Managing People: 4 biggest mistakes an owner can make

By Jeff Sheets

Managing people can be one of the more difficult things that the owner of an OPE dealership does each day. Most of the time you have an idea of what you want to get accomplished each day, but do you communicate that to your staff? Do you try to do everything all by yourself and then just have your employees assist you? On the other hand, do you let your employees do their jobs with little instruction? Neither of these options works very well. One way will burn you out, and the other way will burn out your employees. You need to find a middle ground where you and your employees can work together to make the business the best it can be. In this article, I am going to look at four mistakes that can sabotage employer/employee relationships and cause inefficiencies. If you see your management style in any of these examples, you can change your style with renewed focus and commitment. I know that I’ve sure made my fair share of mistakes leading employees. Acknowledging and applying those mistakes to my leadership style helped me tremendously as they will you.

#1 Lack of communication of the vision for the business and how employees fit in it

When you hire people, sometimes you may not communicate to them how they fit into the big picture of the business and how them doing their job correctly affects everyone else. You may assume that they know and really forget to have that conversation. You don’t just need to have that conversation initially, but constantly. When your new employees do well, you need to compliment them on doing their job well. If you have to add new responsibilities, then you need to not only tell them how to prioritize their tasks, but you also need to communicate why and again how this helps everything run much more smoothly. You also should be looking to reward that employee for doing more with not only words, but also with a pay increase. An example of this might be a parts counter person that you train to be able to take in service repairs. You want that person to continue to focus on parts customers, but be available if necessary at the service counter. You need to communicate to that parts counter person what the expectations are in the parts department and when that employee can be involved in helping the service area. You must communicate to everyone involved how you expect this employee to add these new duties and how they are to react in various situations. Communication is the key in all situations. If there is not clear communication, employees get confused and generally don’t enjoy the job they are doing, which can lead to internal problems and ultimately turnover.

#2 Becoming friends with your employees

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that I see out in the OPE industry. Most are very small businesses with less than 10 employees, which means that the owner and employees work closely together each day and can develop friendships very easily. If you become friends with an employee, your other employees may perceive favoritism in how you treat your friend/employee. It is hard to manage a friend and maintain consistency in your management style. Sometimes, you can be too lenient and other times too harsh. The same thing can hold true for relatives working for you. There are some advantages to having relatives serve as employees because they may be more willing to buy into what you are trying to do, work harder, and have deeper conversations with you, but being honest with them about their weaknesses and disciplining them can be very difficult. You need to make sure that you show no favoritism in how you treat your employees, regardless of who they are.

#3 Ignoring or not asking employees for suggestions on how to get better

Your employees are the ones working in the trenches and seeing what is happening every day. If they come to you with a suggestion, as long as it’s positive in nature, you should evaluate it and give it the utmost consideration. One potential problem: Would your employees feel comfortable approaching you with a suggestion, or have they been shot down so many times that no one wants to suggest anything to you anymore? You have an idea of how things should be run and you want it to be a certain way, but sometimes showing a willingness to accept and try an employee suggestion can be a win-win situation for you and your employees. Maybe not every suggestion is worthy of being undertaken, but letting your employees see that you are open to suggestions is a good thing. I am in favor of rewarding employees who make suggestions that produce positive changes with gift cards or monetary rewards. The more you open the communication channel with your employees, the better off your business will be. You really need them to be your eyes and ears, especially if something is going wrong. Don’t make this mistake; it can be a huge detriment to making your business better.

#4 Not letting go employees who are not working out

I’ve worked with some dealerships where employees who really don’t work efficiently continue to be employed for years. I think most of those owners have given up thinking they can find good employees, so they just continue with the current staff. If you make this mistake, your business really plateaus because there is no incentive to get better. All of the employees perceive that this is the best they can do, and you as the owner, expect nothing better. I can tell you that letting go employees who are not producing or are doing exactly what you don’t want them to do is a signal to the rest of your staff that you are looking for results. Obviously, you want to work with people to help them improve and accomplish the goals set for them, but when that does not work, you need to be willing to let them go for the good of the business. You need to be confident that you can find a better replacement, and I have written several articles on how to do this in OPE magazine over the years. Don’t settle for an OK or less-than-OK employee. Look to find employees who can make your business better.

As an OPE dealership owner, you have a difficult job. You are not just leading with your long-term vision of the business, but you have to be a day-to-day manager at the same time. Sometimes, day-to-day management can be hard because it calls for you to be more involved with employees and their personalities, but the payoff is that you can help them see your vision by having good, very direct interactions. I like the following perspective from Tom Peters: “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” You want to lead, but you can’t forget to manage at the same time. You have to help your employees understand their place in the business and how important they are to your overall success while making sure they know what that means to your business each and every day. Don’t give up on doing your best, and please avoid these four mistakes. They can cause a good business to have problems that can take a long time to fix. Manage through your leadership, and you will be successful.

1504_OPE_FS_Profit Center Series-Part III-Service2_author-Jeff Sheets-webJeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past 11 years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at