It’s a Set Up: How to be a Leader When No One’s Looking

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One of the most significant objectives in my career is to shift the automotive industry enough that people actively pursue careers within our space. This industry is fast-paced, exciting, and has no room for mediocrity. However, people do not enter this industry on purpose; they do so out of necessity—often as a last resort, which is problematic. The automotive retail space should attract the most aggressive sales professionals in the world. To create a space that the professionally minded are drawn to, we need to take a long, hard look at the issues plaguing our industry from a leadership standpoint.

As managers and decision-makers, we have the daily choice to lead or impede our staff. During this Covid-era of perpetual uncertainty, we should take extreme ownership of our staffing choices. 

People are scared of working in our industry. Potential high-value candidates may be dissuaded from applying because they unknowingly think our pay structures do not counterbalance the high-intensity work ethic required to succeed. This leaves us with an underqualified candidate pool that, quite frankly, has little or no business being in the automotive industry.    

Look, we all know that in a good year, hiring isn’t fun. Now, with start-up and tech companies offering robust benefit packages—that include continuing education, remote work options, team building exercises, and even unlimited PTO—hiring has become even more difficult. As more and more workers opt for laptops in Latin America, it becomes incumbent upon us to be able to answer these questions—What is the value proposition I am offering? What am I doing to sell a career in my dealership?

Handing a new hire the 401k packet and pointing them to the OEM certification portal is not enough.

On-the-job training, clearly defined career objectives, and paths for advancement are fundamental expectations for any professional career. The simple promise of lucrative earnings no longer entices the high-minded sales-savvy candidate. They expect a quality work environment. Without a basic framework for success and progression, we will continue to watch as our greatest and brightest opt out of the long hours, sleepless nights, and stress that comes with the automotive retail space.

We have discussed the importance of training multiple times here at DTVMS. While we are slowly seeing improvements at the dealerships we consult, our industry still begins employment with the sink or swim “Phone Book” approach to training. We need to stop doing this.

Instead, teach! If you are as good as you say—if you are as skilled as you say—then don’t hold that knowledge back from the industry that gave it to you. Take the time out of your day to teach the logic behind your reasoning. By allowing your experience to flow freely, you are giving back to the career that fed you.

You can train each employee to need a closer or be a closer. It’s that simple.

Define expectations, properly onboard and train, and then practice consistent follow-up through monthly one-on-one’s and daily/weekly accountability. 

This is how you sell the career.

This is how you enable everyone the opportunity to work together for mutual success. 

Yes, these conversations are time-consuming, and in an industry where “time kills deals,” it may seem the easy option to put such meetings off for another day. Yet, by carving out a few moments once or twice a month to speak with each employee, you are illustrating leadership skills that may give you the advantage your dealership needs.

With training and one-on-one’s, a leader can see their team’s ability to manage time, set goals, creatively problem solve, and handle high-pressure situations. Furthermore, such meetings help your teams become more cognizant of their actions’ impact on overall dealership-wide productivity.

Being able to visually conceptualize one’s career immediately creates security. This begins as an employee is shown how to clock in and is continued through training, yet the foundation of that security is understanding one’s advancement opportunities. Everyone looks for advancement. You need to ask yourself whether your employees are seeking progression within your company or not.

While some of the best dealerships may offer impressive career path opportunities, the reality is that most do not. We hire without explaining when the next advancement opportunity is and, more importantly, without defining what an employee is working toward. Yes, positions are limited—one GM, one GSM, and often only one or two desking managers and one or two floor managers. So, let’s face it, striving for those positions can be a daunting task. Just because it’s difficult, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking the time to map out trajectories for employees to get from point a to z.

Early on, I worried that if I didn’t have a degree, I wouldn’t be allowed to be successful in life. I focused my energy and spent a lot of money—that I didn’t have—on getting a Bachelor’s Degree. All while working full time. This task took me over ten years to accomplish. Then immediately felt that my education level wasn’t enough and that without a Master’s Degree, I would never make it. Today, I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. The biggest lesson I learned is that it’s not about the education you have nor how smart you are: it’s about being in the right place at the right time and having the opportunity to create your path. Just as an educational degree is not indicative of success in life, not every employee will become a GSM or GM.

In many cases, a person will happily make a great living on the sales floor. Look at the Ali Reda’s of the world. Investing the time to create clear career paths may mean showing those you are responsible for how they can become a 40-car or 50-car, or 100-car person.

Give people the opportunity to expand beyond the scope of their job, and you will be repaid with loyalty, hard work, and added knowledge.

Withhold opportunity and demand blind recitation of your words, and you will be repaid with more stress, more frustration, and more new-hire paperwork.

If the happiest customer indeed does spend the most money. Then it stands to reason that the happiest employee will equally offer the most value to your team and your dealership.

Not all your employees will be with you for the long term, but they will all be influenced by your choices. When hiring, do you look at the candidates as people who would do well on the sales floor, on the phone, or under a car, or as people with the requisite skill set for growth within the industry?

I can’t help but think about how many amazing people we will never know because they never entered our sphere when they should have. Incredible people who had what it took to make it and make a difference yet had no desire to be here. I want a better future for the industry, and that starts with making this a place where people want to be.

The world is changing rapidly, and if we continue to be ineffective at bringing great, qualified, talented folks into this space, it will be difficult for us to get to the next level. I, for one, see that as a goal worth pursuing. Until we get good at selling a career and lifestyle of hard work, sacrifice, and financial reward, people will never want to be in the automotive retail space. We will continue only to see those that fall into it by accident. That is a damn shame.

Herb Anderson/Charity Ann