Article

The Firing Line

Terminating an employee is always hard, but if they have been properly recruited and trained, the decision can be easy.

September 2015, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Paul Hatcher

Courtesy NBC Universal
Courtesy NBC Universal

Donald Trump was already rich and famous prior to 2004, but when he was approached by super producer Mark Burnett to star in a new reality TV show called “The Apprentice,” his celebrity rose to new heights. The show, which ran for 14 season, was a huge hit that helped push now-presidential candidate Trump’s popularity to an all-time high. 

The premise of the show was simple: Hire a group of smart, talented individuals and put them through a gauntlet of challenging business situations. The team that performed the best moved on to the next challenge. The team that lost was called into the boardroom to face Trump, who would dismiss one unfortunate individual with his signature catchphrase: “You’re fired.”

Trump made the dismissal process look relatively easy, but in real life, this decision can be one of the most grueling situations a manager will ever face. Regardless of the circumstance, forcibly removing someone from your team is painful for everyone involved. Your decision will affect the lives of your former employee as well as their family’s, and it can be detrimental to your team and their efforts to achieve your storewide goals.

The Right Decision at the Right Time

In the dealership space, we must decide when the time is right to let certain employees leave our organizations. Some of those decisions are easy. Some are extremely difficult.

There are always extenuating circumstances that must be investigated promptly and thoroughly, and they should be dealt with head-on to make sure the same problems that led to a dismissal don’t come up again. But cases involving theft, fraud, harassment, discrimination and insubordination leave very little room for discussion.

Most situations, however, are not so black and white. Poor attitude, lack of sales or failing to follow certain company policies may or may not call for termination. “Should I or shouldn’t I?” you ask yourself. “Is this the right move or will I regret it?”

You have probably heard it said that, when you decide to fire someone, you should really fire yourself for failing to lead that individual to success. Sometimes this is true. Many managers and business owners have failed to properly train, nurture or develop associates, and without that guidance, many are unable to thrive.

If you have a failing employee and you don’t know whether you or your managers are to blame, you may find the FRIEND model useful. It’s a time-tested system that provides a specific structure to ensure you have done everything you can to bring in the right candidate. It provides a proper orientation for the employee, an exact job description that explicitly lays out the company’s expectations and an extensive training program with the best materials and tools available. Properly implemented, this system establishes a solid process for developing staffers and promotes commitment, loyalty and productivity.

F stands for Find. Chances are, if you are relying on Monster.com, CareerBuilder and classified ads, you are not swimming in the right pool of candidates. Most of the folks on those sites are either unemployed, disgruntled or not exactly sure what they want to do with their careers.

Close your browser for a moment, grab a sheet of paper and write down the specific attributes you want your next team member to have. Now imagine the person who fits that description and believe you will meet them. It may sound like wishful thinking, but it works — particularly in combination with the next step.

R stands for Recruit. Does your dealership spend time recruiting? If not, why not? Recruiting is essential to success in our field. Think about it: The top organizations in the world, from large corporations to professional sports teams, all use their energy and resources to find and recruit the very best people.

The recruitment process is essential to growing and sustaining your business. You must commit to setting aside time each week to recruit. Go into your community and begin seeking out the best candidates and talking to them about the advantages and benefits of the automotive industry as a whole, and your dealership specifically. Create a special business card to pass out to those who have that certain something that impresses you.

Recruiting is so critical to our success in our group that we actually have a position called a talent acquisition manager. This person is not your standard HR staffer. They do a great job of finding and recruiting talented individuals, and you should consider making the investment to employ someone to fill this roll. It can make a real difference in your organization.

I stands for Interview. Once you find and recruit the right person, the interview process begins. This step is very important and requires more than the 15 minutes most managers spend interviewing an applicant. That is a minimal time investment for someone who could end up being a major asset or potentially cause major damage to the dealership.

You must also be willing to ask probing questions. Yes, there are certain restrictions on the questions you are allowed to ask, but if you ask the right ones the right way, you will get most interviewees to divulge the answers you are looking for. You cannot determine if this person is a great fit for your organization in a 15-minute conversation.

If you’re a manager, you should also consider getting upper management or the dealer involved. They may ask questions or see something you might have missed, and the candidate will know that your organization does not take the hiring process lightly.

E stands for Employ. After the interview, you are faced with a very important decision: hire or pass? If you choose to hire the individual, you are making a commitment to do everything in your power to ensure their success. You must approach it with the belief that failure is not an option. They will succeed. They must know your commitment to them and, in turn, they need to be just as committed to the dealership.

The first step is to have a written orientation process. They need to be introduced to everyone in the dealership and they need to feel welcomed, like you rolled out the red carpet just for them. They also need to be introduced to your policies and procedures, and this all-important introduction must be very thorough. Your policies and procedures must be impressed upon them in a straightforward manner.

Review each one individually and know you can’t afford to omit any detail when it comes to explaining the standards to which you are asking them to adhere. You also need to provide a written job description. This will detail exactly what you expect on an hourly, daily and monthly basis, with no room for doubt.

N and D stand for Nurture and Develop. Any time you want to grow something, you must provide for its basic needs and nurture it to viability. The same applies to your new employee. Monitor their activities in their first days and weeks and provide assistance when necessary. Many dealers even have a formal mentorship program to help new hires acclimate better.

Keep on Training

Too often, termination is the result of management’s inability to properly develop employees who may have succeeded with better training.
Too often, termination is the result of management’s inability to properly develop employees who may have succeeded with better training.

In a booming, competitive market and a hostile regulatory climate, the “ND” portion of the FRIEND model has taken on added importance. Dealers and managers have learned that a hands-on approach and active engagement in the development process is an absolute requirement. The days of showing someone where the lot is and telling them to go sell cars are over.

You cannot overtrain. World-class organizations have world-class training programs. Do you have one? Is training your new hires the top priority in every department in your dealership? Is the training ongoing? The goal is for everyone to become an expert in their field, so we must commit to making training the most important thing we do every day.

When you follow the FRIEND model, you create an unstoppable force. A friend is someone who has common interests and is loyal and committed to the organization. This is the type of person you want on your team, with everyone holding each other accountable to high standards of professionalism and achievement.

This brings us back to the underlying question: How do you know when it’s the right time to separate someone from the company?

If you have taken a hands-on approach, adhered to every aspect of the FRIEND model, committed energy and resources to grow and train your associates and created a culture of accountability, and an individual continues to underperform, your decision should be easy. You owe it to that person, the organization and yourself to terminate their employment.

Paul Hatcher is a multistore general manager for Lithia Motors, CEO of Obsessuccess Inc. and author of “The Easiest Job in the World.” [email protected]

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