After eliminating non-performers and then assessing the dealership culture, the next step in developing a first rate, best-in-class sales department is to assess the existing sales department’s climate. As Benjamin Schneider wrote in his book, Organizational Culture and Climate, “culture and climate are both attempts to indentify the environment that affects the behavior of people in organizations. Culture exists at a higher level of abstraction than climate, and climate is a manifestation of culture.”

Whereas the dealership culture is essentially the shared values, beliefs and assumptions that permeate the entire dealership and is generally a direct reflection of the dealer principal, the sales department climate is a manifestation of how the sales employees perceive the psychological impact of the work environment on their well being. The criticality of departmental climate cannot be overstated since job perceptions and job satisfaction are reciprocally related with each positively impacting the other.

Dealers and sales managers interested in improving the overall performance of their sales department should utilize an annual survey that would not only assess the department’s overall climate, but also the level of departmental job satisfaction. The departmental climate would seek to assess the surrounding conditions or characteristics of the department that influence the behavior of sales employees. Dealership climate dimensions would typically include things such as degree of conformity, amount of responsibility, emphasis on standards, rewards, clarity and organization, and esprit de corps.

The measurement patterns for these six climate dimensions can tell management quite a bit about why some branches or departments in the dealership are operating more smoothly than others. Further, an assessment of these “causal conditions” is the step necessary to design improvement programs aimed at changing conditions to increase performance.

While climate dimensions assess how employees perceive those characteristics impacting employee behavior, job satisfaction dimensions seek to assess how employees rate their own level of satisfaction. Common satisfaction dimensions that would be applicable to sales employees, and for that matter, any dealership employee, could include any, or all, of the following: accomplishment, immediate supervisor, compensation, top management, work group, and overall dealership.

The pattern for these seven satisfaction dimensions will provide additional insights regarding what management actions may be useful to improve the sales department climate. Again, the reinforcement or differences between climate and satisfaction dimensions should be analyzed in order to focus on the most promising efforts. Analysis and interpretation of results depend, naturally, on the collection of valid information.

The information obtained from the climate and satisfaction questionnaires is really useful only to the extent that it accurately represents the views of the employees. Since the written survey questionnaire is intended to be completed by everyone in the sales department — if not the entire dealership — it potentially has an extremely high level of reliability. This is true if most people answer and return it. Providing a sealed drop box may be one way of encouraging people to respond while simultaneously ensuring their anonymity.

The dealership’s culture and the sales department’s climate will have more of a long-term impact on the overall performance of the sales department than discretionary money, discounts or any other external variable designed solely for short-term gain. A strong sales department climate implies a consensus on what the department’s goals are and how they should be attained.

Thus, dealers interested in improving their sales department performance must be committed to creating a climate that ensures job satisfaction by motivating employees to perform at extraordinary levels. This is best accomplished by ensuring the following:

  • Provide structure but minimize required conformity.

  • Encourage job enrichment via individual responsibility.

  • Initiate standards to pique individual and departmental performance.

  • Establish a meaningful system of rewards to recognized performance.

  • Stress clarity over chaos and confusion.

  • Foster esprit de corps via a warm and trusting environment.

Improving dealership culture and developing a strong and healthy sales department climate are precursors to establishing a first-in-class sales department. A warm and trusting work environment will not only increase job satisfaction, it will also improve overall performance.