Mastering Change at the Dealer Lot

What matters is how you master the process of winning hearts and minds on the dealership lot, because that will determine whether your team successfully adopts, implements and utilizes that next great new thing.

Matthew Phillips

March 28, 2023

5 Min Read
Schulte Subaru Sioux Falls SD staff
Giving team members sense of autonomy fosters commitment to change.GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness

We’ve all been there. We find the latest and greatest product, system or process, then bring everyone together at the dealership, share the vision and explain how great it is – only to find that no one ever uses it.

Why do good people resist good change? Here are three keys to help your team accept change and, even more importantly, make it stick.

Create Commitment Through Inclusion

A universal truth is that no one likes to be forced to change. The more you find ways to involve your team members, and give them a sense of autonomy, the more they will commit to change. Start as early as you can in the process. If possible, get team members involved. Be sure to share the “why” – why this change is necessary, what problem it solves and how it will impact each team member. Solicit feedback. When implementing, empower people to set their own course. There’s more than one way to get there, and the one that works is the right way. A good rule is to involve as many people in each step as practically possible.

Pay Attention to What Is Going on Below the Surface

People and organizations are complex, and there is always more going on than meets the eye, including emotions, workplace politics, anxiety and differing mindsets. Many of us were taught that having/showing emotion is unprofessional, leading us to pretend that emotions do not exist in the workplace. This is unrealistic and dangerous. Be sure to consider who may be sad, mad or glad about the change and to have a forum for people to express their emotions. Emotions are going to impact your project regardless, so it is wise to acknowledge and manage them.

Like emotions, it is foolish to pretend that politics ’don’t exist in the workplace. When implementing lasting change, politics can be your friend or your enemy. Figure out who has the power and influence relative to your desired change. If you bring the unofficial leaders to your side, you’ll have a much higher chance of success.

Change can be scary for many people, and the anxiety it produces can trigger the flight-or-fight response. Once that’s triggered, people’s actions can seem irrational. To counter this, trying to create as much psychological safety as possible is important. Psychological safety means giving people the confidence to speak up, ask questions, voice concerns or even make mistakes by assuring them they will never be punished or humiliated. This is especially important for high performers, as change often necessitates developing new habits and skills. The learning curve can be particularly uncomfortable for those used to being good at everything. 

Finally, it is critical to realize that people have different world views and mindsets, particularly as workplaces become more diverse. For example, an employee with past bad experiences with bosses might be suspicious and distrustful of all authority. A successful leader can help shift that perspective by approaching change from the other point of view. Work to understand how past experiences can inform how they react.

Embrace Resistance

Mastering change means acknowledging resistance. Whether passive or active, resistance cannot be ignored. It must be identified and dealt with. How? By understanding why people are resistant. Here are two possible causes for consideration. The first is legitimate resistance. They believe, correctly or not, that the change is a bad idea – it ’won’t work, it will reduce productivity, sales, customer satisfaction or they have some other legitimate concern. Resistance, for this reason, isn’t bad, it’s good. That person cares. This type of resistance can be countered by creating enough psychological safety for people to share their concerns, and it is critical that leadership address those concerns. Perhaps they don’t accurately understand all the details or have important information that you don’t. Identifying and understanding what is behind the resistance may save you from disaster.

Matthew Phillips Headshot 1.jpg

Matthew Phillips Headshot 1

A second reason people resist change is fear of loss: loss of income, loss of time, loss of power, loss of prestige, loss of autonomy, etc. People can also be resistant for reasons you might not guess. For example, they might lose the ability to have lunch with their friends. Since the person’s fear of loss – perceived or actual – may be trivial, people are not always so willing to be upfront about it. A manager leading change needs to be observant, involved and interactive to uncover the root cause. You can’t fix what you ’don’t know.

It’s true that change is hard. It’s also true that change is necessary, constant and inevitable for any successful dealership. What matters is how you master the process of winning hearts and minds on the lot, because that will determine whether your team successfully adopts, implements and utilizes that next great new thing. If you give them a voice and understand their perspectives, they will be more likely to embrace the unknown – and be more willing to get onboard the next time you find the next new thing. Remember, your dealership will always change. It’s the people who implement each new chapter that make your dealership successful.

Matthew Phillips (pictured, above left) is CEO of the Car Pros Automotive Group, which has more than 500 employees and seven stores in Western Washington and Southern California.

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