Sonic Automotive: Fixed Operations Leadership Academy

Sonic’s Need

Sonic Automotive is one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States, operating more than 100 dealerships in 14 states and 25 major metropolitan markets. One of Sonic’s critical goals in 2014 was retention of their service and parts (Fixed Operations) leaders. Service and parts managers are tasked with running the daily Fixed Operations department of a dealership, and the job can be very overwhelming—retention of these roles in the industry is challenging. Oftentimes Fixed Operations leaders are promoted from within and lack the leadership and management skills to carry out their jobs. Most of these new leaders possess stellar customer service skills as they have excelled in customer-facing roles; but they have performance gaps in leadership and management skills, and many struggled with the ability to successfully motivate and lead the team members reporting to them. Sonic wanted to ensure that new Fixed Operations leaders stayed with the company and had the knowledge, experience, and confidence they needed to be successful. Therefore, Sonic partnered with Accelerated Business Results (ABR) to create a Fixed Operations Leadership Academy for this audience.

The ABR Solution

ABR collaborated with Sonic to identify the organizational performance goals, outline the learning solution objectives, and design a new training architecture for this Fixed Operations audience. The new Fixed Operations Academy incorporated on-site classroom, self-paced, and virtual training components:

Snapshot from the "Transitioning to a Leader" Participant Guide

Snapshot from the “Transitioning to a Leader” Participant Guide

Application Labs: The academy included two (2) week-long, highly interactive and immersive instructor-led training sessions. Role plays were infused throughout each of the labs, providing participants with multiple opportunities to practice leadership skills and receive feedback that helped them refine these skills. Both labs also included a final role play assessment.

  • Transitioning to a Leader was designed to take place in week 3 and focused primarily on the soft skills needed to be a successful leader.
  • Connecting Leadership to Business Acumen was designed for week 10 and focused on connecting strategic leadership skills to the more tactical business acumen skills.

Self-Paced Field Study Program: The Field Study Guide was designed to be a roadmap for the entire program—the participants’ key resource for the academy. The guide outlined activities the learner needed to complete on the job to prepare for the Application Labs through observations and self-awareness. A separate Field Study Manager’s Guide was also developed for supervisors to use as they supported Fixed Operations Academy participants throughout the program.

Debrief Webinar Sessions: These two (2) one-hour sessions were conducted after each of the Application Labs. They included a debrief discussion during which learners shared their experiences as they began to employ the leadership skills in their job function.

How ABR Helped Sonic

The Fixed Operations Academy program objectives were successfully accomplished and continue to produce positive results today:

  • Reduced Fixed Operations manager churn: Since launching the Fixed Operations Academy, there has been no turnover in service managers who participated.
  • Reduced service and parts advisor churn as a result of poor leadership and management: From Q4 2014 to Q1 2015, the turnover percentage for service advisors decreased from 3.0 to 2.3 percent at dealerships where Fixed Operations Academy participants work, and turnover for technicians has decreased from 1.7 to 1.3 percent at these dealerships.
  • Increased customer satisfaction index (CSI) in stores with new Fixed Operations managers: Of the 14 Fixed Operations Academy participants who held leadership positions at dealerships when the academy began, 12 increased their CSI from Q3 2014 to Q1 2015.

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