Building the better bench

An executive search expert points to the keys to succession planning.

Recruiting and retention were among the topics at the ProDealer Industry Summit.

Phoenix — Having a plan to identify potential executives who can help guide the long-term success of a company probably is not on the top of most pro dealers’ agendas. But according to Rikka Brandon, an executive recruiter, it’s a goal that should be part of any owner or CEO’s vision when looking to ensure their company is healthy long after they retire.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” said Brandon, the founder and chief executive recruiter at Building Gurus, a boutique executive search and consulting firm that focuses exclusively on building product manufacturers. “And everyone knows they should have better bench strength.”

Because the process can be “overwhelming, political and complicated, it’s not urgent,” she explained. “Other things in our business keep pushing ahead of it.” 

"Hiring, when you get it wrong, can get really expensive.”

 Speaking here at the ProDealer Industry Summit, Brandon gave the example of a team member being groomed for a top position for a number of years. But then the employee suddenly decides to depart the company for another venture. The knowledge and expertise is now out the window or, even worse, possibly competing head-to-head with the company that provided the original training.

In another example, Brandon described the situation of a top sales talent who is responsible for 30% of a company’s overall sales. If there is no backup plan for the individual, a good deal of business and sales will be lost if he departs. 

“If they leave it could be months before your company recovers,” she said.

Companies should establish core values and a vision, and stick to them, according to Brandon. If your business says it’s “family friendly,” but provides new hires with only one week of vacation that can’t be accessed until after they’ve been with the company for six months or more, “then you’re not very family friendly,” she said. “You have to walk the talk.”

Brandon recommends identifying the strengths and weaknesses of employees, including letting them self-identify their potential followed by feedback from others at the company. 

Another strategy recommended by the recruiter is to identify employees who can be cross-trained for bigger and better things. For example, there might be a yard employee who has been involved in loading or pre-fabrication for many years but is ready for another role. Perhaps they have the knowledge and personality for a sales position. 

“Developing opportunities to experience all aspects of the business is great — from millennials to longtime veterans,” Brandon said.

When it comes to executives or personnel who are not fitting into a company culture, and promoting might be a mistake, Brandon suggest not wasting time. “Fire and fire fast,” she said. “If you’re thinking of firing them, then it’s only just a matter of time.” 

“Hiring, when you get it wrong, can get really expensive,” Brandon said. 

Brandon suggests that companies establish a cross-training or promotion process for qualified employees and stick with it. And establish a system sooner rather than later.

“What’s your vision? You need to know where you are going to get there,” Brandon said. “You don’t need every step of the process. You need direction and you might have to deal with specific pieces through the process.”

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