Keeping employees engaged is a challenge in nearly every industry, and automotive is no exception. The long hours and rigorous demands of dealership life bring a unique set of obstacles that require managers at all levels to be intentional about the way they lead their teams. However, in some cases, the daily grind unfortunately trumps employee well-being.

With 16 years of automotive retail experience, including management roles in both sales and fixed ops, Cars.com dealer trainer Katy Wolda shares her tips for keeping employee morale high despite the breakneck pace of the car business. An advocate of the FISH! Philosophy, Wolda believes that positivity and communication are the keys to cultivating great dealership work environments.

From CSI to ESI

Like most stores, the dealerships Wolda called home put a heavy emphasis on CSI. But rather than drill rules and demand improvements when tasked with raising scores, she took a collaborative approach to making sure her team was set up for success.

“I knew we’d be most successful if our team was happy and engaged at work,” says Wolda. “So I instituted an ESI (employee satisfaction index) program – a play on the CSI scores we were working to improve. Each team selected one person to represent their larger working group and once a month we ordered in lunch, using the time together to hash out issues, improve processes and make sure everyone had the resources they needed.”

By simply setting aside a time to share and listen to each other, the team saw positive changes at the dealership.

“When we increased ESI, CSI naturally rose with it,” says Wolda.

Praising Great Work

Whether a customer calls a manager to share positive feedback, writes a glowing online review or a fellow co-worker witnesses a job well done, Wolda believes that great work should never go unnoticed.

“When somebody does an awesome job, you’ve got to let them know it,” says Wolda. “It can be something as small as writing a note or as big as giving a nod to the GM or group president, but the point is that you’re acknowledging the individual. Sometimes as mangers we forget that compliments go as far as money.”

Making time to celebrate

One of the other benefits of Wolda’s ESI program was that it allowed her staff to share personal news and other ideas for the store.

“At some point it came up that the team wanted to start celebrating birthdays at the dealership,” Wolda recalls. “It was a great idea. Soon after, we had a new monthly tradition where we’d bring in cake and ice cream to celebrate the folks with birthdays that month.”

Wolda credits the monthly celebrations with helping employees build relationships, which in turn helped their day-to-day work, all at a very reasonable cost.

Keeping Training Fun

On the sales side, Wolda kept spirits high by diligently planning training sessions to help employees develop new skills. But she also made sure to have some fun in the process.

“At the middle of each month, I’d start developing our training program for the following month with feedback from the team. It was important to understand what they felt they needed to work on,” shares Wolda. “But on Fridays I’d change things up. We’d have walk-around contests where employees would challenge each other to give their best example feature and benefit presentation. It was all good fun and the peer-voted winner got a gift card at the end of it.”

Home Sweet Home

Given the long hours employees spend at the dealership, Wolda notes the importance of establishing a clean, inviting workspace.

“Your employees need a comfortable place where they can relax on breaks and feel at home,” says Wolda. “If you’re cramming your team into a small, dimly lit break room, you can bet their attitudes will reflect it when they go to greet customers on the lot.”

On the other hand, Wolda contests that a positive work environment can have the opposite effect, being a place of refuge rather than one that adds to the stress of work.

How do you promote positivity at your dealership? Let us know on Twitter by tagging @DealerADvantage and using the #EmployeeAppreciationDay hashtag.