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Work With Human Nature To Motivate Employees: An Expert Identifies Low-hanging Fruit For Car Dealers | DrivingSales News

Work With Human Nature To Motivate Employees: An Expert Identifies Low-hanging Fruit For Car Dealers

December 23, 2015 0 Comments


Fostering employee engagement is “easier than you might think,” according to Paul Herr, author of “Primal Management” and scientist of human motivation.

When you think about workplace culture, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a company name, like Disney. Maybe it’s an image from inside a Silicon Valley tech giant: a programmer sleeping in hammock in a bright modern space with beanbags in the corner and a wall of candy dispensers. Maybe what comes to mind for you are reserved parking spaces, designated for expectant mothers.

Whatever your image of exemplary work environment is, culture (the beliefs and behaviors that guide how employees interact) is central to employee satisfaction, recruiting top talent, and maximizing human capital investment. According to Deloitte’s latest Human Capital Trends Report, this year, employee engagement and culture issues rose to become the number one challenge from respondents around the world.

For retail automotive, the “right” culture is the difference between the laggards and the innovators, and the latter’s keen ability to deploy new technologies and adapt to evolving customer expectations. Culture can equal competitive advantage.

Meet Paul Herr; he’s an engineer and a scientist who is passionate about the mechanics of motivation as it applies to employee engagement. Herr wrote the book Primal Management: Unraveling the Secrets of Human Nature to Drive High Performance. In the book, he sites a 2005 Gallup study of 332 organizations (4.5 million employees). The study found that 31 percent of employees were engaged, 52 percent were disengaged, and 17 percent were actively disengaged. (Actively disengaged employees are unhappy at work and respond by acting out in ways that undermine the business and their coworkers.)

The most recent numbers are in:


That’s nearly 10 years of almost no change in employee engagement, despite continuous efforts and research. Well-established organizations across various industries are continuously guilty of ignoring the “people piece” when faced with economic, technological, and regulatory change. Herr attests that it is time to look beyond benefits, perks, and salary bumps, and instead align business with human nature to maximize employee engagement.

Herr’s theory is based upon social needs. These individual needs he says are wired in our brains from our tribal heritage. Feeding the needs ensures group survival. He says businesses will not only survive, but thrive, when they feed the five social needs, listed here:

Cooperation: enforced by the warm feelings we experience when we are with the persons, places, and things that are important to us and by the painful feelings when we are excluded

Competency: enforced with feelings of high and low self-esteem when we do or do not have the skills to execute our jobs

Skill deployment: enforced with the euphoria of a win and the pain of a loss

Innovation: enforced with curiosity and the eureka pleasure when we get an idea

Self-protection: enforced with pleasant feelings when we achieve security and fearful and anxious feelings when we feel threatened

“Based on the unflattering snapshot of a stereotypical dealership, I would say none of the motivational buttons are being pressed very effectively,” Herr said. To illustrate his theory, Herr discusses the “emotional paycheck.” If someone makes $50K and has a manager that crushes their soul with demeaning practices and little training, it takes away from the overall paycheck’s worth. If the same employee makes $50K and is in an environment that feeds their social needs, their take-home “pay” is much greater.

Herr says there are areas of improvement, or low-hanging fruit, for dealers to begin aligning with human nature. Specifically, within the competency, achievement, and cooperation drives.

Self-esteem that builds as we master skills makes a strong case for training and continued education according to Herr. If dealers press the competency button, Herr says team members become “confident experts who walk tall and feel proud.”

Next, Herr says the typical sales floor is working against human nature and the result is a poor employee and customer experience. “The hyper-competitive, dog-eat-dog mentality produces few winners, many losers, and plenty of bad feelings,” he said. “One of the biggest losers is the customer who gets served by a stressed out and poorly trained salesperson with a misguided attitude.”

Herr says dealers that find ways to feed the achievement drive through cooperation and shared wins stand to improve the engagement of their sales teams. For those that don’t feed the cooperation drive, he warns, “Employees will be more likely to sabotage their co-workers than help them.”

The only motivational button that is reliably being pressed in typical dealerships is the self-protection button (the one we don’t want to press), Herr says. “When we threaten employees by not paying them a living wage, by putting them in a no-win environment where failure is likely, or by disrespecting them, we release angry feelings and stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, which triggers the fight-flight response,” he said. “This creates enemies instead of allies and not many companies can survive with a workforce composed of mostly enemies.”

Herr works with business owners and executives around the world and across industries to foster employee engagement utilizing the theory. His biggest successes he says start with strong leadership alignment and regular, anonymous, and publicized accountability of the progress.

As far as successes go, Herr’s clients experience increases in production, profits, and employee satisfaction along with decreases in waste and turnover. One automotive parts manufacturer that utilized his methodology experienced 125 percent increase in productivity in 14 months and a reduction in employee turnover from 65 percent to 15 percent.

“Managers intuitively want to treat employees respectfully and I simply give them permission to do so,” Herr said. “I tell them, ‘It’s OK to bring your humanity to work, and it’s OK to take a personal, mentoring approach with your people.’”

Herr suggests that every company should become a united tribe because everybody wins. “Employees win because coming to work, no longer seems like ‘work,’ ” he said. “Mangers win because everybody does their work faster, better, and smarter and with a good attitude; customers win because they get better goods and services delivered with a smile, and shareholders win because they make much more money.”

2016 will be a challenging year for dealers. Despite record industry sales in 2015, external threats (interest rates, customer expectations, new technologies and competition) will require dealers to align their teams to remain relevant in the changing landscape. Herr attests that humans perform best and are most satisfied when given a non-threatening environment that fosters cooperation, competency, achievement, and innovation to supplement their paycheck. The Primal Management social theory uniquely aligns with qualities businesses increasingly associate with competitive advantage: collaboration, mastery, and agility.

About the Author:

The DrivingSales News team is dedicated to breaking the relevant and the tough stories affecting car dealers. Have questions for DrivingSales News? Reach the team at news@drivingsales.com.

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