In a recent Rural Lifestyle Dealer poll, 89% of the respondents said “yes” regarding whether there was an employee who should be terminated right now because of poor performance, a bad attitude or other reasons. Would you also answer “yes?”

In my calls and visits to dealerships — as an editor or as a customer — I can tell you that dealers need to do some “house cleaning” regarding their staffs. In just the last few months, I’ve had overzealous “gatekeeper” receptionists that I had to convince to put my call through to the dealer. I’ve left messages with salespeople who won’t return my call — and they didn’t know if I was an editor looking for a comment or a customer interested in spending my dollars. And, when visiting several dealerships, the employees were more focused on the task at hand, rather than a customer who might need something.

Those bad first impressions were before I even interacted with the areas of the dealership where the potential exists for a bad experience, such as the parts or service departments.

Dealers tell us year after year in our Dealer Business Trends & Outlook Report, that finding good employees is one of the top issues they are most concerned about. Could this be the reason dealers are holding on to employees, regardless of whether they are performing at the level they need them to be? Or, is it because terminating an employee is such an unpleasant experience that you just let the person slide, hoping they might change — or, better yet, leave on their own.

“Change the people or change the people,” is a statement Dan Ariens, chairman and CEO of Ariens Co., made at a recent Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn. meeting. He talked in terms of “concrete heads” and “cancers.”

“Once we chisel hard concrete into something new, it is going to take on what we want and they are going to be strong leaders. Cancers, on the other hand, are the ones who go around saying why something won’t work,” Ariens says.

To build leadership skills, Ariens has established an in-house internship program, where certain employees take 6 months away from their regular jobs to study about leadership and the company. “In terms of developing succession, it’s the best thing we’ve come up with,” Ariens says.

You probably don’t have the option of allowing an employee to take 6 months away from their position. However, for those employees who could be your future leaders, allow them some time each month and find them resources (there are many online) to develop their leadership and management skills. 

For other employees, you may be facing challenges that are much more basic. For instance, certain employees may show up late for work, dress poorly or aren’t efficient communicators. This is a trend that some employers in other industries are noticing. In fact, our local technical college has added courses on “soft skills” such as workplace respect and interpersonal communication.

There’s no reason to face another day managing a lackluster employee. They won’t change on their own, either because they don’t want to or because they don’t know how to. If they don’t want to change, they shouldn’t be part of your dealership. Every interaction with a customer is just too crucial. If they have promise, it’s up to you to help them reach that full potential, for your mutual benefit.

Your name may be on the dealership, but your employees are, to a large extent, the face of the dealership. Are they representing you the way you want to be represented, and, if not, why do you still have them?


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