Who do you talk to?

Getting out on the front lines now and again makes you a better boss and businessperson

As dealers, we are decision makers. We are called upon daily to make split-second decisions. The management team we have built most often calls upon us to validate their decisions, assuming they choose to involve us at all. We are busy people, dealing with big picture issues. We manage brand relationships, we deal with outside sources, and most often, we interact mostly with our management team.

Many of us trust implicitly until that trust is broken. After all, we pay managers big bucks to do their job and we do not want to interfere or undermine their initiative. We coach our managers and trust that our managers do the same with their reports, and so on, all the way down the line to the lowest level of employee.

Recently, I have run into several situations where dealers feel they have been betrayed by their managers. The information that flowed up channels was not entirely accurate, and as it turns out, the managers’ interpretation was suspect. 

On the other hand, I have seen situations where dealers spend a large proportion of their time going to the source. Some dealers dig into the trenches of their dealership to learn first-hand what all employees think. They observe performance, meet with customers, and meet with employees at all levels. These dealers are in a better position to assess the information being given them by their managers, and can be part of the conversation, due to their first-hand impressions.

I am not talking about micromanaging. And don’t think that I favour undermining your managers’ authority, because I do not. I am talking about being aware of what happens in your dealership(s) based on first-hand observations. 

Ask yourself, when was the last time you spent a whole shift in the service department, working as one of the team members? When was the last time you spent a day working in the parts department?

Ask yourself, when was the last time you spent a whole shift in the service department, working as one of the team members? When was the last time you spent a day working in the parts department? How about the sales floor or the used vehicle department?  When was the last time you sat in your reception area listening to verbal interactions between your staff and the dealership’s customers? 

Sure, many of you walk around every morning on your way to your office, touching base with most employees, talking about the family, their latest trip, kids’ activities etc. This too, is important, but not a substitute to working alongside them. When was the last time you had a meaningful business conversation with your employees and asked for their opinion? When was the last time you spoke to a customer at random to find out how they view your store’s performance?

All too often we rely on third-party, external surveys to inform us of what our customers and employees think about us. Our brands rely heavily on this information to assess our performance as dealers; however, this information should not be new to us. We should already know. We each should have first-hand information that we have gathered on our own. This information is more spontaneous, timely and actionable.There is little value to finding out survey results months after the fact. Our actions and responses need to be timely.

Going to the source, the place where it all happens, is vitally important. I’d like to suggest that many of your managers don’t take the time to understand what happens at the source, however for most of you, those same managers are your sole source on information upon which you base your decisions. You, as the leader within your dealership, need to take the action to ensure you are getting the right and relevant information, in a timely manner, upon which to validate decisions.

By taking this approach you are actually supporting your managers, not undermining them. At the same time, you are indirectly improving the managers,’ and thus your dealership’s, performance. You are also building credibility and trust with your frontline team members. At the end of the day, it’s who you talk to that matters.

I would also like to take a moment to comment briefly on 2023. With increasing inflation and higher interest rates coming in the weeks and months ahead, our dealerships, our employees, and our customers will be feeling the pinch.

The consensus is that we are entering a recessionary period that is predicted to have a huge impact on everyone. Employee and consumer stress will be high. If there is a good side of this, many who participated in the great resignation this past little while, will be returning to work. Also, employers in general are starting to recruit recently retired baby boomers, enticing them with creative work arrangements.   

The conversations you have in the coming weeks and months surrounding the recession will be critical. Everyone gets information from external sources like Google, blogs, Instagram, mainstream media etc. This information will shape the perceptions of your people. They will bring those perceptions to work with them.

It is then important that you control the narrative within your dealership.This will ensure your employees, and through them your customers, understand your view and the position of your dealership. This type of conversation will help increase comfort levels and trust. 

The recession will affect all businesses in a similar, but at the same time unique, manner. Take this opportunity to dialogue with your people. It’s a wonderful opportunity to build trust and loyalty and control the stress created by outside influences. Again, who you talk to, and how frequently, will determine how your dealership moves forward.

About Chuck Seguin

Charles (Chuck) Seguin is a chartered accountant and president of Seguin Advisory Services (www.seguinadvisory.ca). He can be contacted at cs@seguinadvisory.ca.

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