Back at the dealership a few months ago, I was at my wits end about the negative culture and needed to get creative. Salespeople were just flat out terrible to each other. Encouraging healthy competition is one thing, but bullying, skating, sneaky/cancerous behavior was hurting the company AND our sales numbers from the inside out. I got tired of the gossipy, rumor-filled, angry staff I was dealing with… I mean I graduated and left behind an all-girls catholic high school for a reason and felt like I was back there every day! So, this is what I did. I hope to inspire you to do something similar and fight this culture that we perpetuate by rewarding the negative behavior.
It was just another Thursday training meeting… and I realized that if I didn’t have the support to affect culture change that I had to do it myself. I started the day just like any other day, except I didn’t put on makeup or blow dry my hair and I wore casual clothes and shoes. I moved all the chairs to one gigantic circle and stood right in the middle waiting for everyone to come in. After everyone sat down, I waited silently as they asked if everything was okay. I ignored them as I pulled down my naturally, super curly hair (I know, I’ve been lying to you all by straightening it all these years). I still get anxious thinking about that day… why? Because I let them SEE me.
We all put on a face when we go to work. We hide our past, our passions, our stories. We may share some personal stories with the select few we grow close to, but overall we are private people. In a competitive sales world, I felt it important to show them that I was human just like their peers. So, I began…
“So, now that I’ve been here almost a year, tell me what you know about me.”
They listed : Likes purple and elephants, is from Buffalo but hates cold, is smart, good with people, can close tough customers, has a big heart, squeals like a little girl when it is lightening outside, has a dog, newly wed, and (my personal favorite) is an old soul.
Me: “These are all mostly true, but they don’t really speak of who I am on a deeper level do they? How many of you know each other really well?”
Most of them raised their hands. Then I continued.
“This is me. No makeup, no straightening iron, no business attire, no heels (and they know how much I love my heels).
- I get nervous every time I speak even if I just stand up here in front of you.
- I am incredibly passionate about this industry – no… it is not an act… I really love it!
- I am terrified of clowns … I think they are evil!
- I never thought I was smart enough for a career like this so I cherish every day.
- When my eyes move really fast from one of your eyes to the other, know that I am DEAD serious about what I’m talking about.
- I cannot say no to a girl scout or any child selling anything really.
- I wish I travelled more.
- I am the oldest of 19 grand children, so being around kids is my favorite pastime. BUT, I can’t have them on my own. I am blessed that I learned of it years ago and pray that I am lucky enough to adopt a couple children, but I still can’t help but fight my own battle for a hot minute when even my closest friends announce their pregnancy.
- I love my Buffalo sports teams and I will fight you if you bash them.
- My main motivation is to be a small part of changing something for the better in anything I participate in. I want to make a difference in this industry and that starts with all of you.”
As confusion and the quiet joking turned into dead silence, I explained to them.
“Now, I ask you again… How many of you really know these people that you work with everyday? You know, the ones you laugh at when they aren’t looking. The ones you complain about and spread rumors about? How many of these people sitting next to you know about you and your hardships or the things you’re dealing with?”
I then handed out sheets of paper and made them interview people 2 people they are not familiar with for 10 minutes each. When we came back to share, I made them introduce the people they interviewed. For the first time, they understood why Bob has a different schedule to accommodate his ill wife and why Joe (with his military background) always needed to follow the rules.
In a competitive world, it is necessary to encourage healthy competition. All too often in dealerships, we only focus on part of that phrase. Competitive spirits can easily turn cancerous, with veterans pushing out newbies or management playing favorites to keep their “top performers” happy. At some point, we have to take responsibility for the culture we have created. Making rules only go so far if you don’t teach them why the rule is in place or hold everyone to the same rule. Allowing them a window into each other’s lives helped them start to humanize the people they work with as humans rather than the enemy. A little bit of compassion and respect goes a long way, but it goes further within the cultures that exist in some dealerships.
For the first time since we started these meetings, people left with a smile saying this was their favorite training session. It wasn’t a miracle. People didn’t change overnight. It took time, but this was the catalyst. Understanding is the most important thing when working so many hours together.
Culture change does start from the top, but it doesn’t always have to. It can simply start from you. So, WHO are YOU? Just how well do you know the people that you work with?