One for All, and All for One


In the March issue I wrote about dealerships whose departments work well together. I've never seen a successful store that doesn't have a thriving cross-functional culture. If you want to create such an environment, the following will get you started. (I also recommend reading Cross-Functional Teams by Glenn M. Parker.)

Plan on investing 12 to 18 months to get a cross-functional culture running on autopilot. Why so long? Because most people don't like change, and in a single-minded management culture there'll be a lot of resistance as dictatorships are dissolved and team-directed decisions start taking effect. The cool thing is, as the store's culture becomes more harmonious, new hires will assume that team-spirited behavior via osmosis and then add to the momentum. And by eliminating department bullies, everyone will be more apt to contribute.

Once you make the commitment to change, relate your goals to your department managers. Expect some venting, but do not bend to serve the wishes of any single employee. (Do that and all goes down in flames.) Explain that change may be temporarily uncomfortable, but stand firm.

When I was part of a similar transition, we spent two days mostly venting. It was part of letting go of the old and clearing our minds for something better.

Your second meeting will be to discuss what's working and what's not. Require each manager to develop at least one idea on how to grow the business while improving customer service. Set ground rules:

  • Ideas for change must prove how they'll benefit the dealership and improve customer service.
  • It's OK to critique the issue or idea, but not to attack the person.
  • If someone has a criticism, he must also offer at least one solution.
  • Agree that it's OK to disagree.
  • Remain open-minded and use all ideas to brainstorm a plan.

Implement only one major change per month. Management might come up with a dozen changes that sound great, but when dropped on frontline staff all at once, they can provoke a revolution. Also, if you start with the simple stuff, employees can adapt more easily and realize that change is worth the effort.

All this sounds great but goes nowhere if owners and managers don't model team-spirited behavior themselves. Employees will see this as a fault in the new culture and will likely continue their assaults on each other. If a manager can't work well with other managers, he should be let go.


To support such a culture via compensation it's better to reward team performance rather than individual sales. For example, a parts pro told me about how a coworker was herding customers away from other parts pros and himself. At times this coworker even had customers stacked up and waiting at his desk when there were other parts pros available. Individual sales commissions were the reason this employee got greedy and wouldn't share customers. My advice was to make the manager aware that customers weren't being served effectively and to offer the idea of team-based compensation.

An example of how well this can work can be found at Reno Harley-Davidson/Buell in Nevada. Dealership principal John Crowle motivates his salespeople to work well together by sharing the commission on accessories sold to new bike buyers. He breaks down the commission in tenths so that parts, service and motorcycle sales departments all get a portion.

Michael Jordan said, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." Is it a stretch to say the games are the personal sales being made daily, and the championship is the dealership's sales for the year and beyond? Maybe, but if you're in this business for the long term, the decision to work as a team should be obvious.

Dave Koshollek teaches sales and service classes for dealership personnel. His career includes stints as a service manager, Dynojet VP and director of technical training at MMI. E-mail him at