Talking a close look at one’s self is something that is not often done. But when it is done well, it can reveal a surprising amount that one can build on.
When the team at Vegreville Ford in Vegreville, Alberta – located on Highway 16A some 103 kilometres east of the provincial capital Edmonton – decided to participate in the annual Canadian AutoWorld Employer of Choice Award, the dealership’s team hoped to know how well it was doing with its employees. Knowing what employees think of the culture and environment is key to providing the kind of customer service and support that has made Vegreville Ford one of the top dealerships in the province.
The dealership is housed in a nearly 23,000 sq.-ft. building with a pleasant eight-car showroom with 13 services bays and nine full-time technicians. The total staff of the dealership numbers 28.
“We needed to know how our team was doing,” said Brian Baron, dealer principle with Vegreville Ford. “Just as we need feedback from out customers, we need the same from our people.”
Finding out what the dealership employees thought about the dealership, its work environment and management is critical, Baron added, to creating a healthy work environment for everyone. And a good work environment and culture translates to exceptional customer service. So to continue to provide good customer service and support, Baron and the team needed an honest and deep appraisal of the dealership and its culture.
“Good people are precious to our organization,” Baron continued. “This kind of survey may expose a weakness that we may not have caught otherwise. We have always strived to provide an environment that nurtures good team spirit and employee morale. I know I want to spend my days in a pleasant and productive environment, and the people who work here want the same. My core belief is that happy staff members create happy customers.”
To that end, one of the keys for Vegreville Ford’s continuing success is the strong emphasis the dealership puts on finding and keeping good people. It starts with the interview process and looking for people who Baron said come with good attitudes and little ego, people who are willing to learn and grow. That is not to say Vegreville Ford leaves the team to struggle through their jobs. The dealership’s management strongly believes in ongoing training, knowing that this industry is always changing.
“There is so much more to know today as compared to when I first got here in 1991,” Baron said. “We can’t resist change and we need to keep up with the changes in the world.”
Technicians are encouraged to keep their skills up-to-date and to help them Vegreville Ford will incentivize them by adding to their hourly rate for every category of training completed.
Baron added that training is not just for the technicians or the sales staff. It applies to management as well so everyone is on the same page. “The managers need to know what the people in the trenches need to know.”
One of the strongest insights Baron said he and his team gleaned from participating in the surveys involved in the Employer of Choice Award, is how important the staff found the open communications that exists between them and management.
“I certainly feel – and hope – that the line of communication is always open between our managers and our people,” Baron continued. “We have to present ourselves as always being approachable, and if something is bothering an employee, I would rather hear about it directly from them rather than having a letter of resignation showing up on my desk.”
To encourage open communications, Vegreville Ford has regular staff and management meetings, and regular meetings within departments. “The technicians meet weekly with the service manager, the sales people meet weekly with the sales manager, and the managers meet weekly and we have an annual full staff meeting as well,” Baron said. “We are also very good at impromptu meetings, gathering everyone together at a moment’s notice to solve a problem.”
Baron added that another thing that is important to fostering good company morale is to regularly note when someone is doing exceptional work and to help those who are struggling; not calling those struggling out, but helping them identify what is not working and putting together a way to help them overcome their challenges.
Baron said that because Vegreville Ford puts such on an emphasis on fostering a healthy work culture, that same culture translates into strong support for the dealership’s customers.
“We need to do things other dealership don’t do,” he said. “For example, I’m available 24/7 by text or phone. We’ll take care of you anytime. If you have a breakdown on Christmas Day, we’ll take care of you. If a manufacturer is denying warranty work and we think that should not be denied, we’ll fight the good fight. My sales manager and fixed operations manger are always in the thick of things and they’ll get their hands dirty to help you. The best thing I’ve done is to hire great people.”