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December 2017
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Hold on to quality personnel!

Several years ago, shortly after we moved to South Carolina, my wife and I decided to take a three day vacation to the beach. We headed off to Charleston to a Holiday Inn located on the beach. My wife was not all that excited that we were staying at a Holiday Inn and her comment was: “Wow, we are staying at a Holiday Inn, how lucky can we get!”

Now most of you can picture a Holiday Inn, a typical motel that few are going to get excited about. We were both surprised to see that the motel’s interior had changed and changed dramatically, it was no longer a “cookie-cutter”, look-alike Holiday Inn.  More change was imminent. It wasn’t only the physical changes however. It was the people working for the hotel. It was like everyone had gone to charm school, taken a course in modern day manners and then wrapped it up with a couple of weeks being schooled by Dale Carnegie himself. It was a great three days.

On the way back I couldn’t help but think about how somebody had said: I want to do something with my personnel that will make them want to please every customer that walks through my doorways! This sets the stage for increased customer satisfaction.

Fast forward to today: I called a rather large equipment dealer who operated multiple locations and by all reports a prosperous dealer, but the moment the phone was answered the thought that this might be a world-class dealer was destroyed immediately. It was absolutely the worst first impression I have ever experienced with any equipment dealership. In less than two minutes this individual had destroyed my image of this dealership completely. The attitude shown by this one employee was absolutely negative.

As this negative attitude grows within one or two employees, it is picked up by others and makes the day miserable for most employees. This attitude spreads and effects how your customers are treated. Unfortunately this, coupled with what everyone calls a market-turn down, can be disastrous for the equipment dealer. We stop looking at the glass as being half full and tell everyone that it is half empty. This type of an attitude can kill a business much faster than any so called market-turn down!

Highly successful dealer principals, general managers and department managers learned long ago that to get tasks done they must work through and with employees. There is an old axiom that states: The best way to get yourself promoted is to hire people who will push you up the ladder through their constant efforts. There are numerous methods by which productive dealers or managers achieve results from their personnel. Let your employees know that they are valued. Employees will recognize their value by the manner in which they are treated, by the level of trust that is put in them, by the amount of involvement they are allowed and by the recognition that they receive which is not necessarily money. This all is a monotony-reliever.

If you want your customers treated like kings and queens, then treat your employees like royalty! Employees should be treated in the same way that a manager would want to be treated. This means that you, as a manager are always courteous, always honest and always willing to listen to your employees. Personnel policies, rules, regulations and management techniques should all reflect respect for the employees. This should include the reasons why certain rules exist, etc. Remember that one of the major motivating factors for personnel is their being in on the decision making process. This applies across the board to every employee, without regard to their particular position or status.

Personnel want to perform! It is crucial for management and staff to trust each other. Managers must believe that employees want to be productive and want to participate fully in the dealership’s organization. On the other side, employees must believe that their managers (leaders) have their best interest at heart. This kind of trust doesn’t happen by itself. By nature (experience), employees are usually cautious until trustworthiness has been demonstrated. Fortunately, if managers demonstrate the right traits, trustworthiness will be imminent. There are several very important traits that encourage trust on the part of a dealership’s personnel.

Open information is an important trait indicating trust. This is particularly true between general managers and department managers. A successful dealer and manager will let everyone in on information pertaining to the dealership, department and the individual position. Encourage and facilitate information exchange. Encourage questions and recommendations for improvement.

Successful managers are patient and tolerant. They will accept (but not ignore) honest mistakes. They will guide employees in correcting their mistakes and in avoiding future mistakes. Successful managers will help their personnel learn from their mistakes.

Effective managers treat employees with fairness and consistency. They will be fair, impartial and consistent and will also be honest with their employees. They won’t make promises that cannot possibly be kept. They will be accountable to employees.

Of course there is always the possibility that some managers’ trust in their employees will be abused. However, the benefits in productivity and commitment that you will receive from your employees will far outweigh any negative impacts that trust, fairness and consistency create within the dealership.

Your personnel want to have some input, some part in the decision making process in order to feel that they have a degree of ownership in their jobs. To establish a participatory work place, a dealer principal or department manager must: 1) solicit communication, 2) listen, 3) provide feedback and 4) share the power.

In addition to investing the time and energy to explain the whys and the hows of the dealership’s goals to staff and personnel, dealer principals and department managers must be willing to make the communication process a two-way street. This means that managers must listen to what their personnel are saying. Sometimes what the employees want and what management thinks they want are two very different things. We have discussed this subject in earlier articles concerning what really motivates personnel.

To instill a feeling of cooperation, managers should share some decision making power with employees. Giving employees a say in how things are done is the second most important motivator. Employee groups should be able to have some say in what happens in their end of the business. Employee input is critical to the financial strength of the dealership. After all it is through and with the dealership personnel that all tasks will be accomplished.

The genuine key motivating factor with employees is recognition. It should be further noted that this recognition does not necessarily always require a financial motivator. Sometimes a simple “thank you” is quite enough. Share the rewards of mutual efforts with all those involved. Install a formal recognition program. As an example: Employee of the Month type program.

Praise employees who have completed a difficult task, gone beyond the normal daily routine, provided additional customer satisfaction, have been cooperative and pleasant under pressure, or have been supportive to programs or other departments or employees. Praise is easy to give, doesn’t cost anything and does wonders for morale. Use praise often in your dealership and see what an effective motivator it truly is. Always remember to give credit where credit is due!

Successful and effective principals and managers will always know what is going on in the dealership and in the department’s area of responsibility! Many successful equipment dealers use a form of management referred to as management “by walking around”. This is a process of getting managers out of their offices to look at their operations first hand, either within the dealership or out in the field. It is an essential ingredient in managing people.

For a department manager this may be just listening and watching how the phones are being answered, how the customer is treated over the phone or from behind the counter. Is suggestive/related selling taking place? Is the customer being taken care of courteously? For the service manager it means seeing how the job is finished. Cleaning out the cab of a backhoe, washing the windows on the cab before delivery can be an effective factor of customer satisfaction. For the sales manager it may mean calling on accounts with the sales person, listening and watching for customer reaction and “feed back”. For the dealer principal it means watching for clues indicating “strengths and weaknesses” within the dealership.

By using “walk-about” management a dealer principal or department manager becomes visible and immediately accessible to employees. Your personnel appreciate a manager they can relate to, someone who presents him/herself as unpretentious and easy to talk to. This helps to achieve an atmosphere of confidence and trust. “Walk-about” can provide direct feedback by talking directly with employees and this can open up valuable, but previously untapped resources. This assists the dealer or manager in picking up on ideas and problems that need attention.

Once again, these are just suggestions for achieving results through and with your dealership personnel. The key person in this entire scenario is you the dealer principal or you the department manager. Nothing will happen unless you desire to make it happen!

John R. Walker is president of After Market Services Consulting Co. Inc. E-mail to contact John.