CHICAGO — One of the best skills a business owner can have is the ability to recognize when someone on their team is ready for more responsibility. Being able to rely on the people around them frees the leader to look at the big-picture decisions that can grow a business — and profitability.
So, how can you tell who on your team is ready to go to the next level? Or should you hire someone outside of the company to bring in fresh blood and energy?
Who’s Ready for More?
“When individuals on our team are asking the ‘whys’ of what we’re doing, and using that information to impact their role, that’s a key indicator to me that they want more responsibility,” says Greg Gunderson, owner of Gunderson’s Cleaning in Appleton, Wisconsin. His nine-storefront business employs about 50 people.
“It’s how engaged they are, their follow-up and their dedication,” he says. “Also, it’s how they respect others. If somebody cannot show respect to others, they cannot be promoted. That’s a big indicator for me.”
“What I tend to look for is when I see the employee rise to the top and take on more and more responsibility,” says Mark Scott, owner of Bakker’s Fine Dry Cleaners in Seattle. Scott has 32 employees in his five-store system. “I look to see if they have a natural leadership type of personality. It’s pretty prevalent, almost right away. They’re inspired and energized to do more work. Those are some good signs I see when someone’s ready for advancement.”
“At Benzinger’s, there’s a vision, mission and core value statement that is introduced to the employees during their onboarding,” says Amy Wischmann, policies and procedures manager at Benzinger’s Clothing Care, located in western New York. The company has five storefronts, with 58 employees. “We look for people who, over time, are demonstrating that they already have those core values within themselves, or that they picked up on that culture. They care about not only the customers, but their co-workers as well, and that they demonstrate a balance between the needs of the company, the customers and their team members.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover — it’s very important that they’re a fit for our culture,” says Tom Zengeler, owner of Zengeler Cleaners, headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois. Zengeler’s eight-storefront business has about 50 employees, with more than half of them being with the company for more than 20 years. “If they fit in with our culture, the communication between them and management is better. Our structure is that we’re always looking to raise people up. So, if they’re a good fit for the culture, that’s the first step.”
Personal — and Professional — Qualities
While certain aspects of any job can be taught, Scott believes there are some innate qualities those who will be successful in higher-level positions bring with them.
“Some things are nature vs. nurture,” he says. “I tend to look for people who can exercise good diplomacy when working with others. Anybody in management, particularly a service-type industry like the one we’re in, needs to exercise diplomacy with their co-workers and subordinates. Most everything else can be taught in terms of statistics and quotas, but being able to communicate in a fair and diplomatic way with all kinds of people is probably the biggest thing I look for when trying to identify that individual.”
“I think there are very few things that people can’t improve upon,” says Wischmann. “There are attributes that are more a part of the person’s personality, such as flexibility, how they adapt. There’s also work ethic, to a degree — the amount of commitment that they bring to their work life, rather than their home life. Those are some of those things that seem to come in the door with people. Not to say they can’t be shaped, but they are harder to change.”
Gunderson agrees that there’s a line between what can be taught or coached and what is just a part of the individual’s psychological makeup.
“Obviously, technical activities can be taught — how to type, for example, or how to navigate software,” he says. “And I really believe the sales aspect of the service can be taught. But when you take a person and try to teach them the big picture, to be constructive and think outside the box, those are personality traits, and are very difficult to teach. You can also teach people to be polite to others, but I don’t know that you can teach them to respect others. You’re not going to teach ambition, either. You have it or you don’t.”
Setting Them Up for Success
To better understand a potential leader’s qualities and style, Gunderson enlists the services of a professional.
“Before we promote anybody into a leadership role, we’re going to go through the industrial psychologist who we work with,” he says. “We get a full workup and understand their personality, what attributes they have and how that complements my own or whoever they would report to. We want to make sure that it’s a good fit. It allows us to understand how to work with this individual specifically. That’s a key process we lean on before we promote anybody to a leadership role.”
Scott believes that communication is the most important tool he and his team have to set a new leader up for success.
“We’re not such a big company that we have formalized training processes,” he says, “but the general rule of thumb is that, when we move somebody up in a position where they’re going to be taking more responsibility, the first thing we do is explain what the responsibilities are with this position.
“We then have them shadow another employee who’s currently doing that type of work as a mentor program. After that, I usually work with them individually, throughout the course of several weeks, going over reports, quota and production, sales issues and reports, and some higher-level things so that they see the bigger picture. I do this to get them get really engaged, and I can also gauge their interest to see if this is working out or not.”
“Communication is the key here,” Zengeler agrees. “You can’t bring an employee up if you’re not communicating with them, helping them and making them a part of our culture. Our managers have all been with us for 20-plus years, and they help the employees be successful.”
Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this three-part series, where we’ll examine how to handle transitions when team members move up the ladder.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].