It is just too easy to not care. This was the keynote topic at a graduation a colleague of mine recently attended. In reflecting upon the focus on the commencement speech, and the audience – high school seniors, I realized that this is the same theme dealers are struggling with – how to get people to care.

More and more, what we hear from dealers is, “how do I get my people to care about the business as much I do?” Essentially, what they are referring to is, how do they foster a “Dealer/Owner-Minded Attitude” in their dealership.

The reality is it is very easy for today’s employees, and in even in some instances, our future leaders to show ambivalence regarding the impact they have on the organization or their own future. Often the root of ambivalence is fear – fear of failing, not being good enough, and/or not being chosen “seen” as a leader. And unfortunately, this is becoming common in the workplace, in part due to the generational diversity, but also in how culture has created a stigma of everyone gets a trophy. Therefore, this ambivalence, often comes across as a lack of caring – because without care, there is no failure or rejection.

Evidence of ambivalence can be seen in a lack of caring about being genuine and authentic, about being sincere, quality of work and how one’s attitude can impact those around them. Not caring, in today’s workplace breeds complacency and with that, not wanting to do more or take a risk to think out of the box and approach a process differently. And, if no one is thinking out of the box or taking ownership over their roles to push the bottom line it ultimately leads to the complacency and stagnancy of the dealership. As leaders ourselves, we are the ones that need to make the change so that we can secure the future of our enterprise and importantly our legacy. No matter what type of leader you are in the dealership – Owner, General Manager, Parts Manager, Service Manager etc. – you leave a legacy, as your role is to influence and motivate those around you.

An example that brings to light the difference between a leader with ambivalence and a leader who exhibits a Dealer-Minded Attitude, meaning one who cares and is bought into their role and the mission/vision of the organization involves renters versus owners. For example, you own a property in which you rent out to tenants. They must be approved, able to pay the rent and, of course, sign a lease that commits them to a specific period of time. As part of their lease requirement, they are also subject to a security deposit to cover any damages or repairs above and beyond every day wear and tear.

The renter(s) move all their personal belongings into the property and live day to day. They make a call if something breaks and they clean the property and keep it nice. However, what they don’t do is invest any of their own capital into the property. They are not making improvements to the property and worse, they more than likely are not doing much to “protect” the property. Rather, they are just keeping it as they found it until their lease is up. The only thing the renter gets out of “maintaining the property” is the potential of their full deposit being returned. This means the property itself, is not gaining any value and thus, is staying just as it was when you bought it. Eventually, the owner will have to invest in having to update, fix, repair and do whatever is necessary to bring the life and value back so to receive a return on investment.

With renters, there is no real motivation for them to do any different with the property than just live in it. However, what if, as the property owner, you offered them some incentive to be more invested?  Perhaps you could get them to renew their lease and not have to go through the trouble of finding new tenants and taking chances. More so, what you do is create a sense of pride and ownership in them that makes them WANT to make it their home, not just a place to stay until the lease is up.

When employees become complacent and lack motivation to make it more than “just a job” they are, overtime, devaluing your dealership, just like the renters do to a rental property. The lack of caring can act like a disease impacting an individual’s personal and professional life – as well as those around them, especially if they are in a leadership role. Not committing to the job and organization as they would if they were an owner also means that, as the dealer, you will be investing in areas that need updating or fixing, like with your people and departments.

The key here to making a difference is in getting your people to want to be more invested. Developing a dealer-minded attitude in our employees and key managers is one of the most important things that dealers (any business owner for that matter) can invest in. Doing so builds the foundation and protects what has been built, as well as the future for you as the dealer, and your employees and future leaders of your organization. The challenge today for many dealers and business owners is how to get employees from complacency and not caring to committing and caring about not only their own future, but of that around them. It sounds as if it is an unachievable feat, however today, it is one of the easiest areas to make change, if you are willing and intentional.

The first step is to recognize that the workforce of today is NOT the same work-force in which you grew up. The way we do business and the way we engage with one another has dramatically changed the organizational playing field. The second step is to look at where you can have an impact on changing the attitude of your employees to get them to care. The third step is to recognize that you too, might need to change the way you manage, as well as your expectations of your people. You have heard it a million times, I am sure, that this is not your Daddy’s dealership.

With that the advancement of technologies and the accesses to learning and development programs, actionable and positive change is easier than ever before. Rather than focus areas to create operational efficiencies in the dealership, get laser focused on your “people” efficiencies. Ask yourself how much you invested in developing your people in the last five years. Technical and department training does not count. How much have you invested in helping your employees work with others in the dealership, to the betterment of the entire organization?

Take advantage of technology and training to help you and your people be the best that they can be in such a drastic time of change. Invest in learning about how to be a leader in today’s environment and the importance of having a dealer-minded attitude. Create an owner-centric minded attitude in those that are not actual owners by motivating, empowering and enabling them to be better. Offer access to learning and training to your people. In addition, a new and growing area is in the development of soft skills that are focused on self-awareness. Providing access to training on both the technical and human side cultivates a feeling of loyalty amongst your people. Investing in their success motivates people to want to invest in the dealership’s success.

Remove the management style that embodies leading from a place of positional power. Get rid of the stigma of “I’m your boss so do what I say,” and invest in people and leadership development to create an accountability culture based on coaching. Leadership influences others’ choices, priorities and behavior. Power and position may create compliance in your organization, but it will also create challenges in nurturing a sense of buy-in amongst your people to your organizations mission and vision, thus ultimately demotivating employee loyalty and their drive to go above and beyond the call of duty. There are too many competitors recruiting for good talent which is making it harder to retain the mover and shakers in the organization. As a result, it’s imperative to foster an environment where people are inspired, respected and empowered ultimately making them to want to stick around.

Seek to understand one’s own personality/management style and how it interacts with others is one of the biggest leadership game changers out there. Often, leaders interact with others by way of what they have experienced in their past, which doesn’t work for everyone; and teams are made up of a diversity of people. Be willing to do a self-assessment and provide the same assessment to your key leaders and teams to create understanding of natural leadership and communication qualities and traits. Go a step further and provide coaching to key leaders and rising stars to develop flexibility in how to work with a diverse team.

As a leader or owner, you set the tone for how your committed and how much your employees care. Setting the example by investing in people development, self-awareness and other leadership development “soft-skills” training can be a game changer for the future of your dealership. It is important that your people, at all levels, embrace an attitude of being an “owner” versus that of a “renter” in the dealership.

Enabling and empowering these individuals removes the ambivalence, builds a foundation for future growth, sustainability and culture of “ownership” throughout the organization. Protect the asset in which you have invested and do not allow your employees to simply act like “renters.” Give them a reason to care.

Author: Kendall Rawls

Kendall Rawls knows and understands the challenges that impact the success of a family owned business.  Her unique perspective comes not only from her educational background; but, more importantly, from her experience as a second-generation family member employee of The Rawls Group. Email:

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