Avoid the tendency by dealers to believe lessons are automatically absorbed; instead, plan for successful implementation
The dealership’s day began with a quick sales meeting. Twelve salespeople and their GSM huddled around a large TV screen to watch the daily installment from a sales trainer’s learning platform. When the trainer began to pose questions, the GSM repeated the choices to answer the questions.
As I watched the interaction, I noticed two of the 12 were answering all the questions for the team. It seemed as though the GSM was less interested in getting everyone to participate than in finishing. Once the Q/A was done, the GSM said, “All right. Let’s apply what we went over. Let’s have a great day.”
Off the salespeople went. Sales training now could be checked off the manager’s task list for the day.
The information this trainer shared was excellent; it could be very useful to the sales team. However, the next step in the training process — making sure the new material was actually implemented into the salespeople’s routine activities — seemed to be missing. Who was making sure the salespeople really understood what was just taught? Where was the follow up to ensure what the GSM expected was exactly what the salespeople understood?
Over the next two days, I saw no effort by the GSM to check up on the new skills. The following day, another training video was watched and checked off the task list, and no follow-up was performed with its material, either. When I asked the GSM why not, his response was one I had heard many times: “They know how to sell cars and they should know how to add this stuff in.“
Follow Up Is Unavoidable
This attitude among dealership management — that if employees undergo a training session, the information will magically stick — is not unusual. I disagree. It takes me multiple practice sessions to make sure those in my classes truly absorb the material. So, what can dealers do on their own to provide a structure that maximizes results and return on their training investment?
No matter how it is delivered, outside training resources typically cost a dealership thousands of dollars per year. Factor in the time a manager spends overseeing internal training and you see that the direct and indirect costs of improving employee performance add up. Yet, productivity and efficiency gains are not arriving at the pace one would expect, due largely to the lack of focus on long-term implementation.
Let me be very clear: Change is not easy to accomplish, and this is why many trainers do not focus on implementation; they leave that to the dealership’s managers and employees. How, then, can the management team and staff do a better job implementing the new information?
Road Map for Implementation
The following is a follow-up framework you can apply to any training session or desired change at your dealership. By following this checklist, you should see a better return on your training investment. Later in this article, I will use this checklist to discuss how the dealership mentioned previously could have been more successful in making its training stick.
1. Preparation Stage
A. Why is the group having this training? What behavior(s) are you expecting to change? What are the expected outcomes?
Is your team aware of the training and what is expected?
Is there a handout with bullet-pointed key takeaways given to each participant before training begins?
Have you discussed with the trainer, if you are bringing in someone from outside, what the training process will be? What are your expectations? How long will the training session last?
2. Involvement Stage
Is everyone affected by this training attending the session? If not, how will those who are absent be trained, and by whom?
Is upper management attending? If not, it sends a signal that the training is not really that important.
Have the trainees explain what each point in the new procedure would mean in their daily routine.
Ask each trainee how he or she would apply the training in their day-to-day activities.
3. Implementation Stage
Ask each trainee to choose one aspect of the training he or she will especially focus on, and to identify action steps to implement it.
Who will help to implement this new training? Are they qualified to do the implementation?
Does this training affect other departments? If so, how will the new change be communicated?
What documentation has been created for the training and implementation, e.g. process documents and training guides?
4. Follow-Up Stage
Who will follow up on this new training?
How often will the follow-up activities be handled?
Explain to the trainees who will follow up and how the results will be documented.
What retraining process will be put in place to help those who are not adapting as quickly as expected?
5. Measurement Stage
What reports will you now use to track these new results?
What metrics will you be using?
Does the team know and understand these new metrics?
How often will you be checking these new metrics?
How will you communicate results?
6. Long-Term Success
Never stop following up. You may increase the time in between inspections, but the moment you stop inspecting, the team will no longer think this new process is important.
What the Dealership Did Wrong
The dealership I discussed at the beginning could have done a great deal to make sure its training stuck. Even if Stages 1 and 2 from my checklist were handled perfectly, the dealership’s lack of focus on actually implementing the sales training on the floor, and on following up, eventually would negatively effect employees. They would decide that listening to training videos was wasted time, and then friction would arise later as management expects new results.
In my opinion, the dealership’s managers failed. One thing they could have done better to make the training stick was to get the team involved in the process of inserting changes into their daily routines. Employees need to be part of the solution — and the ones deciding which part of the training to implement first. People are more willing to attempt any change if they feel part of the decision process.
This implementation approach also would let the manager and trainer follow up on agreed-upon targets, as opposed to a different metric that could cause confusion or resentment. Too many times, an employee will work diligently on something he or she feels is important, only to be told it’s wasted time because the manager’s priority was different.
I am never one to tell dealers to stop investing in training. But, if you are not investing the necessary effort in implementation, then you are wasting money, time resources and potential customers.