Article

Don’t Ignore Your Managers

GM says dealers who fail to reward open communication will find that minor issues can develop into major problems.

April 2016, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Steve Fox

Someone suggested I write an article about all the things your service manager isn’t telling you. Of course, there is a long list of items a manager may not be telling the dealer or the general manager, and some of them could be extremely important. The larger question is why that communication isn’t occurring.

Are you not being told the shop is in need of more people, new, expensive equipment or additional space? Have your technicians fallen behind on their training? Is there an unresolved safety or environmental compliance issue? These are all extremely important items that should be addressed before they spiral out of control. If your service manager isn’t willing to bring them up, you may have a much larger issue on your hands.

Every dealership, like every business, has issues that need to be openly and honestly discussed, and they’re not limited to the service department. Failure to communicate almost always leads to unintended negative consequences. If a manager chooses not to raise issues with you, you have the responsibility to attempt to correct that behavior. If it continues, you have a responsibility to replace the manager.

But there are two sides to that coin. If you have experienced repeated issues with managers not communicating with you, ask yourself whether it’s possible you are the problem. Are you one of those DPs or GMs who only wants to hear the good news? Do you expect your managers to be able to make problems go away without spending any money?

I have had a number of bosses over the years. The best were more like teachers. They didn’t just tell me what to do. We had frequent conversations and collectively created and implemented new ideas and solutions. Some worked and some didn’t, but we just kept moving forward.

Looking back, I suppose they were telling me what to do and how to do it, but it never felt that way! And I can assure you that give-and-take was much more motivating than the constant, day-after-day and week-after-week follow-up I came to expect from those who relied on micromanagement to make sure things got done.

As the boss, it is easy — very easy, in fact — to fall into that pattern. After all, it is your business, your livelihood and your personal investment on the line. You are supposed to be the most knowledgeable person in the store. Your best managers will understand and respect your position, but they also need to feel involved in the decisionmaking process and feel that their opinions and concerns matter.

I prefer open communication. I want to hear new ideas on how things can be improved. I also want to hear about the challenges and even the possible disasters that lay ahead. I am not interested in a continual list of excuses for poor performance, but I am always open to an honest discussion.

While a consensus agreement is preferred, there are times when you will go against the desired position of your management team. Those situations are much more likely to turn out positively if your team respects you as the final decisionmaker and understands that, as a rule, you do value their input.

Challenging situations do not generally resolve themselves. Think of them the same way you think about the objections your sales and F&I teams encounter every day. What do you tell your staff to do with an objection? You identify it, overcome it, find the next one and repeat until the customer is satisfied.

You would never tell a showroom rep to ignore shoppers who are “just looking.” Likewise, you can’t ignore your managers. Encourage open communication and reward those who speak up with your full attention and concern. You might be surprised at the challenges they’re facing. It’s your job to get them talking!

Steve Fox is general manager of Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a 25-year auto retail and service veteran. [email protected]

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