9 things to keep you from being a hideous manager; engaged leaders define the dealership environment

By: Joey Little

It’s tough leading a dealership; anyone who has managed one will tell you that. One of the things that makes it extremely challenging is the fact that there are so many moving parts and so many priorities that must be addressed on a continual basis in order for things to run smoothly—and for your dealership to be successful. Employee engagement plays a powerful role in the success of your dealership, with numerous studies showing that highly engaged employees offer not only increased monetary value to their companies but also better customer service and higher production levels. But achieving a highly engaged workforce can be challenging. It requires time, persistence, and consistency—and with so much to do when it comes to increasing employee engagement, there’s no time for sitting down on the job.

It may sound like a daunting task, but we’re sharing our Secret Steps for Employee Engagement with you so that you can guide your dealership toward a more engaged environment. Enacting an employee engagement platform in any workplace requires active involvement from everyone, but especially in a dealership where employee involvement is key when it comes to successfully reaching customers, engagement will require active participation from everyone. Beginning with the top management positions and continuing to include every professional in the dealership, an effective employee engagement program will lead to a more productive workforce, a more positive attitude amongst employees, a higher regard for customer service, and in turn more profit for your dealership. It takes energy and determination, but by following the 10 steps below, you will begin to reap the rewards of having an engaged workforce that thrives on communication, inclusion, and participation.

1.     Question

Leaders are supposed to know everything, right? Wrong. When engaging employees at your dealership, begin by assuming you don’t know things—even the things you think you already know. Engage your employees by asking meaningful, relevant questions about their jobs, their functions within the dealership, and their concerns, and then follow through by being a great listener. Formulate questions that show your employees their thoughts, opinions, and insights are integral to the daily success of the dealership. Your interest in their input will likely be well-received and met with enthusiasm.

Things You Might Try:

  • Give employees a fun 3-question survey to answer about the dealership. Make sure to offer the opportunity to list positive as well as challenging things. Also, ask for improvement ideas.
  • Hold a roundtable brainstorm to implement improved processes to help everyone.
  • Implement a suggestion box and a kudos box so that employees can call out co-workers for jobs well-done.

2.    Request

Employee engagement is integral to the success of your business—however, if you TELL everyone in your dealership they are going to participate, chances are good that you will be met with at least a modicum of resistance. A better approach is to ask for team member participation, expressly letting your employees know they will be adding value to the dealership as a whole by participating and adding their individual contributions. Ask them to get involved and encourage them as they join in. By turning ownership over to your employees and making them a part of the changes happening in at the dealership, they will feel compelled to participate and offer their best efforts.

Things You Might Try:

  • Hold a kick-off meeting and invite employees to suggest ideas that will enhance the employee engagement program.
  • Explain that community outreach and involvement is a big part of engagement and ask employees what groups or charities they support. Let them know the dealership wants to be a part of what is meaningful to them.
  • Ask for employee volunteers to head up various portions of your dealership’s engagement program to create a sense of ownership.

3.    Participate

As a leader, you already know you don’t get to sit in your office and relax while your employees do all the heavy lifting. Especially now, when you are asking everyone to get on board with an all-hands-on-deck employee engagement program, it’s even more important that you visibly put in the work and show your employees throughout the dealership how it’s done. Demonstrate how a great employee engagement program looks by leading the charge and being visible on the front lines, participate in the process with your employees, and collaborate with them to create a new way of working that will benefit everyone.

Things You Might Try:

  • Consider setting up a mentoring program at your dealership to foster career growth. Do you have a porter that shows great potential and interest in advancing with the dealership? Partner him or her with a more experienced professional to encourage growth.
  • Engage with your employees during special events, such as car-care clinics, fundraisers for charities, and health fairs.
  • Ensure your employees have the proper materials needed to do their jobs. For fun, consider an Office Supply Swap Day.

4.    Practice

Nothing is written in stone, and there is nothing that can’t be reworked—so go ahead and try new things that will get your employees revved up and excited about the dealership where they work. Don’t be afraid to implement new ideas and programs, and don’t shy away from new processes simply because they are an unknown. Many companies and dealerships are successfully implementing groundbreaking employee engagement programs; study them, read about them, and then practice some of the things they are trying. You’ll be glad you did!

Things You Might Try:

  • Offer opportunities for employees to expand their knowledge and grow in the business.
  • Remember that professional doesn’t always mean stuffy. Think about where you might be able to add in some time for fun, or even a lighthearted space for relaxing. (Beanbag break room, anyone?)
  • Consider rounding up volunteers to be on a Fun Committee. They’ll come up with great ideas you can implement dealership-wide (like Sports Jersey Fridays or Ice Cream Mondays)!

