Leadership Human Resources Operations

Keys to Creating a Stellar Admin Structure

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In recent years, Bob Cawley’s working environment has left visitors to his office wide eyed. Often, for example, the fixed operations director has had vendors visit his office and comment on how stunningly calm the setting is.

“They would look at me and go, ‘This is amazing,’” Cawley says, “‘that I can sit and talk to you for an hour, and no one has walked into this room with the world falling apart.’”

Cawley, a fixed operations director for the Horne Auto Group in Arizona, credits his company’s well defined administrative structure for the serenity he currently enjoys. It took both time and a group effort to get everyone to understand their roles, but the company’s departments now work cohesively.

Cawley feels that if dealerships focus on building their admin structure on a consistent basis, eventually employees will embrace it and even help fortify it. In his experience, a dealership works best when all high-ranking employees, and all departments, are unified. Conversely, when a company’s admin structure isn’t clearly defined, virtual chaos can ensue.

Here are some tips that can help establish a positive, widely accepted admin structure at your dealership.


Strive to Avoid Turnover

Cawley has witnessed one thing repeatedly in his three decades in the industry: turnover. He feels constant turnover is one of the worst enemies of structure within a dealership, because it can erode a staff’s confidence in those in charge.

“One of the saddest parts of our industry is the frequency in which leadership changes in our stores,” Cawley says. “Every time that turnover takes place, somebody comes in with a new regime, a new theory, and everything we did before is no good now.”

One way in which Cawley attempts to avoid turnover is by instructing his staff to hire sharp,

energetic employees who appear to be motivated to advance to leadership roles down the line.

“We tell our people to hire service advisors they think could [eventually] be service managers,” Cawley says. “If we don’t start passing this stuff on to younger men and women, and we don’t start paving a way for these people to be able to walk into these offices and be able to take these jobs … if you’re not doing that, you’re selling yourself and your organization short.”


Break Down Barriers

Fostering a team atmosphere, in which all departments study each other’s successes, can benefit a dealership as a whole. One way to accomplish this is by using tracking methods that note a dealership’s financial figures in every segment. Then, if company leaders study those performance metrics―like parts and service grosses―they can learn from the successes that other departments have experienced. Doing so can help eliminate the sales versus service, or sales versus parts atmosphere that can occasionally poison dealerships.

Also, Cawley has helped lead group meetings over the last decade that have aided communication among his workforce, from admin down to entry-level staffers. After all, if a company’s leaders don’t operate in a transparent manner, it can become difficult for them to effectively coach employees. Cawley’s meetings have resulted in making the Horne group one of the most efficiently run operations the industry veteran has ever experienced.

Ideally, communication should flow smoothly through an admin structure, thanks to a clearly explained process. Information regarding performance requirements in parts and service, for example, could go through the fixed ops director and be disseminated from there, with the director sending out a group email clarifying goals. Or, the fixed ops director could assemble a small group to create an action plan. Ultimately, it’s key that company leaders communicate with employees efficiently, and address issues quickly.

In an effort to have his admin staff appear approachable, Cawley suggests that his company’s leaders always promptly give employees one of three answers: “yes,” “no,” or “not now.” Then, he recommends that administrators follow up on that employee inquiry within one week, if necessary, so employees don’t feel overlooked and disrespected.


Respect Human Resources

Corporate attorneys, business office managers and payroll department managers are important admin roles, one and all. But HR officials are an especially key component of a company’s admin structure, considering the sizeable staff they usually deal with. It’s important that those HR employees treat a company’s employees in a respectful, open manner, Cawley notes.

A dealership should make HR contact information readily available to all employees, so, if staffers have questions about benefits, for example, they know where to turn. Employee handbooks should clearly spell out company guidelines, throughout all departments. And, if an employee complaint is ever filed, HR staff members should act decisively, with consistent procedures and thorough documentation.

In Cawley’s experience, with a clearly defined structure―where all employees are aware of their roles, and the roles of their company’s leaders―communication flows more freely throughout a dealership.

“I’m a big believer that structure brings freedom,” Cawley adds. “ ... What that does is it builds a sense of trust, and a belief system.”

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