There have been countless studies about employee engagement and how, when engaged, employees tend to be happier, more productive and deliver a better customer experience. With a 70 percent annual turnover rate in sales, this is an area that the auto industry – at least on the sales side – has a problem with. Don’t think the auto industry is alone, however. According to an article posted on,  a recent Gallup poll found that “67 percent of workers aren’t engaged—or worse, they’re actively disengaged—a number that’s been pretty stagnant for the past 16 years.”

The article went onto state that companies who are participating in these polls and then taking action to create initiatives within their organization are failing as well. Why? According to the article, the reasons are two-fold:

  1. By the time the poll results are published, the results are outdated. This means that initiatives are created based on data that is no longer be valid.
  2. Management wants to fix things on their own (i.e. create initiatives, champions, etc.)
  3. Apparently companies are too sensitive.

You can’t fix any problem with old data. If you don’t know what’s going on in the dealership RIGHT NOW, any attempt you make at changing culture and winning over employees will more than likely fail. On top of that, engaged employees aren’t something that can be magically created. Management can peruse data and create ineffective programs even with the best of intentions. Employees must decide on their own to be engaged with a business. Management can’t make them.

So if, as the article states, we’re all doing it wrong and have been for almost two decades, how do we improve? The article suggests that a more modern – and effective - approach to increasing employee engagement lies in three areas:

  1. Empowering individuals – Everyone likes to talk about open door policies between management and employees. However, in reality many employees hesitate, especially in our industry, as there can be a fear of repercussion or that it perhaps won’t accomplish anything. It’s not uncommon for management changes to usher in a spat of terminations, simply because the new managers want to bring in people loyal to them. Trust tends to be lacking and without that trust, employees will never be engaged.
  2. Increased transparency – If you think that dealerships only struggle with transparency issues when it relates to consumers, you’d be sadly mistaken. There is plenty of information that is withheld from sales staff under the presumption that it’s for their own good and justified by the fact that sans the information, the sale will end up with a higher gross. The mistake here is that chances are good the customer already knows the information that the dealership is withholding from the salesperson. I get the philosophy behind it. And, prior to the auto industry getting hit between the eyes with the information revolution, perhaps it was a good strategy. Not anymore. How is a salesperson supposed to consult and build trust with a customer when they have less information than the customer?  It’s highly likely that the customer won’t believe the salesperson doesn’t actually have the data, but think that they are withholding it intentionally.
  3. Prioritizing wellness – Retail car salespeople work brutal hours. We’ve all been there. And even salespeople fortunate enough to work at dealerships that offer flexibility, and/or moderate work schedules, must learn to cope with the stress of feeling as if they need to be at the dealership all the time, as the customer may come back and buy from another salesperson, so they lose half the commission.

Employee wellness is imperative to employee engagement. While the auto industry may be their career, don’t force employees to choose between family time, healthy living and mental well-being. Working 70 hours a week, never seeing their families and living off of whatever fast food place is nearby your dealership is a recipe for burn out regardless of the industry.

Employee engagement, employee retention, customer experience and the value of human capital are hot terms in the auto industry right now. To truly create a culture where employees want to work for your dealership and are actively engaged in its success, consider the importance of and think about how the three areas above might be applied in your dealership Just because we’ve always done it that same old way doesn’t mean that way is still viable. The employees are voting with their feet and to keep them happy and engaged with your dealership, it may be time to change things up a bit.

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Comment by Patrick Comley-White on June 1, 2016 at 4:19am

Mike, thank you. A great article.

Comment by Brian Bennington on May 31, 2016 at 7:32pm

Mr Gorham, A reasonable, well-defined and just generally excellent read.  Things that are sorely lacking in a lot of what's posted here.  Unfortunately, it won't be acted upon by most.  After all, how could it be worth anything if it's placed here for free.  My sales experience confirms all of your content, so my advice would be to concentrate on your sales and, if things are misrepresented or become "unworkable," get another job.  If you're good at selling, you'll always be in demand, and with wise thought-out moves, you'll probable end up in a better situation.  After all, there's a car dealership on every corner!    

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