Building an Employee-to-Company Relationship

In the relationship between an employee and a company, the makeup of that is more than just what we are paying them.

How do you keep your employees happy? Is it with random lunches and breakfast? Is it with awards and employee-of-the-month plaques? I believe those things can help, but they shouldn’t be the foundation of a relationship between an employee and the company. 

There is so much talk about building trust between management and employees. How to give feedback and when to invest in your staff. All of this is even more stressful because base wages are rising, and it can feel like a rat race to keep everyone happy, yet no one seems to be winning. 

I think we should look at this as an opportunity to take a step back and see if we are focusing on the right problem to begin with: the relationship between an employee and the company. The makeup of that relationship is more than just what we are paying them. 

Now, relationships might be a bold word for some, but I deeply believe we are always in a relationship with our job. I’ve had good relationships and made friends and mentors from some great companies. Others have been the equivalent of a toxic boyfriend that we don’t talk about anymore. The question is, how do we build or fix a relationship so that it’s healthy and serves both parties? There are a few basic things that I believe get overlooked. 

Set Expectations to Do the Job Well

When we hire someone to work in a dealership, what are we asking of him or her? Probably to work weekends and holidays like dealing with the Christmas rush. Maybe to stay late during the end of every month. Being in this type of retail environment is not for everyone, so the minimum that we can do as owners and managers is to be honest of the workload, schedule and expectation. 

The more transparent we can be with the schedule and what it takes to be successful, the better talent you will attract. I personally love working one weekend day and having a weekday off. It’s what was the deciding factor between two different dealerships years ago. 

I also knew that I would have room for growth. The company had a successful base but didn’t have established and documented processes in place, and it was more than okay with me creating those as the department grew. Those two things were important to me and were the major deciding factors on my 5-plus years I’ve been with my current company. Whenever anyone has tried to steal me away, they have not been able to compete with those two basic things. 

Instead of seeing your schedule or company quirks as a bad thing, use it as a positive to attract the talent that is actively looking for what your company provides. If it’s a role that is super rigid, then talk about the structure of the job. If it’s a job that needs someone to build structure, then play that up. It’s so much easier to have a long-term, successful employee when his or her baseline personality is a match for the job, instead of a quick fix that never really works in the long run.

Support Growth and Education of Staff

This is an interesting conversation for some. Depending on the industry and generation, there are different norms. Some people expect the company to invest 100% in their growth and development; then they get hurt when those needs are not met. Other employees are fine with financing growth, training or conferences 100% on their own. They just don’t want to have to fight to get the paid time off. Regardless of where your company stands, make it consistent and transparent for everyone. 

What does the company pay for and when? Does it reimburse or prepay for those expenses? Is there a budget limitation that people can’t go over? Do people need to bring back the original receipts or just scan them into an app? These little things can prevent huge issues and keep everyone, including the accountant, on the same page. No one wants to be the employee who expected to get reimbursed and didn’t know that wasn’t a thing anymore.  

What Are the Company’s Boundaries?

Boundaries can be quarterly reviews, team meetings or yearly reviews, but make it consistent and for the whole company. Nothing can lead to a full riot faster than having certain people play by different rules and having everyone see it. 

I don’t believe that every employee is supposed to be with us forever. Those employees who used to be amazing generalists five years ago could end up being the reason why you’re in this pinch to begin with, because that position has grown to need a specialist who can move faster. We should be evaluating our staff and seeing if they are still growing with the company or plateauing. If they are willing to grow and learn, then cool. They are a good fit. It can be that simple.

If they are constantly bringing everyone down, taking multiple days off unplanned each month and are requiring more “support” to do the basic job or just doing slightly shady things, then they are candidates for the door — especially when their counterparts are just flying past them.

Some managers or owners might hate this step. They might feel like they are taking someone’s livelihood away, but that is only partially true. If we are doing it right, then we have vetted employees. We have given them transparent rules to be successful. We have given them guidance when they need support. It shouldn’t be a surprise when it’s time for someone to move on. 

Instead, some companies lean into fear. Fear that they won’t be able to hire someone else again. Fear that they are going to cause that employee to struggle and become homeless or something equally dramatic. This is where a company can give a severance of two weeks’ pay and a letter of recommendation. Just because someone is not a good fit at your company doesn’t mean he or she is automatically a bad person.  

Latching onto this fear keeps both parties small. It keeps the company from serving more customers and creating a happy buying cycle, because no one wants to buy and interact with an employee that has dead eyes and is just existing on the showroom floor. It also reinforces that in the company culture it’s okay to slack. It’s okay to not try and that we will keep and coddle you anyway. That’s not good for either side of the coin.

It’s much kinder to end things with staff while in a good place that referrals can still be given, as opposed to getting into a bitter screaming match that ends up with resentment all the way around.

Keep the ‘Rules’ Public

This is probably my most important rule. When we keep things hidden and secret so that you need a treasure map to find out what the rules are, it never ends well. This also is the breeding ground of bad employees, unchecked gossip and can eventually lead to discrimination. 

The sad part is that it’s 100% preventable. The “rules” don’t need to be a complicated process. It can be a printout on the break room wall. It can be a Google doc that is linked on everyone’s computer. It can be loaded into your payroll system. Those rules just need to be transparent. That means as things change, the document gets updated. That way, you don’t get caught with an issue that was fixed two years ago. 

This is a way to keep up with the evolution of the business. Over the years and income goals, your business has changed. Some behavior, like showing up late, didn’t matter five years ago because the company was smaller. That same issue can cost you several thousand dollars now.  

The best part is that this change is free and simple. There is no need to buy another complicated subscription or put the process off because there is no time. It’s amazing what can be done with a shared Google doc and an hour once a quarter to see what needs to be refreshed.

Reinforce Culture With Actions, Not Words

All of these recommendations mean nothing if the company’s actions don’t match the words on the wall. It’s easy to create all these rules and processes, but they will fall apart fast when they are not followed. Sure, we are human and make mistakes, but this is the “hard but preventable” part of the relationship. The goal is to have happy, long-term employees with the company. This is done by doing several things.

Firstly, you have to build trust over the time of working together. You must do what you say you are going to do and acknowledge when mistakes are made. Take time to get manager and associate feedback on what’s working or not. Then, use the team’s insight to help craft new policies. Most employees just want to be recognized for all the hard work they are putting in. They want to feel they are valuable and contribute to the success of the dealership. They don’t want to feel like a replaceable cog in the wheel.

We spend most of our life at work, and it’s helpful to have a road map of what success looks like at the dealership. The best option that we can hope for is that when the relationship ends, they are ready to move on. We have built life-long friends and possible referrals back to our company even though they don’t work with us anymore. Both the company and the employees have learned and grown together and can take those skills and experience on to the next company/employee relationship.

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