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Promoting and Training Employees (Part 2)

Making the transition from being a peer to a leader

CHICAGO — When someone on a team is ready for more responsibility, it’s important for both the owner and that employee to explore their options. Not only can this retain a team member who might be outgrowing their current status, but it can give a dry cleaner a valuable new asset to grow his or her 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. Today, we’ll examine some ways to handle transitions when team members move up the ladder.

From Within or From the Outside?

Owners have a choice when it comes to finding people to fill roles in their business — promote someone from within the company or find outside expertise.

“It really depends on what you’re looking for in your team,” says Greg Gunderson, owner of Gunderson’s Cleaning in Appleton, Wisconsin. “If you’re looking to really move up two or three levels, you may need to bring someone in from the outside so that you can cultivate people who are in your business. I can tell you that, when we promote from within, the tenure of those people lasts a lot longer than when we hire from the outside. Except for accounting, our top leadership has come through the ranks.”

Amy Wischmann, policies and procedures manager at Benzinger’s Clothing Care, located in western New York, concurs: “We’ve hired for some upper-level positions outside of the company and we definitely have found it is much more difficult, and we’re much more likely to lose those people. It’s difficult to build their knowledge of the industry.”

This experience, Wischmann says, has led to Benzinger’s tending to promote current team members.

“The overarching philosophy is that we definitely promote from within first,” she says, “and there are three main reasons for that. First is the knowledge of the industry. It’s tough to find people coming in off the street who have already worked in dry cleaning. The people here already have that baseline knowledge.

“Second, they already have credibility with their co-workers. They know how difficult the work can be and they’ve proven themselves. Third, we know they have bought the culture — they wouldn’t have gotten that far and they wouldn’t be looked at for promotion if they weren’t able to demonstrate this idea of what we care about at Benzinger’s.”

Tom Zengeler, owner of Zengeler Cleaners, headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, believes in promotions to keep good people with his company. 

“For a higher-level position in our stores and in our production, I almost always hire from within,” he says. “They can start off as a store employee and end up as a store manager. My general manager was a store employee, and he worked his way up. There are more specific-type jobs, however, where you need to go from the outside, such as an engineer or accountant, where you want someone with specific qualifications.”

“I’ve done both, and both have pros and cons,” says Mark Scott, owner of Bakker’s Fine Dry Cleaners in Seattle. “Hiring from within is usually my preference. I started in this business at the entry level and worked all the way up. Management and ownership apparently saw that in me, so I’m a big proponent of hiring from within. For the pros, someone from within knows the industry, and can usually understand what the next step and responsibilities are. The con is that their peers and co-workers might continue to see them as an equal as opposed to a person of authority.”

From Co-workers to Leaders

When promoting from within, part of this period of adjustment is allowing team members who might have been peers with the new leader to get used to the new structure. Wischmann believes in being honest and open with new leaders about potential issues they may face.

“Training is No. 1 — teaching them basic supervisory skills and talking to them openly about the challenges they are going to face,” she says. “This means telling them they are going to be in a position where they are going to have to be upfront with someone whose work isn’t up to par. We need to be clear with the person who’s accepting that new level of responsibility about what exactly the job entails, and if that’s something they want to take on and think they can handle with the right support.”

Wischmann believes the team needs to be included in the conversation, as well.

“It’s also being clear with people about what’s happened with the promotion,” she says, “and being transparent with the rest of the organization as to why the person was promoted, what their new role is going to be, and an acknowledgement that things are going to change. This new supervisor or manager-level person has the full support of the upper-level management and that they expect the same from others.”

Part of a successful transition, Scott believes, is choosing someone who has already taken on a leadership role — even if it has been unofficial.

“You want to choose someone within the company who is already respected by co-workers as a hard worker and a de facto leader in their area, anyway,” he says. “When you promote that person, the team says, ‘Oh, good for you! That’s awesome.’”

“When you do make the decision to promote them, especially from within, the employees prove themselves not only to me as the owner, but they prove themselves to managers and they prove themselves to the other employees around them,” Zengeler says. “The others should have seen their qualifications.”

Come back Tuesday for the conclusion of this article, when we’ll look at how to help employees who might be struggling in new leadership roles, and finish with some success stories. For Part 1, click HERE.

Promoting and Training Employees

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].