Training Top 125 Best Practice: Sonic Automotive, Inc.’s Fixed Operations Academy

The learning strategy for the academy is based on the idea that leadership and management skills are the foundation of a successful Fixed Operations manager.

One of retailer Sonic Automotive, Inc.’s critical goals is retention of its Service and Parts leaders. In general, retention of employees in these roles in the automotive industry is challenging, with turnover at 70 percent. Service and Parts leaders often are promoted from within and lack the leadership and management skills to carry out their jobs. Sonic Automotive originally did not have any programs in place to provide training for high potentials or new leaders in these roles. In response, the organization designed and developed a Fixed Operations Academy.

The learning strategy for the academy is based on the idea that leadership and management skills are the foundation of a successful Fixed Operations manager. By exploring the impact of leadership skills on their direct team members, customers, and the Sonic organization, learners come to understand the importance of these leadership behaviors.

New Fixed Operations managers often are inundated and overwhelmed by the activities of their new role. Leadership skills often are pushed aside as pressures from the customer, general manager, and other sources mount and are replaced by a desire to understand the reporting function of the role. Using a variety of delivery methods, the learning solution reinforces the importance of leadership and demonstrates to learners how to apply leadership skills in their jobs. Rather than simply presenting the concepts to the learners, Sonic provides repeated practice through role-plays and on-the-job contextual experiences that allow them to experience the subtleties of engaging in leadership behaviors.

Program Details

The Leadership Program comprises different components designed to help learners master the foundational knowledge and skills required to be a successful Fixed Operations manager. These include:

  • Field Study Program Guide: The Field Study Program Guide serves as a roadmap for the entire training program and as learners’ key resource for the Leadership Academy Program.
  • Application Labs: The Application Labs are two, one-week interactive, immersive instructor-led training sessions.
  • Debrief Webinars: Two, one-hour virtual sessions are conducted after the Application Labs. The Webinars include a debrief discussion during which learners share their experiences as they begin to employ the leadership skills in their job function.
  • Assessments: Two types of assessments are used to assess skill acquisition throughout the training program and to determine performance improvement while on the job.
  • Field Study Guide Activity Completion: Managers are provided a short checklist to verify Field Study Guide activity completion. The Field Study Guides also are collected and reviewed during the second Application Lab, with random examples of participants’ experiences shared and discussed with the class.
  • Action Plan: Each participant identifies a growth opportunity at his or her store based on the second Application Lab learnings. A full action plan is to be developed within seven days and the plan implemented within 45 days.

Results

One hundred percent of program participants have been retained. From the first session, which ended January 2015, 44.4 percent of participants were promoted. The second session ended September 2015 with seven of 24 (29.2 percent) participants receiving promotions since the beginning of the class. The third session had 19 percent promotions as of June 2016.

Training Top 125

2017 Training Top 125 winners demonstrated a strong focus on effective training and employee development tied to corporate strategic goals and business impact.

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