Why Traditional Employee Recognition Plans Don’t Work at Dealerships

To get the most out of employees, dealers should recognize high-performing team members holistically

There are a lot of moving team members that make up the “machinery” of your dealership: management, finance and insurance department, parts and service, and, of course, the salespeople.



The automotive dealership world consists of multiple generations and cultures, born from the 1940s to the 1990s, and from all walks of life and all geographies around the globe. With so many different types of people and responsibilities, it’s crazy to think they’re all motivated by the same things.

They all want to be recognized in some way, but a pat on the back and an award may not be enough for everyone. Accordingly, dealers are missing a big opportunity to improve performance if their employee recognition programs are focused exclusively on this kind of traditional award.

To get more from their programs—and more out of their employees—dealers need to go beyond simply recognizing high-performing team members by engaging the whole person in a holistic way.

“Embracing the diverse makeup of their ever-evolving employee base is rapidly growing more important for dealers,” says Victor Hailey, automotive sector vice president for ITA Group. “They must implement solutions to address the diverse needs of their cultures, and companies that do will benefit from an engaged, productive, and high-performing audience.”

Embracing culture

All dealers work hard to differentiate themselves from the competition. They set goals and values to define the very core of what they do. But without tying those company values to real actions through employee initiatives, these goals and values won’t permeate into their company’s culture.

With a whole-employee approach that puts emphasis on performance, career, wellness, social, and community goals, dealers can see an uptick in company culture. Successful initiatives that take this whole-employee approach appeal to shared perspectives and varied interests to build a positive, vibrant culture.

“Offering your people holistic solutions will drive measurable impact throughout your company,” Hailey said. “An effective engagement solution should be able to target a number of key areas that affect the health and well-being of your employees, all while capturing the attention of your people.”

Promoting positive habits

If you want your kids to clean their room, you might need to offer something fun in return—time to play video games or watch TV, for instance. But if you offer that reward each time they clean their room, you’re providing instant gratification, not promoting positive habits.

Traditional employee recognition goes like this: It’s an instant or near-instant “good job” for something well done. But if members of your team get incentivized each time they do something, there’s no pull to go above and beyond.

A strong program lets a team pool points earned in multiple programs to incentivize these positive habits. The larger the reward a team can earn, the more the individuals in the team are interested in earning it. If you’re not stepping up to create these dynamic, strong initiatives, your competition will.

Recently, a leading major automotive manufacturer’s service and parts division jumped five spots in national customer satisfaction rankings by creating an engaging employee incentive and recognition program that put added emphasis on creating positive habits like these. This had a powerful impact on brand loyalty, and put its business on a new path to success.

Leveraging ROI or VOI

A recognition program isn’t just about warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s about getting more out of people to make more money. The ROI of an initiative is a measure that should be used to determine its success—or to decide whether it’s worth implementing at all.

But figuring out exactly how much more money—the ROI of your program—can be nebulous. Executives want to address the myriad wellness and employee engagement programs as mutually dependent. But with so many different types of programs being funded and operated through various departments, how can effective ROI be gauged? Some programs simply can’t be tied to an ROI.

That’s where value on investment (VOI) comes in. VOI, the emerging framework from research firm Gartner, Inc., proposes that intangible assets—which are an imperative for all kinds of organizations—be incorporated into value assessments. The key advantage of a VOI model is that it treats ROI as an equal input to less tangible metrics, providing managers the ability to qualify and quantify the impact of recognition programs.

“Measuring the impact of a program purely from an ROI perspective is like looking at a puzzle with only the outside border completed. It doesn’t provide enough pieces to get the full picture,” said Hailey. “A consolidated solution like Strive5 will help you fill in the rest of the pieces to get the full picture of your company’s engagement, recognition, and wellness potential.”

Maggie Wenthe has spent more than 15 years in incentives, recognition, marketing, and merchandising. As the incentive and recognition solution manager at ITA Group (www.itagroup.com), she analyzes market trends to develop world-class solutions that help Fortune 1000 companies motivate and engage their employees and channel partners. In addition to having achieved the Incentive Professional designation from the Incentive Marketing Association, she has designed high-performing incentive and recognition program strategies for many ITA Group clients.

Maggie Wenthe

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