I have to say, I was a little hurt when I read it. The analysis of my characteristics and personality was there in print, had been passed on to my boss and also the car manufacturer who had been studying me for the last two days.
“Not A Team Player.” Well that sucks.
It was the early days of the Lexus franchise in the UK. Already successful in the USA, the car brand was still tiny and the team at Lexus UK were working hard to find people with the skills to go out and do the hard work of convincing prestige car drivers that there were alternatives to Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW etc.
It was tough building a prestige brand from scratch and they were investing in people heavily. Hence I was installed in a training camp near Gatwick Airport in the UK for two whole days. The objective was to study me like a lab rat, work out what I was good at, was not so good at. And teach me a whole bunch of stuff and set a pathway for development.
Part of this were tests on our practical skills such as used car appraisal (a skill I was always proud of), mental arithmetic (not so good – I will come to that shortly).
And also, one of those psychometric personality tests that has been developed over many years that you simply cannot beat. We were told at the outset not to try and beat the test or second guess the answers. It was devised to be bullet proof and so, by all means try and beat it. You won’t, the outcome is the same.
It will bare your soul and show who you really are.
Bugger. I hate it when that happens.
So the two days that culminated in me being labelled “Not A Team Player” commenced.
I aced the used car appraisal part. I knew I was good at it, I had my own system of sixth sense I had developed over the years. However again that didn’t fit the norm. The car manufacturer wanted me to do the appraisal checklist neatly and tidily, methodically going around each panel and marking faults.
I didn’t do it that way and they didn’t like it. However, I also taught them that there’s more to life than ticking boxes.
My technique was to go to a car and simply stand and look, then take a quick stroll round, let my gut instinct do the initial appraisal. Very often I would be alerted to something that I simply felt wasn’t right. I had a gut feeling that nearly always proved to be correct.
Only then did I start filling out the form on the clipboard like a good boy. They didn’t like that at all, I was marked down as way too impulsive. Prone to rushing in, they said.
Then they noticed someone else doing the same thing. And the two of us were both spotting things that others were missing. “So, how do you do that?” was the question I was getting at the coffee break. I don’t know. I just do….
That thing you called ‘rushing in’ was me getting a lot of data into my head very quickly before I lost it. It’s what I do what I feel the urge to write today, when I come up with what I think may be a cool marketing idea. I grab the initial thought in Evernote, write it down really, really quickly and suck every last drop of initial inspiration from it, right there and then.
I need to collect as much data as I can before the thought leaves my tiny brain.
Then I take a second sweep through and analyse a bit more.
Mental arithmetic tests? Another of my pet hates. Its what calculators are for. I knew I could easily blow this one wide open, big style. Twenty mathematical questions, ten minutes to do them. Man….
That’s when I learned something else.
I knew I could easily fail this and I also knew that they placed great importance on this element. So I figured the only chance I had was to concentrate the hell out of it and when the clock started ticking, absolutely go for it and concentrate like never before. Focus, focus, focus, then maybe you just might get an OK mark.
The result? 97% and probably my best ever score in a test of that type. That shows what you can achieve if you apply yourself.
Back to me and my new label, “Not A Team Player.”
How so? Quite simple really.
I had learned over the years of rising to the top in car showrooms that sharing information was not always a good thing. My own personal bank of customer contacts was something I was proud of. My telephone technique for getting appointments was something my boss made someone come and listen to one day as I took a sales call. “You, come here quick, listen to him.”
However, I learned that sharing that information with colleagues didn’t always work. My boss wasn’t stupid, he knew what I was doing. And he didn’t mind because he knew that ultimately I was loyal to him and I got a result.
On training courses with colleagues from rival dealerships in the room, I would rarely contribute. While others use to puff out their chests and proclaim their successes, I would be quietly making notes on that idea I had just picked up. Or noting down that business contact he had just carelessly given away in a conversation.
I would only ever contribute when either I was bored and the day was dragging and I wanted to get the hell out. Or when I wanted to nudge the conversation down a path where I thought someone was about to divulge something.
