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Five ways to improve dealership communications

Steve Jones, Columnist
May 1, 2013
Filed under Features

Before we do any kind of on-site analysis of a dealership, we send out a survey form that the dealership’s employees are to complete. We provide specific instructions to the dealer that ensures these surveys are returned while protecting the identity of the employee. Anonymity from the owners and upper management is critical if we are to obtain realistic feedback from the employees.

Almost without fail, the number one issue that arises on these surveys is a lack of communication. Sometimes it relates to communication between departments, sometimes between managers and their staff, sometimes between ownership and managers, and sometimes it is all the above.

Regardless, a lack of effective communication costs you time and money. It creates a myriad of issues that result in lost productivity. In addition, poor communication creates misunderstandings that can cost you employees and even customers.

Here are 5 things you can do that will help you improve the communication in your dealership:

1. Manager daily huddles
A daily huddle is a quick stand-up meeting that covers things like what happened yesterday, what’s happening today and what to expect tomorrow. Having your managers hold these huddles every morning will help them address issues and prepare for the day. It also helps break down silos.

2. Department daily huddles
As described above, this huddle helps the manager address yesterday’s issues and get his team up to speed on the day’s events. It is a quick team-building meeting that gets them all on the same page.

3. Weekly manager meetings
Weekly meetings should be designed to last no more than one hour on the same day each week. In a manager meeting, the owner or general manager is the moderator. Each of the managers should report out in turn on their department’s performance compared with the previous month and year. These reports focus on key performance indicators and each should last no more than three to five minutes.

The next phase is for managers to present any significant issues and suggested solutions. Generally this would not involve more than one or two managers. Requiring solutions ensures that it does not become a “bitch session.” These presentations must be kept brief. If more time is needed, issues can be handled one-on-one with upper management.

The final section of the meeting is where the owner or GM presents any policy or procedure changes or directions that the managers need to communicate to their department staff.

4. Weekly or bi-weekly department meetings
These meetings are similar to the manager meetings in that they should last less than one hour. The manager is obligated to keep these meetings positive. Try to include recognition of exceptional performance by a team member, motivation and training in addition to communicating what was provided by upper management in the manager meeting. A staff member may be allowed to bring up an issue, but they must be required to present a solution. You may not use their solution, but they need to be prepared to present one. Issues without solutions should be addressed one-on-one.

A note on service department meetings: A possible exception to attendance at regular department meetings might be your technicians. Unless something involves them directly, you can limit the service department meeting to the shop foreman, service writers, lot attendants, etc.

5. Total Store Meetings
This monthly or bi-monthly meeting’s primary purpose is team building. The owner or GM should share any significant policy or procedure changes that might impact the dealership as a whole — but these need to be presented in a positive manner. Overall, you want the meeting to stimulate and motivate your staff. It is not uncommon for department managers to provide a snapshot of the current status of performance in their department. These meetings help your employees feel like more involved in your business — more of a “family member,” not just someone getting a paycheck from your dealership.

Establishing and conducting regular meetings will overcome most communications issues in your dealership. In addition, you will help build more effective team players and reduce stress within your work environment. Structure and organization are necessary ingredients if you want to ensure a high-level of productivity from your managers and employees.

Steve Jones is senior projects manager at Gart Sutton & Associates. He has worked in the powersports industry for more than 30 years, for dealerships and manufacturers, and as a consultant and trainer. Contact him at steve@gartsutton.com.

 

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