.

3. Build Amazing Solutions

As a developer or software engineer, you have a choice to use that beautiful brain of yours to figure out what solutions will truly have an impact on your customers. Choose to find new ways to solve problems with your technology versus simply shipping code.

4. Tell an Awesome Story

If you’re a marketer, you have a choice to emotionally show that you desperately care about the challenges your customers face. Choose to tell a story and produce content that goes beyond a product pitch. Be creative and brave in your marketing.

5. Be a Point Person

Finally, as a coworker and part of a team, you have a choice to step up. Take on a stretch assignment. Volunteer to be part of a pilot project. Give more than what’s expected, and you might just find yourself in charge one day.

I’ll leave you with a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you take your work seriously?
  • What choices are you going to make today?
  • Where do you see yourself making a long-term impact?
  • How will you choose to demonstrate your leadership?

There is always an opportunity to lead, even if you’re not the CEO.

 

Posted in Small Business Tips0 Comments

Focus On The Job You Have, Not The One You Want

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have is the old adage for how young go-getters should approach cultivating an appropriate corporate aesthetic. Even as workplaces get increasingly casual–the person occupying the job you want may well be wearing a hoodie and cargo shorts these days–the idea that on-the-job success involves focusing on the future vs. the present is an entrenched one, reports Forbes.

But is having your eyes on the prize instead of on your immediate responsibilities really the best way to get ahead?

If you ask successful CEOs, the answer is no. In a recent New York Times piece, Adam Bryant distills some of the wisdom he’s heard from speaking to over 500 CEOs for the paper’s Corner Office column. One of the key themes he found was that, instead of being particularly forward-minded, these executives focused on excelling in their roles at the time and that their track record of success was the metric by which they were judged when climbing the corporate ladder. Bryant writes:

That may sound obvious. But many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the job they’re doing. That doesn’t mean keeping ambition in check. By all means, have career goals, share them with your bosses, and learn everything you can about how the broader business works. And yes, be savvy about company politics (watch out in particular for the show ponies who try to take credit for everything).

This notion of treating what you’re doing today as leverage for what you want to be doing tomorrow is a pervasive one. It’s very obvious to spot when someone you’re working with has decided that getting a promotion matters more than getting their work done. They’re all  “fresh” ideas and special projects and meeting agendas. They’re devouring articles like “10 Ways To Demonstrate Leadership Potential Before You Become A Leader” (a made-up title that probably exists somewhere; apologies to the author) and, yes, dressing for the job they want and not the job they have. And, more likely than not, their day-to-day work is suffering because they’ve now decided it’s beneath them. Maybe they get humbled and told that while their initiative taking is great, it can’t come at the expense of meeting this month’s sales quota. Or maybe it works. Maybe they get that promotion. And maybe the one after that.

Eventually, however, they hit a brick wall, because they’re not really good at anything other than figuring out how to get promotions. That’s their greatest skill. They don’t have subject matter expertise because they haven’t cultivated it in previous roles. They don’t have great workplace relationships because they’ve just been using their colleagues as guinea pigs on which to practice their “leadership” skills. And if things ever hit the fan and they’re called on to get into the trenches with their team and get their hands dirty with actual marketing/engineering/accounting tasks? They wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

Make no mistake, I’m not arguing for being an overly trusting worker bee. The days in which you could toil away while assuming your boss had your best  career interests at heart, if they ever existed, are long gone. Don’t blunt your ambition. Consider your work in transactional terms and understand that the only person truly invested in your success is you. But also exert some effort to be good at what you’re doing today. Do it, if not for the sake of personal pride and a useful habit of striving for excellence, at least with the understanding that it limits your chances at the C-suite to do otherwise.

Posted in Small Business Tips0 Comments

6 Strategies to Resolve Conflict at Work

When you get a group of people together day after day, conflict is inevitable. The employees you so carefully screened during hiring interviews aren’t immune, either. They might have had the perfect answers to behavioral questions such as, “How do you handle conflict?” Unfortunately, polished interview responses don’t guarantee a harmonious workplace, reports Entrepreneur.

Workplace conflict can occur in a variety of ways: between two employees, among entire teams or between supervisors and the team members they manage. As difficult as the issue might seem in the moment, resolving team conflict is possible. My company, Patriot Software, provides tools to help day-to-day business operations run more smoothly. In the course of that work, we’ve learned much about how small businesses, in particular, can be affected by team conflict.

1. Embrace conflict.

When conflict arises, don’t avoid it or pretend nothing has happened. As time goes on, tension will build — and the conflict only will get worse. Deal with these uncomfortable issues as soon as possible, before problems and bad feelings become embedded in everyday work.

If you notice a conflict between employees, encourage them to find a way to work it out. If conflict develops between two teams, it’s a good time to improve interdepartmental communication. If you have a conflict with one of your employee, address it head on and in private.

2. Talk together.

Set up a time and place so you can talk for an extended span without outside interruptions.

When you do meet, each person should have adequate time to say what he or she believes the other party needs to hear. Don’t let any individual monopolize the conversation or control the topic. Each person should talk about the disagreements and how he or she feels about the situation.

Remember, this is not the time to attack or assign blame. Focus on the problem, not your opinion of the other person’s character.

3. Listen carefully.

 

It’s essential to give your complete attention to the person who is talking. Do not interrupt the other person.

Make sure you’re getting the message he or she intends to send. Rephrase and repeat back what you’ve heard to confirm understanding. You might say something along the lines of, “Let me make sure I understand. You’re upset about _____ because _____.”

Ask clarifying questions if needed. You can request that the other person repeat a central idea or reword his or her frustrations in a way that makes sense to you.

Listening always should be about gaining understanding. Don’t let yourself become reactionary to the other person’s words.

4. Find agreement.

Your conversation primarily will focus on the disagreements, but resolution is possible only when you find points of agreement. You should emerge from the experience with some positives instead of all negatives.

Shed light on commonalities. Share examples or instances in which you agree with the other person or can see another point of view. For example, if you disagree on new sales tactics, you might share what you liked about the other person’s idea or the motivation to work harder for the team.

Looking for agreement demonstrates your willingness to seek out common ground and build a relationship around those trust elements.

5. Provide guidance.

If you’re in a leadership position, there are times you may need to mediate work conflict. Don’t take sides, ever. Realize you are there simply to help your employees work out their problems.

You might need to guide the conversation. And if hurt feelings run high, it’s likely you’ll need to redirect the topic so your employees return to the real problem. If you’re in a position to give advice on next steps, highlight the positive aspects of the process and suggest related topics or actions they can work through after the meeting.

6. Be quick to forgive.

Every conflict needs a clear resolution that acknowledges hurt feelings and finds a solution that begins to mend them.

Apologize. Tell the other person you’re truly sorry for any ill words or actions — and mean it. You’ll also need to forgive the other person. Agreeing solely for the sake of appearances can lead to grudges that deepen over time, undoing any progress you’ve made together.

Posted in Small Business Tips0 Comments

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