If there is one thing I have learned in my 20+ years working in auto dealerships, it is that an auto dealership, at the end of the day, is very much the sum of its parts. Dealerships are deeply complex organizations and their departments have, historically, operated as a series of separate businesses. This works well for focusing individual goals, operations, and momentum, but not so well in terms of the overall drive-through of the organization. To use the most relevant metaphor, a car, a dealership is built of multiple separate parts but, without interconnection, it cannot drive forward, just as a vehicle engine out of sync with its wheels will never make it out of the driveway. And this is important because organizational silos – from finance to fixed ops to sales – represent one of the biggest challenges to successful operations in a dealership.
Because everything, eventually, runs through finance at the auto dealership, the Controller/CFO interacts with each dealership department on an almost daily basis, enabling a bird’s eye view of what is happening within the dealership. And, as I have found, the CFO is uniquely positioned to spearhead initiatives that can build bridges across dealership departments. Because Car Pros fosters a culture of innovation and inclusion, I have been able to implement five key initiatives that facilitate cross-department interaction and collaboration, resulting in more successful operations, greater profits, improved employee retention and greater CSI. Specifically, at Car Pros, these were very effective in reducing over payment to vendors and redundancy of vendors, and reduction of employee turnover, all of which had a positive impact on the bottom line.
1. Identify Problems: Collaboratively, with an End Goal
Problems are much easier to identify than solutions, but each department has its own perception of where a problem may lie. My approach has been to pinpoint problems collaboratively and always stay focused around how they either do or don’t impact the dealership’s shared mission and end goal. So, job one is to be sure that your dealership has a clearly articulated mission/end goal that each employee understands and to establish a shared responsibility to solve for anything that is getting in its way. After all, no one wants failure, and everyone wants to be on the winning team. Ensuring a shared mission encourages everyone to want to be on the same winning team and makes for a much better work environment.
We may all be in different lanes, but we are all driving towards the same finish line.
This makes it clear that in our interconnected organization, problems cannot be solved in isolation, and that each one of the dealership departments has a vital role to play in its overall success.
2. Communicate, Educate and Change the POV
Communication, of course, is absolutely essential to building bridges, so creating channels and processes to enable cross-department dialogue is critical. But, as part of this, be sure to create a protocol that enables each department to look at issues from another department’s point of view. This will help team members to develop the flexibility to change their lens. One of the best ways to achieve this is to educate on the ‘how’ of a particular problem and the ‘why’ of a solution, i.e. how it is impacting a department in ways that another department may not have imagined: the classic ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.’ So, rather than ‘you need to do this or that’, focus on ‘why this or that’ is needed and how it impacts not just my department, but also what the ramifications might be – across all dealership departments. It is amazing how quickly, once this approach is a natural part of operations, it can become the fuel (or electric charge) that drives the dealership vehicle forward.
3. Departmental Buy-in
You have your mission, your end goal, and your new open communication protocols in place, but unless you have buy-in from each department, it is not going to work, and the bridge will not be built. So, how do you make it work? How do you generate a passion for the ownership of solutions, the sense that everyone ‘owns’ problems, just as everyone owns the wins? One way is to define the role of each department in the solution and the related responsibilities – and to share this with the entire team. This way each team member knows how their piece of the engine makes those wheels turn or, potentially, how it can be the wrench in the works. And, then get a commitment from each team member to do their part, which contributes to accountability while creating a sense of empowerment in contributing to the dealership’s success.
4. Leadership Buy-In
You cannot get department buy-in if you don’t have leadership buy-in – and that means receiving leadership enthusiasm and support: enthusiasm for team solutions, support in problem-solving and clear recognition for success.
New initiatives are not going to work instantly, and leadership must be patient, and continue to drive bridge-building until it is second nature across departments.
I have found that CFO leadership can be key to this as finance operations touch everyone – we are often the first to see indications of problems and our macro view of the dealership puts us in a singular position to help dealership departments understand how important interconnectivity on a solution can be.
5. Celebrate Success Together
Getting through challenges and problems as a team deserves celebration. This opens the pathway for, when the next challenge comes up, reinforcement that we can solve it together. It also fosters unity, and contributes significantly to team building. Ways we celebrate success at Car Pros include providing a catered lunch for the team, team outings and excursions, and specific call outs of team successes such as awards, employee spotlights and a wall of gratitude
In conclusion, creating a culture that fosters communication, cooperation and shared investment in the dealership’s success, one that celebrates wins, goes a long way to knocking down silos and building solid and endurable bridges to success.