THE ABILITY TO CONDUCT EFFECTIVE STAFF MEETINGS is one of the most important requirements for successful dealers and managers. But there seems to be minimal effort and few available programs to develop key dealership personnel in this important talent.

Sales managers (and many dealers) who are naturally gregarious and loaded with hype are often prone to use the meeting forum as a site for theatrical performances.

They attempt to “pump up' the attendees with lengthy dramatic monologues. Also, there often may be time-consuming discussions on minor topics such as adjusting the heat thermostat, securing the building at night and showing up at meetings on time. If there's a time and place for that, it's seldom at staff meetings.

Some dealers and general managers conduct manager's meetings as though they were holding court. Those meetings are stressful, constraining, impersonal and exclusively bottom-line oriented.

The powerful influence of an aggressive dealer in an authoritative meeting can create an atmosphere of compliance which lowers the level of authentic feedback.

Don't turn your staff meeting's into a one-man show. Facilitate, don't dominate.

Meetings should be regularly scheduled and not held by happenstance. Erratic scheduling of meetings detracts from their assumed importance in the organization. If utilized properly, effective meetings over personnel issues can influence the entire organization by reducing stressful misunderstandings and increasing the quality of work life.

Impress upon your managers (and yourself) the necessity of a prepared and focused agenda. A meeting without that is like a boat without a rudder, and just as useless. An unprepared meeting may result in a dual liability: It doesn't convey any meaningful messages to the participants and it may create negative attitudes toward subsequent meetings.

Emphasize the importance of regularly scheduled meetings in your organization by simply giving the issue an increased priority and visibility in the dealership routine.

Occasionally, invite a staff member to facilitate a meeting on a specific subject in which they have shown a particular expertise.

In this regard, set an example by acting as a facilitator and inviting participants to share without risk that they might create waves by something they may say. Remember, subordinates fear voicing controversial comments if they think such frankness will damage their future credibility within the organization.

Put yourself in your staff's shoes, and determine what form you would want meetings to take. What sort of participation would sustain your interest?

Effective service meetings are the most challenging in the dealership. Perhaps this is why they're so infrequently held.

There are several reasons for this. Those include: difficulty in scheduling meetings during the work day, diverse technical and organizational content, varied personalities and intellect of service personnel, inadequate and uncomfortable meeting locations, low priority in the dealership hierarchy for such meetings and the service manager's stressful daily schedule.

But the service department is one of the most important at the dealership. The need for that department's personnel to meet routinely far outweighs the challenges of getting together to discuss pertinent issues. A better run department will be the result of such meetings.

Conclude each meeting with a summation of the items discussed and the results. Require note-taking paraphernalia and use visual aids such as flip charts, blackboards or power point presentations. Those help participants comprehend the contents of the discussion.

Designate a person to take minutes of the meeting, write up the highlights and distribute copies to the staff shortly after the meeting.

To encourage more participation, change the seating arrangement from rows to a circle. No desks or tables between the meeting leader and the participants. You will be astounded at the change in people's willingness to share when these barriers are removed.

If you're going to spend your dealership's time, energy, and money in meetings, then plan to make them exciting, interesting and productive.

Finally, limit the length. An adage for meetings is that the mind can absorb only as much as the derrriere can tolerate.

Nat Shulman was owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA for many years.