5.    Connect

As individuals, employees naturally tend to form groups or even pull away individually to get work completed; but as a strong leader, you are able to see the vision you have for your dealership, and you know how the various groups within your dealership can successfully work together to produce the best work. Encourage employees to reach out to each other and be a part of breaking down barriers between departments, groups, and individuals so that everyone can contribute their best efforts.

Things You Might Try:

  • Encourage employees to get to know each other outside their individual work groups. Try something like a game to kick off your staff meetings.
  • Call for a volunteer to be in charge of your dealership’s birthday and anniversary calendar—celebrate everyone with a balloon on their special day.
  • How about Food Friday once per month? Invite everyone to bring a favorite treat to share, and before you know it everyone from salespeople to shop personnel will be mingling.

6.    Learn

Sometimes it is difficult to remember, but you are not an island. There are other dealerships and companies that are either at the same stages of implementing employee engagement programs OR that have already implemented world-class programs and have employees who are productive, engaged, and providing over-the-top customer service. Learn from them. Absorb what they have to teach by mimicking their processes and their programs. Read about them online and find out what you can do to make everyone at your dealership over-the-top engaged as well!

Things You Might Try:

  • Check out TED talks for leaders. They are full of great ideas and will point you in the right direction.
  • Research the latest online Gallup surveys for insights regarding employee engagement.
  • Implement some of the things being done at top companies, like: recognize social connections and professional endeavors, offer training, offer rewards, and integrate fun during the work day. (Check out companies like Google, Dreamworks, and Zappos.com)

7.    Observe

Most people would agree that it’s difficult to walk around blindfolded all day, what with all the bumping into things and simply not seeing what’s going on around them. As you lead your dealership, you are growing your brand and shaping a culture, so you can’t afford to be unaware of what’s going on—NOT EVER. The best thing you can do to understand your employees and learn how to engage them is to be present in day-to-day life. What are your employees saying? What do they like or dislike? In what areas could they use more encouragement? Observation of your dealership’s culture should be continual, and you’ll want to ensure you communicate with employees about their concerns and ideas on an ongoing basis.

Things You Might Try:

  • Set aside days to have lunch with your employees throughout the week.
  • Start the day with a morning coffee meeting which can be a mixture of business and casual conversation.
  • Be sure to involve your employees in updates and meetings when changes are occurring with the dealership or with their jobs in particular. It’s ok—and encouraged—to get their input regarding changes. This way you’ll be able to gauge their feelings about new policies or procedures and respond appropriately.

8.    Interact

You are busy and running a successful dealership, but the best thing about that is having engaged, trusted employees to help you along the journey. Don’t get so focused on paperwork, behind-the-desk tedium, and red tape that you forget to maintain a relationship with your employees. While there are certainly integral functions at the dealership that you must attend to, ensure you take the time to be visible, interact, and let your employees know you are one of them! If you are approachable and likable, chances are, they will feel more comfortable coming to you with concerns and issues, and you’ll be better equipped to handle potential problems down the road.

Things You Might Try:

  • Consider an optional event like a weekend picnic or family outing for all of your employees.
  • Celebrate when large or complicated projects are completed, when sales goals are met, and when great things happen for the dealership. Remember to recognize those who participated in the success.
  • Coordinate a Dealership Olympics, including games like the Post-It Dash, the Standing Stapler Jump, and Pass the Paperwork.

9.    Create

Dealerships run on numbers and facts—everyone knows that. But as a leader, you are expected to be the person who is able to weave the complexities of your dealership and the hard work of its employees into a compelling narrative that explains the WHY of everything. Why does everyone do what they do? What is the payoff? What makes working at this dealership so great? Your employees want to know their work is significant and meaningful, and alongside the numbers and the spreadsheets, you will need to tell the story of how every single individual has contributed to the dealership’s success.

Things You Might Try:

  • Award employees with plaques or prizes for jobs well done. Reward them for doing the work they love with zeal.
  • Create a photo wall of dealership successes, featuring employees at their best.
  • Develop a brand statement that encompasses what the dealership strives for each day. Place it in a prominent location.

Bio: Joey Little serves as Director of Digital and Social Engagement for AutoAlert.  An expert in customer experience management, he educates automotive professionals at speaking engagements across the country. With results-driven advice and proven industry knowledge, he assists dealerships in reaching their audiences and increasing business via their social platforms.

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