See? Sneaky fucker, wasn’t I?
That didn’t mean I was selfish. Well, maybe it did. However, I loved the people in my team who were on my side. The technicians who I knew would always stay behind and get that get a car ready for a customer and go that extra mile to fix things seamlessly. The valet guys who were obsessive in an attention to detail that gave everyone great customer feedback. I loved them.
So I could be a team player. However it was a very small team and you had to earn a place on it.
I had customers on my team too. I didn’t see them as the adversary as many of my car sales colleagues did. I saw them as long term relationships with people who would continue spending money with us. So, many of them were on my ‘team’ and I would sometimes have to be there at their homes 8.00pm in the evening, as the car was a present for their loved one and that was the time the party started. Lovely people I am proud to have known.
As for my boss’s view on me not being a Team Player?
Richard was probably one of the best guys I worked for. But man did he have a short fuse. When he lost it, he was the Alex Ferguson of general managers and The Hairdryer Effect was something you didn’t want as he stood face to face, just a few feet from you.
I used to hate it until I began to realise that he was simply so passionate about his work that, like me, he was frustrated when things didn’t go as they should have.
Sometimes, when I screwed up, he would literally go purple as his words came out and he forgot to breathe in.
I wasn’t looking forward to him reading the report.
His reaction? “Good.”
WTF? I was expecting the hairdryer.
“I don’t want a fucking team player. Look out there into the showroom, I have a whole crew of them and what do they get me? An average result. That’s not going to fucking work with this Lexus project. It’s going to be hard work, you’re going to get knocked back each day and you’re going to hate it at times.”
Richard was right. It was hard work. These days, disruption of an industry is almost normal. I’ve written before about Uber and other subjects. Back then, it was harder to do.
So Richard knew he didn’t want a team player.
He needed us both to pivot on our skill set. Between us, we had to think of a different way to market. We had a tiny model range and an even tinier marketing budget to spend. We had to think of new ways to attract attention.
We simply could not outgun Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW. So we had to be unconventional.
Those times when I was positively encouraged to NEVER be the team player were some of the most rewarding of my previous career.
The skill set I acquired in that short period I still use to this day. Mixing it in with photography, writing and an empathy for how a customer may be thinking gives me that unusual capability.
The bad things? Well, sometimes I upset people.
Sometimes I come from a viewpoint that challenges the status quo and challenges conventionally held beliefs on marketing. “We’ve always done it that way” is something I hear a lot. Indeed, you may well have done, with considerable success, in the past. That was the past. The world has changed. That’s why I am here with you, remember?
Of course, that means that I have to fight the urge not to become frustrated when things don’t happen quite as quickly as I may like. To me, it’s the obvious course of action. What are we waiting for? Come on! JFDI!
That’s the Not So Good part of me not being a particularly good Team Player. Sorry if you’ve experienced it.
Sometimes, you really, really need someone on your team who is NOT a team player. I know, for example, that I bring more benefit to the team than the disruption I may create.
And I promise not to be quite so sweary.
That disruption was coming anyway, if you were ever going to successfully manage a digital transformation and learn to become more customer focussed. I was simply the messenger, the catalyst.
Sometimes the steps that need to be taken are a little painful. We may fall down and get a grazed knee that needs a band aid. But we’ll get up and push forward. Sometimes I may push too hard or indeed not listen myself. That’s the impatience in me bursting through.
So Am I Really Not a Team Player?
In the conventional sense, probably not. If you want someone who is going to conform to your existing team structure, join seamlessly into your organisation and blend into your ways, then no, I am not a Team Player.
It would be interesting to repeat that test again today and see what the outcome would be. At the time, I was more than a little hurt. I saw it as being labelled forever selfish, utterly uncaring and a bit of an ego maniac.
Not A Team Player sounded like a really bad thing, until my boss Richard gave it the context. He didn’t want a Team Player. In that moment, in that marketplace, that was the last thing he wanted,
Today, I am proud of that label. Not a Team Player?
Yeah, I’ll take that.