A recent study that was conducted by interviewing employees from several industries found that only 15% of those employees felt empowered by their boss to make a necessary decision. To maximize performance, all businesses need clearly defined expectations, processes and job descriptions that include allowable limits to decision making.

In the traditional, heavy, control-oriented selling and managing philosophy that the automotive industry has been used to, employees tend to be used as puppets with little ability to think for themselves. This dummying down affect makes sure that there is little latitude for employees to make decisions and centralizes all decision-making. When employees are continually treated as useless puppets, they become useless puppets.

Everything starts at the top. Many dealers don’t trust their managers to make wise decisions, and then of course the managers follow the dealer’s lead and do not trust their salespeople to do what is best. Each dealer should clarify verbally and written with the management staff what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Typical scenarios are when general managers are too afraid of their job and run every decision by the dealer or a general manager. Or, managers make a decision and then are raked over the coals for making a decision that the dealer did not agree with. When those two things occur, the dealership can never grow beyond its current level. The dealership is micro-managed from fear. Thus, good leaders are not developed in management and potential leaders in sales are not groomed.

Eventually, after a period of frustration, the general manager is fired for making “bed decisions,” or gets fed up and quits. Then dealers look around the organization and realize they don’t have a qualified candidate to fill needed positions. If, as a dealer or general manager, you don’t believe you have anyone who is capable or well-trained enough to fill future positions, your organization has either hired poor employees or has not trained them properly.

To win and succeed more, you have to risk more. The employees who are empowered to make more mistakes eventually make more correct decisions and gain more confidence in their ability. Leadership and management capabilities are not gifts that people are born with. Some people might have more natural capabilities than others, but most of the necessary skills and critical thinking processes are developed through education and experience. Mistakes and short-term failure are key ingredients to the education and critical thinking skills required for better leadership.

I am constantly amazed at dealerships that have general managers who don’t have authority to sign checks or are scared to death to sign checks in fear of making a bad decision. Also, I witness a lot of the “That’s not my idea” syndrome.

This syndrome occurs when a manager runs an idea or decision by his boss or dealer and the boss or dealer rejects it out of ego because it’s not his idea. With this behavior, the boss or dealer maintains his power over the employee, massages his ego, and deflates the courage, skills and stature of the manager.

Dealers and general managers should ask themselves what their five- and ten-year plans are. After figuring out what those long-term goals are, dealers and general managers must ask themselves if their current group of managers and employees figure prominently into achieving those goals. If the answer is no, then you must either replace them with better people or change your processes to allow people to grow and help you achieve the desired goals.

Top executives of dealerships should stop trying to build a business with weak processes and the hope of great people. Design your business with great processes, empower people, and then your average people have a chance to become good and your good people have a chance to become great. 

Do you think you can hire all great people from the beginning? The most talented teams in sports don’t win championships until they mold a team in a manner that can win with their game plan. Reexamine your business and decide what goals, expectations, processes and levels of empowerment can assist you in getting there.

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