It was now five months on after lockdown lifted that Highway Movers, a leading automobile dealership company restarted its operations. Highway Motors has one of the best showrooms and service center for leading two wheeler and four wheeler brands of the country. The company has around 350 employees and a mix of strong data base of high profile as well as medium segment customers. Highway Movers were also dealing in used cars market.
Varun Goswami, the young CEO of the company believes in aggressive and pro-active management style that delivers results. Even during the pandemic initiated lockdown period of around 60 days he continued mulling over future plans, assessing possible business market scenarios and worked on strategies to bounce back. He kept in constant touch with his team heads of sales, service, marketing; HR and allied customersupport toenable optimize sudden disruption, completing the pending tasks and updating customer data. He also guided and expected his team to keep watch on competitors' customers and analyse their customer profile to enable curate competitive edge through innovative service offerings.
It wasthe last week of October, when Varun saw the accumulated data for four monthsof sales, service, used cars resale, vehicles insurance renewals and he was depressed. The figures were dismally low in almost every vertical pointing towards no growth and even negative trend in some areas. He decided to call an urgent meeting of all heads to take stock of situation as to reasons of such bad performance and plans for festival season ahead.
Rajendra from sales, Sharad from service, Meghna from HR and Shaily from finance were in conference room. Varun entered and there was an uncomfortable silence. Varun was neither in his best moods nor in his best forms. The ever smiling face had a worried frown and the wrinkles on the brow conveyed serious concerns.
Varun initiated the discussion :
"Shaily, can you show the figures on screen please?"
"Yes Sir!" Shaily projected the table of figures on sales, service and insurance renewals. It was all negative.
"I know that the year has not been good not only for us but for all others but now it is for months that we restarted and there is no sign of recovery at all in any segment. How do we interpret all this?" Varun asked.
"There have been job losses, pay cuts and other measures our competitors have resorted to but on your suggestions and advice we did not go for all that to absorb the financial shock, so that our people remain motivated and secure. In spite of this there are no efforts shown from employees side. I have no other choice than resort to no increments, no incentive and no bonus this year". Varun's tone was little harsh.
"So, you mean to say that our team is not performing and just sitting idle"? Rajendra, the Sales Head remarked.
"I am not saying anything. Data speaks of its own.In last four months we could only sell 9 vehicles, vehicles service share is 60% less, Vehicles insurance renewal is only 26 % of the vehicles we sold last year. Used cars market which has grown substantially after lockdown lifted, we could not make much headway in that also. Please accept that your team has fallen much below the target in spite of downward revision of targets due to adverse external environment. Even that you have not achieved" Varun replied.
"I am unable to understand why your teams are demotivated", Varun questioned to all.
"Should I share something from what I have observed"? Meghna from HR intervened. "During last four months I have observed that people are struggling with Covid fear psychology. In spite of implementing stringent safety measures of sanitization, social distancing, hand washing, constant awareness campaigns in the office, and out of the way support of management for employees and their family's health concerns, people have stopped meeting possible customers. Institutional sales calls and leads are zero. People just come at 9 and leave at 6. Earlier they owned this place not as their work place but as their professional salvation, were seen involved in sales and service integrating heart, mind and soul and used to leave office only after closing the sale and delivering serviced vehicles. This is not happening now. Something is missing very clearly. Why not to plan for some motivational training for the employees?"
"I think we should fill the vacancies and rather increase the head count in sales. Because people who left in between have not been replaced". Sharad from Service suggested. "We are also short of skilled manpower, that delays in the vehicle service delivery and customers have become impatient now. They start abusing us in front of everyone if they have to wait beyond the time promised."
Rajendra added, "The problem which Sharad has pointed out is not limited to his department only. It is same with us. Few good boys after restart immediately left us on first opportunity in the fear they will be sacked sooner or later as all companies are downsizing. I have left with only four executives who make calls to customers and get only thrashing in return. Customers are not even listening to us. I have stopped our female caller from making calls because one of them was abused in vulgar language many times by customers who were asked to get their vehicle insurance policy renewed."
"Employees are in double pressure. One of disease vulnerability while going out to meet prospective clients and second is of drifting further away from meeting targets. They are becoming even more despondent."
Shaily said, "It is correct to some extent that the customers have become non committal. They turn back even after assurances. But I have feedback for Sharad also. Customers who came for their vehicle service, most of them have gone back dissatisfied. Repeat jobs have increased thus creating further financial losses. Negative publicity by customers regarding after service of vehicles about us is another point of worry which is causing decline in service vehicle numbers. Service centers in open market are full, working till late but we are sitting idle waiting for vehicle to come in for service."
Sharad kept mum. Probably he did not have any answer to counter the allegation or thought better to be silent.
"How do we plug in the problem"? Varun questioned the team.
"Sir, as I suggested, we should go for motivational training. We have not done anything during this year. Motivated team can turn the tables in festival season approaching near." Meghna said.
"We need to cut our advertising budget then", Varun commented, "What do you say Rajendra?"
"Not appropriate Sir, in festival season we can't afford that. This season is our last hope this year". Rajendra out rightly rejected the idea. "We should also not turn our eyes from the ground reality. The auto market has taken a nose dive. Little bit sales can only be achieved by excited and motivated sales team. And that can be done by incentives and lower targets this year. So incentives should not be withdrawn and the targets should be revised further looking into the customer sentiments." Rajendra added.
Varun now looked disturbed. He decided to call this meeting to share the present abysmal situation and revive the team capabilities by knowing he business reality transparently but now he had more problems than solutions in his plate. What should he do first and how? He felt like wasting precious one hour in this meeting which resulted into nothing. Everybody hadtheir side of story. Nobody was ready to look from the organization's perspective holistically.
He called off the meeting, went back to his cabin and called for a coffee with a tablet of headache.