Employee development should be treated as a system

By Stennis Prochnow

Editor’s note: The following Guest Column from Stennis Prochnow examines the dealership hiring process, a feat with which he became familiar as owner for 10 years of a multi-line dealership in Michigan.

For years, while participating in 20 groups, I have had the opportunity to visit many dealerships around the country. The 20 group would break into two- or three-person teams and interview and investigate different departments at the hosting dealership. I was usually assigned to the service or P&A departments. My job was to write down my observations as to why the department was not functioning properly and to list items that could be done to improve the department’s performance.

It seems like a good idea. Then the hosting dealer could go back and make corrections, hope to get better results and report these results to the group at the next meeting. However, there always seemed to be a breakdown between the investigation and reporting to the dealer and the dealer seeing any actual improvements.

Some dealers would be criticized for not taking the initiative. Some dealers would blame the economy, competition or have another excuse why changes didn’t happen as planned. But looking back I don’t think we should have been so quick to blame the dealer for not performing. Did we really give the dealer the information that he could use? Would his employees respond to the new ideas that came from the group? Did they have the talents, skills and most importantly, the training to accomplish the dealer’s new objectives? In most cases they did not.

As my friend Gerald often told me, there is no magic bean to solving problems in the dealership. There are typically many variables contributing to how a process is working or not working. We need to look deeper into the operation and treat it as a system, all working together, creating the financial success that drives us all.

A major part of this system is the employee base we employ. What are these people capable of doing? Are they the right people for the job? Have we even told them what we expect? How did we tell them? Did we give them the proper training or did we tell them to “Just do it!” How are they motivated? Does yelling work? Why don’t they want to work harder? Have we demonstrated consistent leadership? Have we rewarded people when they do a good job and disciplined them appropriately when they didn’t? Did we listen to them when they had a good idea?

How many of our employees are the right person for the job they currently have? How did they get that job? Many times I have heard dealers speak of not being able to find the “right” person, so they took what they thought was the best they could find — someone who wouldn’t mess things up too much. What are the attributes to consider when deciding if an employee is the “right” person or if a new hire candidate will do a good job? What should you be looking for? Most dealers need help here. We think we are good at finding sales people. We throw a bunch in the room, see who can handle the heat and get rid of the rest. In the service and P&A departments, we typically find people that are good at looking up parts on the computer, someone who excels in the mechanics of the machines, someone who can answer the questions of the caller on the phone, someone who won’t tick us off when we ask them to do something.

It is true that these skills are helpful. But I think there are three other attributes that are more important. At the top of the list we need to consider character. Character is the integrity and moral capability of the employee. We need to have people who do the right thing and treat customers and other employees properly and professionally.

Not far behind is integrity. Integrity is honesty with independence. Will the employee show a high level of integrity and moral capability when you are not around? An employee that demonstrates this has a high level of integrity.

And third, we expect a basic level of aptitude. Does the employee have minimal base knowledge and is he trainable? These three attributes — character, integrity and aptitude — are essential to improving the performance of your dealership.

Review the employees in each department and grade them on these three attributes. If they don’t score a B+ or better, you better start looking for a replacement. The employees that you trust with the keys to the front door probably possesses these traits. If they didn’t score well, get your keys from them quickly.

Stennis Prochnow is founder of Engineered Dealership Solutions, a service and P&A operations consultancy. He has more than 25 years experience in engineering process design and power­sports dealership ownership Reach him at stennisprochnow@yahoo.com.


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