Operations

How To Create A Team Focused Culture

Tom Halligan
Posted on August 23, 2014
Maria Hernandez, senior associate of Leap Solutions Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., addressed attendees of the 2014 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18, on how strong leadership can lead to limousine companies that run on better teamwork and customer service.

Maria Hernandez, senior associate of Leap Solutions Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., addressed attendees of the 2014 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18, on how strong leadership can lead to limousine companies that run on better teamwork and customer service.

Maria Hernandez, senior associate of Leap Solutions Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., addressed attendees of the 2014 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18, on how strong leadership can lead to limousine companies that run on better teamwork and customer service.
Maria Hernandez, senior associate of Leap Solutions Group in Santa Rosa, Calif., addressed attendees of the 2014 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-18, on how strong leadership can lead to limousine companies that run on better teamwork and customer service.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Ask any long-time operator the difference between success and failure and the word service will be at the top of the list. That should be a given. Unfortunately, maintaining a consistent high-level of service can fall to the wayside if owners and managers don’t set the tone and foster a service-focused company culture.

That’s the drive-home message from Maria G. Hernandez during her session presentation at the International LCT Show in February. A senior associate for the Santa-Rosa, Calif.-based Leap Solutions Group, Hernandez titled her presentation “Executive Leadership: Changing the DNA of Your Company to Increase Team Performance” for good reason.

“Operators who do not provide exceptional service today face tremendous challenges to stay in business,” she said. Citing consumers and business people who are more in command of their transportation options and requirements, Hernandez pointed out that it’s all about creating a company culture — the DNA embedded in every employee who is laser-focused on service.

Citing her experience, Hernandez said she has used the same limousine service and chauffeur for the past 20 years because of the company’s consistent commitment to a high level of service that filters throughout the organization. “My chauffeur always calls me the day before to make sure everything is OK,” she said. “I’ve known him for 20 years and he cares about me and is always available and has my best interest at heart. I don’t ever think about changing companies because that is one less thing I have to think about. That’s service installed from the top down.”

Hernandez stressed that it’s all about how you are treated, starting when you are greeted while calling to reserve a ride and ending when you leave the vehicle — from start to finish. “Owners have to know what their customers experience in order to maintain their culture of service. For instance, do they periodically call their own reservation line to experience what a customer does? Do they place an online order to see how well that works? Do they examine the cars to make sure they are clean and well maintained? Again, it’s creating a team-oriented culture that focuses on all aspects of customer service.”

From attentive service from booking a ride to drop off, Hernandez stressed that operators must “engage” customers consistently in every aspect of their service — including modern and clean fleets. “Why are companies like Starbucks and McDonalds successful? Because they are consistent in what they do and people appreciate that because they know what to expect.”

Hernandez referenced a Harvard Review article to further make the point: The author was in a plane, and when he pulled down the seat tray, there were coffee stains, which made him wonder what’s going on with the engines. “Little things can make a big difference,” she added.

Regarding service, Hernandez noted that every component of a company must be service-oriented — and owners must invest not just in hiring great employees, but also invest in the infrastructure to make sure systems and technologies support a service-based culture. “Even a small operator can invest in the right technologies to perform like a world-class company,” she noted.

Effective Leadership
“It starts with YOU,” said Hernandez, referring to a company’s CEO, owner, founder or president. She then proposed top management ask themselves three questions:

What kind of workplace do you have? Do you want it to be energetic, fun and an environment of constantly learning? Or tense, serious and conforming? What kind of values do you want to demonstrate? Service, safety and excellence, or low-cost, efficient and streamlined? What do you want your customers to say about you? “They are real pros,” or “Well, they got me there.”

Hernandez outlined six key traits of leaders who can spur team performance:

  1. Understand the industry — the trends, challenges and opportunities.
  2. Make a plan to be the best in class.
  3. Keep learning and innovating for excellence.
  4. Develop and sustain a “can do” mindset.
  5. Hire the best people you can afford.
  6. Keep your best people working together as a team.

Operators should be aware of overcoming some of the petty office obstacles and distractions that can get in the way of creating a team culture, Hernandez said. Behaviors among chauffeurs, dispatchers and customer service agents such as in-fighting, playing favorites, and staff jockeying for status can cause problems. She said a company sometimes focuses on personalities at the expense of roles, and thereby keeps employees out of alignment with the company’s mission, vision or strategy.

To counter such office negatives and drama, Hernandez recommends company leaders instill a culture in which everyone needs to work together to achieve targeted results and try to limit egos with messages such as, “One for all, all for one,” and establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

“It’s important to speak the same language of service, safety, excellence and productivity,” Hernandez advised.
The key to changing the DNA culture of your company is to focus on team performance, enhance the commitment to service, and upgrade the company technology. In such an environment, “even a small mom-and-pop limousine company can appear world class.”

Sidebar: Team Fundamentals
Here are recommended tips that operators can implement to enhance a spirit of purpose among staff:

  • Develop and maintain trust — say what you mean, mean what you say.
  • Define a set of core values — focus on service, excellence, professionalism, integrity, courtesy and teamwork.
  • Adopt clear roles and responsibilities — my job begins and ends here. My role is to contribute to team success.
  • Agree upon SMART goals to fulfill your mission — be specific, realistic, timely and commit to attainable goals and measure outcomes.
  • Build commitment to a common vision — hire for attitude, train for skills. Reward the behaviors that advance your vision.
  • Use shared best practices for achieving the vision — What do your industry leaders do to promote safety? What did we learn from that incident? What do other limousine businesses do about on-time pickups?

Related Topics: employee issues, employee management, employee retention, human resources, ILCT 2014, industry education, leadership, limo tradeshows, management

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