All dealerships conduct training. It comes in many forms with varying frequency. Whether the training is done internally, externally, virtually, classroom-style or online, the same question arises when the training ends: How will you make it stick?

You invested in training for a reason. You wanted to sell and service more cars, improve CSI, increase your employees’ efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce turnover. When training doesn’t stick, it is not just a big waste of your time and money. Your objectives will not be met and management’s credibility will take a hit.

When the trainer leaves, focus fades, old habits resurface and the new program becomes the next item on the list of forgotten flavors of the month. Seriously, could you even begin to count how many times you’ve seen this in a dealership?

The reactive environment facing frontline employees is a real threat to new processes. It’s so easy give in to the onslaught of phones, faxes, e-mails, pages and those pesky customers, especially in a busy showroom or bustling service lane. It takes real commitment and dedication to break through the old habits.

To prevent that from happening, you must remain committed when the training is over. Learning a new process is actually just the first step. There are three keys to making a training program take hold and become part of your dealership’s culture: zero deviation, skill and heart. Let’s review each one.

1. Zero Deviation

There’s no such thing as a “process in a box” that can be plugged in at any store and deliver immediate results. Your trainer should be able to make changes and adjustments to fit the store. The final product, including the process map, is the way it’s meant to be done, period. Zero deviation is the only way to truly learn how the process works. It’s also the only way to get real results.

It’s okay to make needed changes after a little while, but you must remap the plan and reprint it so that the official instructions match what you’re doing in the course of business. It pains me to hear “That’s not really how we do it” from a frontline employee.

When I worked at Paul Miller Ford, somebody wrote: “We do what we say we do” across the front wall of the training/meeting room. Lip service was not acceptable. Once we agreed to a new process, we followed it. There was no wiggle room, no one was exempt and everyone was accountable.

2. Skill Building

Managers must follow the process just as closely as their staff, but that’s not the only way they can make sure it sticks. Think about it like a basketball game. The coach is on the sideline every minute of the game and he or she doesn’t ignore mistakes. If a player does something wrong, the coach reacts instantly. If that player doesn’t adjust, they’re on the bench.

Learning in the moment develops muscle memory; reviewing it later does not. Many managers rely on mental notes. This is a mistake. Address deviations immediately and put the employee back on the proper path. Coaching during the game, not just in practice, is great leadership.

3. Take It to Heart

Let’s face it, if your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to win it. Success takes real commitment, enthusiasm and dedication from dealers and managers. Accentuate the positive and celebrate progress. Talk about the process, track performance and recognize the minor victories that will lead to the major victory.

Too many managers don’t understand the power of celebrating progress. Employees repeat what gets recognized and rewarded. And you don’t always have to throw money at them. Face-to-face recognition and a “nice job” go a long way. After all, you are moving in the right direction. Moving slowly at first is better than going in the wrong direction faster.

I learned the power of direction when Ford rolled out the Blue Oval program in 2000. Looking back, I realize it was the emotion that carried us. Ford’s program meant big money for our store — about $500,000 a year. If you want to see emotion, cost your dealer a half a million dollars and let me know if he or she gets emotional.

We went after Blue Oval certification with tremendous heart and emotion. Everyone was involved and we all knew our role. We mapped everything and followed our processes rigorously, and our dealer principal provided enthusiastic, positive feedback that every employee could feel.

Everyone was thrilled when we aced our J.D. Power onsite evaluation. We were moving in the right direction and we just kept going. The following year, we were automatically certified. Then, in 2005, we won Ford’s President’s Award for the first time in the dealership’s 52-year history.

I hope this helps and I wish you success with all of your training. Stick to your processes, develop your employees’ skills in real time and fuel the whole thing with passion. Your training will stick and your investment will pay off.