It’s been said that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink; the same applies to getting employees to live up to their full potential. While I agree that there are those who won’t, the vast majority will — provided you do your job and do it to the best of your ability. The easiest way to get someone to drink water is to get them thirsty. Sound simple? It’s not, and it may require you to do some soul searching to make sure you’re not the problem. Here are four rules to help you get more people drinking water.

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The “Why”Ever since we were able to talk we have asked the question “why?” It was once considered acceptable to respond with “Because I said so,” or “That’s the way it’s always been done.” That is no longer the case. People need to know the specific “why” behind what they do. I’m not suggesting that you must compile a detailed outline of every dealership process — but it wouldn’t hurt. The core competencies should, at the very least, deserve enough attention to outline the method used to get a desired result.

If a child were to ask why they should go to school, a parent may respond by saying something like “Because school is important.” What’s the next question? “Why?” The next response might be “Because you need to get an education.” What’s the next question? “Why?” I could go on, but you get the point. The reason a child needs to go to school is to get an education so they can have the skills needed to be successful in life, or they’ll likely end up washing cars instead of selling them.

The same is true for adults entering the workplace. If they have a clear understanding of where they’ll end up as a result of the process, it becomes much easier to embrace the journey. It’s like giving them a GPS system for a trip to someplace they’ve never been.

The “How”

We’ve all heard it before, “Practice makes perfect.” Here’s a news flash: Practice only makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect. If you want to be the best at what you do, it takes effort and energy. When salespeople decide to make their job a career, they can truly become the best in the business. It is management’s obligation to provide them with the tools they need to become successful. The factory provides training, and you can find training videos on the Internet, but does your team have a solid program in place to get your sales consultants to the next level?

Daily team meetings, weekly management meetings and weekly department meetings are all an integral part of the success of your training agenda. It reinforces the “why” and makes sure everyone is focused on hitting specific objectives and addressing a myriad of situations that tend to come about on a regular basis in the car business. This all needs to be top down. If there’s no buy in from the owner and GM, there will be no buy in from the troops. It’s a classic case of “do as I do” instead of “do as I say.”

The “Who”

There are three steps to succeeding with any venture: the right people in the right places with the right process. It is critical that all the members of your team are on the right seat in the bus. I’ve known great salespeople who became horrible managers and average salespeople who became superstar leaders. It is no longer necessary to hire people to fill holes. We are in an employer’s market right now and should take advantage of hiring and retaining the right people for every position.

We’ve all done it before. We interview someone with the thought process of “I think they’ll work out.” I don’t know about you, but I want to know they’re going to work out. It’s time to get back to basics. Conduct a thorough interview, call references, take advantage of personality tests, call previous employers and maybe even get a little old-school and have them sell you the car they drove in on.

The other thing to consider is how badly you want quality employees. If you want them badly enough, you need to be willing to compensate them and/or provide better benefits than your competition. Good help is hard to find; when you find them, pay them well and treat them with respect. We’re not in the 1980s anymore. You can’t brow beat your people. If they’re good, they probably know it and will leave if you’re mentally abusive. Praise often and sandwich corrective action with positive affirmations. Treat people how you’d like to be treated.

The “Salt”

While there is more than one way to skin a cat, these three guidelines seem to work very well. One size does not fit all, but with the right people in the right places doing the right things, your dealership is better prepared for success. Sometimes, however, nothing works with certain people. If that’s the case, you may need to use some salt to get them thirsty. People respond to one of two things: pleasure or pain. If you can’t get them to pleasurably enjoy a drink of water, it’s time to bring the pain.

There are a few ways you can inflict pain, but the most successful way that I’ve found is through a person’s pocketbook. Adjustments to variable compensation can be one of the best ways to teach an old dog new tricks. Reward people for good performance and adherence to policies and procedures and punish the people who fail to do so by eliminating their bonuses. In order for this to work, management needs to stick to their guns on this one. If you let one slide, you have to let them all slide.

Now, if you’ve given all you can and taken away when necessary and that still doesn’t work, it might be time to put that old horse out to pasture. Sometimes people don’t work out and they need to be moved along. Don’t forget due diligence though. In today’s highly volatile workplace, disgruntled employees will look for any break in the dam to take you down. Dot your I’s and cross your T’s with regular performance evaluations and written notices when necessary. By putting these practices into place and inspecting that they are carried out and followed through with, you will position your dealership for sustainable growth with satisfied employees. Happy employees make for happier customers, which rolls all the way down to the bottom line: profit.

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