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Tori Zinger

Tori Zinger Community & Editorial Manager

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A Matter of Trust: How to Know Whether Your Dealership Has a High-Trust or Low-Trust Culture

In the first installment of this series on high- vs. low-trust culture within a dealership, we discussed how, while progressive employee benefits are certainly welcomed and appreciated by most employees, all the vacation time in the world can’t save a dealership that operates on a low-trust culture.

In this second installment, we’ll talk more about how a low-trust culture can prevent a dealership with incredible potential from thriving in the marketplace. We’ll then go over some examples of how to identify a low-trust vs. high-trust company culture. 

Let’s start with biology. Did you know that the human brain perceives distrust as a social threat? And that it responds to a social threat much the same way it responds to a physical threat? When we operate in a low-trust environment, our brains lock down, and our thought-processing abilities become limited to basic survival instincts. In other words, “When we are experiencing a threat response, our brains simply aren’t capable of the same level of cognitive analysis, problem-solving, or collaboration that is often desired by organizations.”

So, right off the bat, we can see that taking the time and energy to build a high-trust culture is in the best interest of your management, your employees, and your dealership as a whole.

It doesn’t end there, though. A low-trust organizational culture can be pricey, to say the least. Consider the following:

  • A study conducted by the global consulting firm Watson Wyatt found that high-trust companies outperformed their low-trust counterparts in total return to shareholders by 286%.

  • The businesses that made Forbes Magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” (where at least 60% of the criteria is comprised of trust factors) earned more than quadruple the return of the broader market over the preceding seven years.

Now that we have at least a small glimpse of the negative effects a low-trust environment can have on any organization, you might be thinking that you need to make some drastic changes at your dealership. And in Part 3 next week, we’ll learn how to build and manage a high-trust culture. But before we can really do that, we need to understand what each type of trust culture looks like, and how to identify a low-trust culture versus a high-trust culture.

The level of trust on which a business operates can affect numerous different aspects of the company’s operations and ultimate failure or success, but it always impacts at least two measurable outcomes: speed and cost. A low-trust dealership will function at a lower speed, and will do so with higher costs. Conversely, a high-trust dealership will operate at a higher speed but will have lower costs.


These two measurables, of course, arise from the existence and perpetuation of a number of less tangible outcomes; indeed, there are arguably too many of these intangible signs and symptoms to reasonably cover in this article. But in his book First Things First, the legendary Stephen R. Covey provides an excellent starting point for understanding what each type of culture looks like. I’ve compiled Covey’s descriptions into a single chart here, for quick and easy reference:

Now that we have a better picture of the differences between a high-trust versus low-trust dealership culture, it’s time for the hard part: Over the next couple of days, take a clear, honest look in the mirror. Pay attention to your employees’ overall energy levels, how they behave, and how engaged or disengaged they seem to be. Then, be honest: Are you running a dealership with a high-trust or low-trust culture?

Whatever the result, be on the lookout next week for the final installment in this series, where we’ll learn what it takes to build a low-trust culture into a high-trust culture, as well as how to foster and manage an already high-trust culture.

Patrick Bergemann

As someone who's come from multiple low-trust environments to a high-trust environment, the initial reaction can be a bit difficult because you aren't used to little pushback when you try something new. It feels like someone is waiting for you to fail, but in reality, you're simply being encouraged to try new things and learn from the mistakes.

The customers definitely notice a difference. The employees are happy and customers often note the unparalleled service they received when they leave reviews. It's led to a lot of organic growth.

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