The Fickle Workforce
Much has been written in the past decade about the demographic shift from “boomers” to “millennials”. I was born in 1959, which puts me squarely in the boomer category, and I, like others in this tenured industry, struggled to adapt to the priorities and motivations of the millennial generation.
When I entered this industry in 1983, I was determined to find my place, climb the corporate ladder, and stay put for the indefinite future. I stayed at my first dealership for seven years. My second post lasted 26 years. That’s what boomers do. They endure. Work is seen as a calling. Loyalty and legacy are important. Your occupation is connected with your identity. Work-life and personal life are intertwined.
Not so much with our millennial co-workers. With rare exceptions, this group doesn’t really see work as a calling. Instead, work is viewed as a CONTRACT. “I’ll trade my hours for your dollars”. Work-life and personal life are mutually exclusive. Switching employers is predicated primarily on personal satisfaction. Millennials tend to grow tired of assignments that don’t interest them, or that don’t add to their personal development. Hence their tenure at any particular employer has noticeably declined.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued in September of 2020 highlighted these differences:
“Median employee tenure was generally higher among older workers than younger ones. For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (9.9 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (2.8 years).” 1
For employers, this shift represents a sea change in how staffing is administrated, and how workplace satisfaction is measured and aligned. The investment costs in hiring, training, and retaining employees have not abated. In fact, not a year goes by where January 1st there aren’t multiple new federal and state regulations enacted that continue to challenge even the best HR professionals. Finding employees that want to work and have the right background is hard enough. Keeping them seems to be even more difficult.
Enter the “gig” economy
One of the ways the workforce is evolving is in the expansion of freelance “project” work. This is colloquially known as the “gig” economy. The most prevalent examples are on your smartphone right now. The success of Uber and Lyft shows the wide acceptance of itinerant work. As the movement grew, project work became less of a “side-hustle” and more of a mainstream occupational reality.
Generation Z (people born after 1997), hot on the heels of the millennials, loves the autonomy and the freedom of expression that comes with not being tied to any single employer for more than a short while. They have the education and digital skills to be effective. They understand and are committed to the short-term “mission” because meeting mission objectives define their value for the next “gig”.
Freelance work is distasteful to most boomers as they came of age in a world that clung to the security of long-term employment. Most boomers will be able to finish out their career path without changing lanes, but for everyone born after 1970 … the working world of the 2020s and 2030s will see changes that nobody ever expected.
Can dealerships adapt to the gig economy format?
The distribution business will find it difficult to amend its operating model to utilize the gig workforce platform. Many of the resources we need to operate efficiently require the knowledge and experience that can only be accumulated over time.
Industries such as advertising, consumer goods, fashion, software, engineering, and medicine all offer ripe opportunities for project-driven initiatives, but the needs of distributors are unique and are best performed by a seasoned workforce.
So, we have a hill to climb. As we power into 2022 (and beyond), we will be faced with a transitory workforce. How can we make it LESS transitory? Here are some ideas.
We must resonate
If it’s not meaningful, it won’t matter. We cannot expect assigned work to be a priority if it does not resonate personally with the employee. How can we make a PM service resonate with a young technician? That sounds like a hard sell.
Actually, any task can resonate if we surround it with the correct motivational processes. I use the following flow chart to govern the process:
Model Measure Report Reward
It won’t resonate if we “wing it”. We have to have a hard and fast written SOP for every task, whether it be timecard posting, work order processing, or PM completion. We simply cannot effectively and objectively assess performance if the standards are not understood!
How many were done correctly? How many were not? How can we improve? What tools, policies, or changes must be instituted to have a better process and a better score.
In the case of PM’s, we will want to include the following measurements:
- Additional maintenance services sold by the technician (trans, hydraulic, coolant, etc.…)
- Segment two repairs found and quoted
- Completion of all work in the allotted time
- No negative customer comments
- Van cleanliness and housekeeping
All of these metrics can be assessed as a point value and used to recognize the employee for both performance and improvement.
In every case, a report showing performance toward a goal should be generated. Some objectives will be personal and kept between the manager and the employee. Other objectives can serve as a platform for competition. There should be personal goals and team goals in every department. The more that relevant reporting is discussed, the higher the chance that resonance will be found.
Wages and salaries are what we pay an employee to be there and get the job done. Rewards are paid for meeting specific meaningful goals both on the personal and team level. This can be done with cash (through payroll), redeemable points, travel rewards, merchandise (Snap-On, gift cards), or even PTO. The rules are simple.
- Pay rewards NO LESS than monthly
- Pay rewards PUBLICLY (during staff meetings) so that we can celebrate the wins
- Use the success stories to bind the team together and build focus toward overall goals for the department or company.
Start out Right
Retaining employees may also be predicated on the way we kick things off. Some are better at this than others. In general, however, management teams in mature industries tend to forget that new employees (as skilled and capable as they are), just don’t know what we know.
I see this all the time. A new employee shows up bright and early on the first day, and we, have the best-laid plans to educate them on our industry and how the dealership operates.
Then the phone rings……and the fires start……and our attention is pulled to the pressing matter of the moment.
Meanwhile, our new hire is trying to “muddle through”, not quite sure of what they have gotten themselves into. They end up learning by osmosis, and more often than not…making mistakes. This does nothing for their confidence, and their chances of establishing resonance are very low. I know this because I’ve been that manager. There has got to be a better way.
One of my key business axioms is: “Education before Expectation”. If we try and hold people accountable for what they don’t know, they won’t last 2.8 months, let alone 2.8 years. When I entered the consulting business, one of the first programs I pioneered was what I refer to as Industry Onboarding. The word “onboarding” is usually connected with the HR process. This is where company manuals, health insurance, W-9’s, and workspaces are all dealt with.
Industry Onboarding is different. “OK…. now you know about our policies…. but you still have no idea about”:
- How do we do things in this business?
- Why does a dealership operate the way it does?
- Why do we need all of these departments?
- Who our target customers are?
- What our unique value proposition is
- The financial tools we use
- Equipment classes and applications
- Power trains (including motive power)
- Components (masts, tires, forks, attachments)
- Jargon and acronyms (MFH, OAL, FFH, NMT, FTP, AGVS, AGM, VNA, TPPL, BDI, SCR, CAN-BUS, ECM, EGR, LBR, ITA, LPS, EE, PDI)
We take these abbreviations for granted. How daunting this must be for a new hire that is looking for resonance. To give them a fighting chance, we must EDUCATE them.
RDS runs a 3-hour web-based seminar every two weeks to fill this need. It won’t answer every question they may run across, but it will give new employees a running shot at getting it right, and feeling-oriented and productive.
EVERYONE new to the dealership needs this boot camp. Salespeople, Parts counter people, Shipping clerks, Technicians, Rental coordinators, Accounts payables, Credit managers, Dispatchers, Administrative……EVERYONE.
Listed on my website are multiple dealer recommendations on the quality of this program. Consider EDUCATION before EXPECTATION and see the light come on! Find out more at https://www.resonantdealer.com/programs/onboarding-webinar-2/
- USDL-20-1791 https://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm
About the Author:
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 40 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director, and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail email@example.com to contact Dave.