Shaping the culture of a dealership is a complicated thing. Anyone who’s ever tried to lead an organization after a major transition or change knows this. The culture of your dealership is at the heart of what can drive you to be successful, mediocre or out of business. Getting culture right is something that takes constant listening, watching, tweaking and guidance from leadership at all levels of the business.

Why the Cultural Balancing Act?

The reason you want your people to be high performers is obvious. You need to generate all the sales you can while providing the best possible customer service at all customer touch points. That’s how you grow the business. When you work in an industry like ours, where profits are typically very small and the line between greatness and going broke is a thin one, you need high performers to thrive. You need the kind of people who will look at every situation like an owner would and make good business decisions, not just good personal decisions. 

At the same time, you want your people to enjoy coming to work every day. You want your high performers to want to work in your dealership for their entire career and you want them to like the people they work with and help them to be successful too.  “Teamwork makes the Dream work” as they say and if your people aren’t willing to work as a team, your customers will see it and the business will suffer because of it. 

In addition, you want to be the employer of choice in your area. We all know how hard it is to find good employees that can fit your culture, embrace the constant change we see in ag and communicate with your customers. Anything that makes those kind of people more likely to look to your dealership for future employment opportunities is a big advantage for you. Money may get people’s attention when their looking to make a change, but typically it’s culture, leadership and opportunity that make the final decision for high performers. 

Tools That Can Help You Get There

One of the first steps toward creating a culture of high performers is to establish metrics that you can publish to your team. If you don’t give them the metrics you plan to use to measure their success, then how can they know what success looks like?  How will they know if they are getting there? A classic scenario so often played out in dealerships and businesses everywhere is one where an employee thinks they’re doing great but gets called in to talk to the boss about their low performance. Metrics are a baseline form of communication with your employees about their performance as well as what’s important to the survival and growth of the dealership. It’s not the only communication necessary, but it is a critical one if you want high performance to be more than happenstance. 

Another important tool to creating that perfect cultural mix is to emphasize the importance of constantly learning and improving. This is something that is often lacking in businesses that seem to be slowly losing ground. Too many people don’t recognize or emphasize the fact that we work in one of, if not the most, technologically advanced industries in the world. Everything is constantly changing not just in the equipment that we sell but in the data that equipment produces, the technology used to create the crops being grown and in the way all of that gets applied to our business and our customers’. If we don’t emphasize the need for constantly learning and adapting in our businesses, they will be left behind. Too often, this is presented as optional.  The example has to be set from the top and carried all the way through the dealership. It doesn’t mean that learning and change will be easy, but it’s a part of the business we’re in.

One of the most important things you can emphasize in your dealership is that you care about them and want them to be successful. There are some people who can thrive without the feeling that their leader truly cares about them but they are few and far between. You can rest assured that when you see that kind of situation, that person is still driven by a higher purpose of some kind. Your employees want to know that you care about them and have their best interest in mind. They are driven by a desire to be successful just like you are and if they know that you too want them to be successful, it goes a long way toward them being excited about coming to work every day. 

The Quickest Path to Balancing Your Culture

I’m going to give you the quickest ways I’ve found to start moving toward a balanced culture, but you should know that it is still not fast. There is no shortcut to culture that I’ve found. It still takes putting in the work every day. It still takes being focused on the kind of culture you want to create with every decision you make and every method of communicating with your team. 

I believe that it all starts with education. The more your team understands about what you’re trying to accomplish and how that works, the more able they are to make good decisions when they’re in front of customers. I’m not just talking about training on the products they sell or the technology they use to sell it. I’m talking about helping them better understand the business in their department and all of the other departments that support them. That doesn’t mean they have to be experts on everything. It just means that if they understand the basics of what the other departments are trying to accomplish and what their challenges are in getting there, they can do things that help that process rather than hurt it. 

The best method I’ve found for communicating metrics is what I call the Scoreboard.  It’s a system that allows you to educate on metrics, publish those metrics and then continue to publish those results to the whole company on a regular basis. It provides direction for what matters, competition to help drive performance (when appropriate) and personal accountability to your whole team. How it works is more than I can include here but I did create a cheat sheet to help you here.

It also takes constant communication of the fact that you care about your people and positive reinforcement of what you want to accomplish. Communicating the fact that you care comes in all different forms. It can be anything from asking about their family to asking their opinion on a decision at work. It happens through a smile and a wave just as much as through any Christmas bonus. It’s the combination of all the little things we too often take for granted during the day. It’s especially hard to remember when we’ve not had the best day but still just as important because our team will run everything we say and do through the filter of “what does that say about me.” 

Finally, it takes positive reinforcement to inspire the kind of growth and improvement you need to be successful. Remembering to give positive reinforcement takes effort and it takes a team of people working together to help each other improve at it. You may find that some people come by it naturally but unfortunately most don’t. We all need reminders to use positive reinforcement rather than negative with our team members. There is a big difference between having your boss say, “not good, you better pick it up” and “I’m confident you can do great things. Where can I help to get you there faster?” The same is true of “not bad” and “wow! fantastic job.” The differences in words are subtle, but the meaning conveyed to an employee can be vastly different. If they have a choice, no one lasts very long in a job where negative reinforcement is the norm and your high performers have a choice.