Grow, Or They Might Go: Keeping Your Employees

Publish Date: 
Feb 1, 2010
By Dave Koshollek

THERE'S NO NEED to talk about the economy; it would just depress you. Instead, let’s think about the results of “hunkering down” on service staff. It’s absurd to think a business can slice staff size, assign greater responsibility to the ones kept on, freeze or reduce their wages and expect a bunch of happy campers working at their optimum.

According to a survey reported by a national financial network recently, about 42 percent of employees admitted they are actively seeking employment elsewhere. When you consider that your store probably kept the best employees and laid off the rest, it should worry you that your best employees may be thinking about jumping ship.

What can one do? Plenty; and most of it falls under the concept of continuous improvement. These buzzwords of the past seem to have gotten lost in the storm when our market fell off the cliff. Hunker down has been the knee-jerk reaction by most shops, and understandably so. Now that expenses have been pared and the store is probably treading water financially, let’s put some thought back into staff training. We’ll start with internal training, because there’s lots of good ideas that don’t cost much more than a little time and effort.

1. Hold a 10-minute morning huddle every day with all service staff. Do it standing up to keep it short. Cover the upcoming day’s events and then leave two minutes for a tip of the day. Do the tip round-robin style where each day a different employee takes a turn sharing a tip that increases the knowledge of others in the department. A tech tip could be about a new tool, a maintenance technique, a diagnostic step or the solution to a tough problem. A sales tip could be how the service writer sells 50 percent of his customers on a particular service or accessory.

2. Hold a 30-minute weekly meeting to discuss what worked or didn’t work during the last seven days, and save five minutes for the demonstration of a service routine, a diagnostic procedure or how to do a walk-around inspection.

3. Implement a shadow training program where new hires or transplants from other departments follow an experienced staff member to learn what they do and how. Have the trainee provide a day-end review of what they learned to make it stick.

4. Create a mentoring program. Select mentors based on their performance and attitude. The idea is to clone your best employees so others develop the same skill set and work ethic. Don’t expect the mentor to do this for free, though. Mentoring can be a big imposition. Mentors should be rewarded. When I was mentored years ago by a commissioned mechanic he received 25 percent of my billable labor. I took a lot of his time during the first 90 days while learning the ropes. His payback came about 180 days later when I rarely needed his assistance and I was knocking down some decent labor hours.

5. Cross-train staff into other areas. For example, parts counter workers should be cross-trained to run the service counter and vise versa. Not only will this improve the individual’s skill set, it often improves their attitude, because learning a new position leaves less time for obsessing over the negatives. And, they tend to feel a renewed sense of purpose and stability in the workplace because of the company’s investment in them. Fortunately, the greater the number of service and P&A staff cross-trained into each other’s department, the fewer the problems of cross-departmental fighting. It’s amazing how many issues disappear after we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

6. Provide time for employees to do their online training courses, such as those offered by the manufacturers and a handful of independent training facilities. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to use personal time to complete courses that are essential to the job.

7. Offer tuition reimbursement to employees attending public and private schools on their own time. Courses should benefit their duties at the dealership. Set the expectation that staff must attain a particular grade point average for completion of the course, at which time the store would provide its financial assistance.

Now, let’s talk external training. It saddens me to tell you that the parts-and-accessories sales classes I teach are being attended by a third of the students I used to see just 18 months ago. What dealership owners don’t realize is that when employees attend external training, their sales and job performance improve. Quite often, the tuition and travel expenses are absorbed by the improved performance in just a couple of months. The continued application of what they learned then adds to the bottom line while improving customer satisfaction in the process. Additionally, the employees’ morale and attitude usually take a click upward because they understand the store made a serious investment in them.

What’s more important to consider is that business will turn around. It’s like the whole country has gone through the effects of an 18-month winter where we haven’t been able to fulfill our powersports dreams as we’d like. Economic experts say there’s a huge base of customers with a pent-up demand to shop, buy and ride. When the market rebounds, and it will, is your staff ready to take advantage of the increase in customer traffic because their skills and attitude have improved over this long winter? Or will those who have been run ragged for so long without the opportunity to develop make a mess of the upturn? Worse yet, will they use the increase in business as an opportunity to go elsewhere? It’s not too late to grow staff professionally and personally so they don’t leave when the sun comes back out.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews February 2010 issue.