EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of six stories celebrating our latest group of 25 Best Dealerships To Work For in Canada.
“We are family” is a common refrain from dealership managers who say they are nurturing a workplace environment that feels like home.
While many of the 25 dealers who made it to the list of Automotive News Canada’s Best Dealerships To Work For reward employees with bonuses, trips, electronics and social outings, those who are good at keeping the family together say communication is key to success.
“For me, being leader of the store, if there is an issue, my door is open,” said Brent Walker, the general manager of Eastside Dodge in Calgary. “If it’s employee related, or management related, we can have that discussion, because sometimes in a dealership, you can have a wall between departments. And we break down that wall.”
David Tyson, president of Tyson and Associates Ltd., a Toronto-based compensation firm, is the editor of a book called Best Practices: Employee Retention and Engagement. He said it is difficult to exaggerate the important role communication plays in keeping workers in the fold.
“I have been in human resources for 50 years, and, to me, if you don’t tell people something straight forward and honestly, they make it up and they get it wrong.”
AT WORK, BUT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE WORK
Good communication also makes staff feel valued, and it creates an environment where employees enjoy the hours they spend at work, said dealers interviewed by Automotive News Canada.
They stressed the importance of getting to know their workers on a personal basis, and of making it known that their doors are open when questions or challenges arise.
Chris Leavens, dealer principal at Leavens Automotive Group in southwestern Ontario, said his company puts a high emphasis on employee communications and engagement.
“It’s really about the culture where we have empowered all of our staff to make the call and make the decisions about whatever is best for the customer. And, if afterward we don’t like it, we will certainly discuss it. But we ask them to make those decisions.” Technicians meet monthly with Leavens head management — not just their service manager — to share what is going on in the shop.
“These people are my family. We spend more time with them often than we do with our own families,” said Leavens. “We really try, as a family, to look after them.”
Scott Weller, general manager of JaguarLand Rover-Volvo Waterloo, echoed the notion that a dealership is a family.
“Most importantly, in terms of work-life balance, when we are so engaged with people, they are comfortable coming and asking for stuff,” said Weller. “When that communication happens, people will pull together.”
The key, said Jocelyn Joannette, general manager of HGregoire Kia Vaudreuil in Montreal area, is “letting [staff] know what they have to do, and how they have to do it, and the reason why. If they know why, they will do it well.”
CLOCK? WHAT CLOCK?
Joannette said he spends much of his day talking to his technicians and sales staff, making sure they are happy.
Some of the Best Dealerships offer perks for their employees, such as on-site fitness facilities. Jaguar-Land Rover Waterloo has a lactation room where new mothers can breastfeed. Many try to offer flexible hours, even though that can be difficult at a store that is open during set times of the day.
‘’If it’s a matter of picking up your child from school, flexible vacation time during the holiday season, additional time off needed, we’re not breathing down anyone’s neck,” said Jonathan Eltes, dealer principal at Mercedes-Benz Brampton.
“If you are getting your job done and promoting our core values, it’s all good.”
Like many dealerships, Mercedes-Benz Brampton organizes a variety of social outings for employees.
In 2018, for example, the dealership rented the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto for a family skate. This year, a trip to Mexico is being offered to all staff, the costs of which will be offset by the dealership or covered in full if targets are met.
Tyson said those kinds of social events do not directly improve employee retention as no one stays in a job they hate because of a trip to Mexico. But they do provide enhanced opportunities for communication between all staff members at all levels, and that is what is important, said Tyson.
“Group activity builds camaraderie and collaboration and friendship, and just talking to each other is good. It’s all part of good communication.”
At Riverside Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Prince Albert, Sask., about 350 kilometres north of Regina, monthly “team huddles” are held, allowing both staff and management to air concerns, issues and questions, said Dealer Principal Trent Hargrave. “It’s important that they hear my voice and I hear theirs.”
The meeting wraps up with the announcement of the employee of the month.
“It’s not a performance-based thing. It’s based on completely ambiguous criteria. It’s about willingness to grow, willingness to step up.”