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People power will propel car retail businesses to success, opinion

Matt Thompson, founder of the management consultancy Potentuel

People are the automotive retail sector’s biggest asset.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many long-term trends, and there are few places that this will be felt more acutely than in the automotive retail industry.

From mechanics to drivers, salespeople to accountants, the problem of recruiting and retaining staff has never been more acute.

The IMI estimates the UK needs 90,000 technicians trained on EV technology by 2030 to support the industry’s transition, with a shortfall of 35,700 by 2030 predicted. While a large dealer group reports vacancies are running at three times the usual rate.

Skills shortages are a significant brake on growth and impact on profitability through wage inflation.

It is time for a fundamental change to the relationship the industry has with its people. Only by making the sector a more empowering and engaging place to work can it hope to retain staff and attract new talent.

A study by the Social Market Foundation found that happy workers are up to 20% more productive than unhappy workers.

As the economy recovers from multiple lockdowns, employee satisfaction is increasingly important. The argument is a simple one – organisations thrive when their people are happy.

We can define a happy employee as someone who believes that matter in their role within a company and what they do has an impact.

People also need to know they are making progress against a defined career path and they feel supported in their jobs.

Too often, companies focus on outputs rather than outcomes and reduce people to roles rather than individuals with dreams and a passion for their work.

Yes, job security and financial stability remain important to job satisfaction, but it’s a far more complex equation.

There are several steps that employers can take to change their relationship with their teams that will not only create happier and more engaged employees but also increase productivity.

In any change programme, it is vital to start with an endpoint that everyone buys into. The approach at Potentuel is, to begin with, people engagement, which powers a new, improved service culture and, in turn, customer leadership.

The aim is to arrive at a universally successful destination for everyone.

Potentuel delivers a strategic response to COVID and the business challenges of today, recognising that employees and customers have new expectations. It is designed to negotiate the opportunities and pitfalls of this new world.

Understanding and genuinely respecting the views of people and recognising them as the most valuable asset and primary source for future success is key.

It changes the style of leadership, planning and management from top-down to a more collegiate approach.

Analysis by the IMI earlier this year revealed 14,000 automotive job vacancies across the sector. An issue that is only exacerbated by the need to self-isolate as COVID-19 continues. 

The economic case is a compelling one.

There is a clear danger to the automotive retail sector if it fails to retain existing staff and attract fresh talent over the next few years.

To achieve this goal, it must become an employer of choice where happy and engaged workers are its biggest advocates. In addition, according to a large study by the Oxford Said Business School on happiness and productivity, happy people are 13% more productive, so investment in people will quickly pay dividends.

The pandemic has given people a newfound motivation to find meaningful work. It translates into a pent-up demand and willingness to understand and be part of where their company is going.

By excluding staff from the big decisions, great ideas, innovation, and a bank of customer-facing experience will be wasted.

The people best positioned to rethink a business are those closest to the processes and experiences that most need improvement.

The bottom line is that people need to continue to grow in order to remain engaged and productive, and companies across the sector have to change the way they operate to ensure this happens.

The automotive sector is essential for the recovery and future growth of the UK economy. But unless the talent issue is addressed, it will see that growth hindered.

Author: Matt Thompson is a founder of the management consultancy Potentuel and a veteran of the motor industry.


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