CHICAGO — Promoting a drycleaning employee to a leadership position might pose challenges for them, their team and the owner of the business. When done properly, however, this practice can benefit everyone concerned, as well as help to build the business.
In Part 1 of this series, we explored some of the signs that might point to employees who might be ready for more responsibility, along with the qualities they should possess to be successful in a leadership position. In Part 2, we examined some ways to handle transitions when team members move up the ladder. Today, we’ll conclude by looking at ways to help new leaders find success.
The road isn’t always smooth when it comes to taking on a position with added responsibilities. Owners and upper-level leaders need to keep an eye on newly promoted employees, says Amy Wischmann, policies and procedures manager at Benzinger’s Clothing Care, located in western New York, especially in the early days.
“I have seen people get overwhelmed, and that shows up in one of two ways,” she says. “They might feel like they have to do everything themselves, now that they are in a higher position. They feel that everything is on them instead of tapping into their team. They’re just operating at a frenetic pace and there’s no way they’re going to maintain it.
“The other direction they can go when they are overwhelmed is to shut down. Someone who was incredibly reliable, always picking up shifts, is suddenly calling off, not showing up or is often late. Both of these people were overwhelmed — they just handled it in a completely different way.”
When leadership sees someone showing signs of being overwhelmed, Wischmann warns that immediate action should be taken.
“You have to tackle that head-on, and pull them in as quickly as possible,” she says. “You can help them prioritize. Show them the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important. It could mean shifting a couple of their tasks to someone until they’re more comfortable, giving them a bit of breathing room. Hopefully, they can take those couple of tasks back, or perhaps the job description wasn’t exactly right, and they did have too much on their job description. You want to put them in a position to be successful, rather than setting them up for failure.”
Changes in personality are also a red flag, says Greg Gunderson, owner of Gunderson’s Cleaning in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“When I see their temperament getting shorter, I’m going to sit down with that individual and try to have a casual 30- to 60-minute conversation. I try to take the topics off work, because they need a bit of a distraction. If we can have a conversation, and I have all their attention, that’s a very positive sign. When I can’t get their attention, when their mind is too distracted, I know they’re overloaded.”
Fortunately, there are ways to recover from this feeling, he says: “You teach them about delegation — making sure they understand how to delegate and who it’s appropriate to delegate to. Leaders are leading people; they’re not doing all the work, and a lot of newer leaders believe that they need to do everything. When they delegate, life gets a lot easier. And then we prioritize their challenges — we break it down. At the end of the day, we’re in dry cleaning. It is not life and death. Sometimes you have to take a step back.”
Some of the most rewarding experiences in a business owner’s career are seeing people who’ve they promoted thrive and achieve more than either the employee or the owner might have thought possible. Tom Zengeler, owner of Zengeler Cleaners, headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, says he’s felt this satisfaction multiple times.
“It’s really my two top people,” he says. “One employee has been with us for 30-plus years, and she started by mending for us — she sewed on buttons, repaired seams, and work like that. She gradually worked her way up, and now she manages all the production employees and reports directly to me, and I listen to her and her advice. My other top person started off as a store employee, became an assistant manager, and then the manager of a store. Now he manages all my stores and my delivery routes.”
“The thing about natural leaders and people who are really ambitious is that, if you don’t feed that, they’ll find it somewhere else,” says Mark Scott, owner of Bakker’s Fine Dry Cleaners in Seattle. “I know that, if I have a ‘rock star’ employee, and I don’t keep giving them more and keep challenging them, they’re going to get bored with the job and go somewhere else.”
Sometimes, those future leaders show initiative from the very beginning.
“About nine years ago, I called this employee when she applied for a job. She came in that same day for an interview, which was unusual, but she was eager to get a job. I hired her that same day, and she started the next day. She ended up working out, and worked her way through the ranks, moving up to the store management and then a store lead. She’s now the general manager.”
Taking the Next Step
When it comes to setting people up for success when it comes to promotions and leadership, Scott believes in setting the proper example.
“It goes back to feeding someone’s ambition and keep keeping an eye on those who want to keep busy,” he says. “That’s how I was, but that’s just how I’m wired. So, when I see that in other people, I try to seize that, cultivate it and help it grow within the company. That’s how it’s worked for me, and it’s worked for many of my staff. It’s become part of the norm here now.”
Also, it’s important to understand that, no matter how good someone is at their position, it doesn’t mean that they are ready — or even want — to climb to the next step.
“Don’t make decisions too quickly — both for both yourself and for the employee,” Zengeler says. “Some people aren’t managers — they don’t know how to manage people and they don’t know how to communicate with people. So don’t put them there — make sure that you recognize that’s not what they can do. Some people might be a great dry cleaner, but it doesn’t mean they can manage the plant.”
Gunderson believes that it’s critical to check in regularly with your team, not only to see who might be ready for more responsibility, but to show that the company’s leadership sees their true value.
“By understanding our team and having these conversations, it really gives us a leg up in treating each team member individually for their ‘care label,’ just like we do with garments,” he says. “It’s harder to find people’s care labels than it is on the garments, but it’s important.”
Wischmann believes that having a clear way forward will show the way forward for those wanting to rise to the management level.
“I think one of the best things that any company can do is take the time to get their organizational structure put down on paper so that people can see the pathway that they would have in moving up,” she says. “If people can’t see it, if they don’t know how the organization is even laid out, who reports to who or what the structure is, they would have no idea how to even begin to move forward.
“That is how you lose people. Make it crystal clear to the people who are down at the lower levels where they might be able to go.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].