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When dealership culture eats your business strategy for a snack

By Forrest Flinn

This blog was originally featured on PowersportsBusiness.com and has been republished with permission.

Dealerships are made up of many complicated layers. Like most complex systems, there are parts you can see visibly and other parts are not easy to see with the naked eye. Because dealerships are complicated and complex systems, you often have to peel back the layers to truly understand what is truly going on. If you can’t see it, then it mustn’t be dirty, right? Unfortunately, this adage could explain why your business strategies aren’t working no matter how hard you try!

Dealership culture is created and maintained from the top! It is up to you the owner, and carried out by your managers, to make sure that you are constantly working on your dealership’s culture. You may have the biggest dealership, selling the best brands, but I have seen where dealership culture undermines everything that you want to do. I have seen dealership culture take a great dealership to the ground! I have seen dealership culture completely destroy organizations both inside and outside of the powersports industry.

Is your dealership’s culture toxic, dysfunctional, and undermining your business strategy?

Below are a few things to consider when you are peeling back the layers to figure out maybe why your business strategy is not working:

  1. Low employee morale. Are your employees happy to come to work every day? Do they come to work at the dealership fully engaged and work well with others in their department as well as in other departments? If not, something may be wrong with your dealership’s culture. What is stopping your employees from being happy? Look deeper, and do not be afraid of what you may find.
  2. Give your employees the balance that is healthy. When in season, many of us who work in the powersports industry, especially at the retail level, spend many hours at work often at the demise of our personal lives. It is just part of the game, right? Studies have shown that the more hours that we put in, the productivity and efficiency are decreased. I know in some dealerships the business comes first in all cases! As an owner, you need to understand that the dealership cannot always come first. Things happen! You need to encourage your employees to deal with personal stuff as it pops up from time to time. Having a culture that allows for personal time to deal with family and life events only strengthens that culture and makes you more profitable in the long run.
  1. "My way or the highway!" I used to work for a boss who preached teamwork. However, this particular boss used his position of authority to undermine teamwork and organizational culture. He always said that there is no “I” in the word team! Yet, at the end of day he micromanaged everyone and everything. It was his way or the highway! Instead he should have been seeking solutions from his team to find the best way to address issues. He was constantly afraid of someone being smarter than him. Then one day he said, "If you don’t like it, you can go." So I took his advice.
  2. Secrets, backstabbing and lies. In many dealerships, owners are often not seen, and when they are, they are unapproachable. Owners need to be transparent with their managers and employees. Regular communication with staff is a good thing, and it should be done often. Often when employees don’t know what is going on, things are made up and passed around the grapevine. None of this is good for your dealership culture. My advice is to take hold of the grapevine and harness the power of it! Some dealers have found “town hall” type meetings on a regular basis helps improve dealership culture. The key here is being transparent and approachable with your team.
  3. Your management team is not setting a good example. Early in my management career my boss and mentor reminded me that everyone is looking to me for guidance. This goes for owners and managers as well — the team is looking at what you are doing, saying and sometimes not saying as guidance. In some dealerships managers are one way to their owners, and when they are not being watched closely, they are not exhibiting your values. My advice here is that you have a manager that does not share your values completely, then you may have to find another manager. Fact: Bad managers are often the number one reason why good employees quit.
  4. Lack of employee engagement and high turnover. The true cost of employee turnover is staggering. And the cost of having a team in your dealership that is not fully engaged devastates your dealership’s profit and strategy as well. If you are losing good employees, you have to find out why. Exit interviews are a good way to ferret out good information on why good employees are leaving. I know dealerships that have employees that have been with them for years, and there is a certain element of normal turnover. However, if you are constantly replacing people, the bad news is that it is probably your culture.

These are just a few of the issues that you need to examine when analyzing your dealership’s culture. Your dealership’s culture is what sets you apart from the dealer up the road. The hard question you have to ask yourself is why would someone want to work for you?

When analyzing your dealership’s culture, remind yourself that you are a part of it; the most important part that starts at the top. Ask yourself the question, “Would I work for me?” Take a good 360-degree walk around yourself. Make changes if need be. If you have toxic managers, then coach them up or coach them out!

Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for more than 20 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Currently Forrest is the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, human resources, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.

Contact: forrest@powersportsmc.com

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