When a dealer principal recently asked me to determine why his dealership was experiencing a gradual decline in performance, I suggested that workplace sabotage was causing the problem. He was shocked by my response.

Honestly, it should not have been all that difficult for him to understand. The current state of employee disengagement in this country is fertile ground for disgruntled managers and staff who willfully and maliciously jeopardize the business mission of their employers.

A Widespread Problem

The Gallup organization tragically reported in 2015 that fewer than 35% of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs, and that disengagement is costing our economy between $450 and $550 billion each year. Automobile dealerships are not immune from this cancerous corporate disease.

Here are a few ways sabotage can raise its ugly head at your dealership:

  • Deliberate nonperformance and time-wasting
  • Spreading untrue rumors that damage the dealership
  • Disclosing confidential and proprietary information to competitors
  • Falsifying or altering information on dealership records
  • Pranks and vandalism that result in property damage
  • Deliberately destroying tools and equipment
  • Creating interpersonal conflicts

Before the question of what to do with silent saboteurs can be answered adequately, it is crucial to understand why sabotage happens in the first place. The most common situation involves an employee who feels the dealership has done him or her wrong in some way. They have an ax to grind and no belief that justice will be forthcoming to resolve the matter.

In addition, the motivation for the saboteur is discovered somewhere on the continuum between advancing one’s career by making others appear less qualified, to venting hatred, anger, and frustration against coworkers. Let’s take, for example, “Randy,” who had been a sales consultant at a dealership in Southern California for about four years. He regularly topped the leaderboard and, based on his CSI surveys, it was obvious his customers loved him.

Randy was hired away by a local competitor with the promise that he would become the dealership’s general sales manager within two years. It didn’t happen. For reasons never explained to Randy, the dealer principal imported a hired gun from Louisiana, giving him the reins to lead the sales team. Not only was Randy disappointed and frustrated, he was angry.

Over the next several months, using clever and calculating schemes, Randy found ways to undermine the new GSM without harming his own sales and productivity. For example, he skillfully planted seeds of discontent and dissatisfaction among the sales team because of the way bonuses were awarded for new and pre-owned deals. When the GSM was attending an F&I seminar, Randy conveniently forgot to pass along some important factory incentive information the zone manager asked him to relay. That act of silent sabotage resulted in the dealership losing more than $30,000 in one quarter.

When top management became fed up with declining sales and profitability, as well as low morale in the sales department, the GSM was fired. Randy believed he was finally going to receive his promised promotion. To his surprise, his subtle sabotage was uncovered and his employment was also terminated.

There were no winners in this all-too-common scenario. The dealership lost a talented GSM they heavily recruited, and they said goodbye to a competent sales professional in Randy, whose product knowledge and customer care skills were second to none. In addition, Randy’s customers started asking questions about why their go-to guy wasn’t available to them anymore. And lastly, the sales team continued to struggle due to all the drama and turmoil. Their lack of direction and coaching caused a stagnation in sales effectiveness and progress.

Prevent the Next Sabotage

So how can your dealership avoid the type of sabotage that paralyzes organizational productivity while negatively impacting both short- and long-term profitability? The simple answer is don’t make promises you can’t keep to people like Randy. The solution, however, is much more comprehensive. Here is a checklist of things you can do at your dealership to avoid the catastrophic consequences of silent sabotage:

  • Look within: Make sure your executive leadership team is comprised of excellent communicators and coaches. Staying in touch with the pulse of the dealership culture is mandatory for being able to identify potential people problems. It’s imperative that your HR staff be both knowledgeable and approachable. When employees have issues and concerns, they want to talk to a person, not a policy manual.
  • Don’t skip orientation: Employee orientations are critical for assimilating the talents and personalities of new staff members into your work environment. Have your managers at the session for a brief time to introduce themselves and welcome the new recruits.
  • Get feedback: New-hire feedback sessions are also important. Make sure you have a brief lunch meeting 60 to 90 days after an employee begins work to address questions such as “How are you adjusting to life at our dealership?” and “Do you have any concerns that we can help you resolve?” or “Can you make any suggestions that will help us serve one another and our customers better?”
  • Make a plan: Make sure employees are engaged in the creation of an individual development plan (IDP) that is reviewed at least annually with their manager. Perhaps if Randy had an IDP, and not just a promise, his future would have been different.
  • Lead by example: Have the dealer principal or general manager conduct “State of the Dealership” meetings quarterly to keep everyone informed on business plans and developments. The meetings should also be used to celebrate employee success stories.

Build your dealership’s culture by employing a team concept. Using continuous improvement teams and employee focus groups, for example, reduces the likelihood of one person engineering a revenge campaign that paralyzes progress.

One saboteur has the potential to create havoc for your dealership. You can avoid the misery of silent sabotage by fostering a work environment founded upon cooperation, communication, and teamwork.

Tom McQueen is an award-winning author and executive coach with more than 25 years of dealership consulting experience. Email him at [email protected]