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Coffee & Conversation with Michele: Tradition vs. Potential

12/06/2021


I had the pleasure of attending and moderating a panel at the HBSDealer’s Top Women in Hardware and Building Supply event last month in Chicago – what a great opportunity to celebrate the talented women in our industry. With a list of 26 “rising stars” and 45 “business excellence” awards, women are contributing to the success of retailers, distributors, and manufacturers across the building products space at an amazing pace. The group celebrated this success while also taking on some topics including how to attract and retain more women and how the pandemic turned work-life balance into a work-life juggling act.


The past 18 months have challenged every industry, every type of company, every leadership team, every owner. We see professionals taking on additional stress, challenged with the ever-changing mandates or recommendations – bringing some to simply throw in the towel. Looking to eliminate any added stress they can control, they are leaving the workforce – the great resignation. This is creating an even greater need for top talent and leadership.


I was curious to learn where these successful industry leaders and impressive up-and-comers came from.  During various panels and good old-fashioned networking, I learned the majority came from other industries and even were recruited straight out of school. 

No doubt the companies that hired these top professionals found the secret sauce for attracting great talent to the industry – so did they hire them based on their industry knowledge? Or was it their potential?


Tradition vs Potential 

Recruiting for the LBM industry over the last 16 years, I certainly have a lot of stories I could share. Some are heartwarming, some are challenging, but some still surprise me – or should I say concern me.


What do We know about this wonderful industry? It has been built by dedicated, hardworking, ethical men and their families. Known for making some of their most important business deals with a simple handshake. Families have grown, companies have grown and been passed on to the next generation. These companies are the family tradition that has been followed for decades, even centuries.

Tradition runs deep! 


We love working with these companies, who wouldn’t. They check all the cultural boxes – family first, ethical, collaborative, customer-focused, the list goes on.

A typical Scorecard for the traditional lumberyard leader:


  • Must have industry knowledge

  • History of developing and promoting people

  • Full P&L, business acumen

  • Customer engagement


What if you remove #1?

In our current environment, what most see as logical, we would hire or promote people into leadership roles when they achieve the required proven history of success in the same industry, same customers, and same problem-solving. Not putting women in developmental leadership roles (dispatcher, warehouse manager, yard manager, production manager, operations manager, sales manager) combined with the proven history of success mandate – creates barriers to entry for more female leaders.


What is the alternative?


Hiring based on potential. Focus your hiring evaluation on skills and expertise. Our industry consistently overvalues industry experience, significantly detrimental to leadership quality and capability. The tradition of measuring the amount of “sawdust in their veins” is loaded with emotional biases, increasing the risk of the hire. What is your greatest strength? Industry knowledge – a strength you should be able train up quickly. What is your leadership teams’ greatest gap/weakness? These are the skills to be focused on. Look for the professionals that bring exceptional financial acumen, leadership, continuous improvement achievements, and history developing and promoting people.


This sounds easy and makes perfect sense, right? Then why do the best leaders, those with excellent mentoring and talent development skills, leading growing and successful companies, continue to hide behind “must have industry knowledge”? Whether it is an actual risk or a perception of risk is a fair question when comparing the skills and expertise across various industries’ talent. 


What are the challenges in celebrating the legacy and tradition of a 50- or 100-year-old company? Embracing tradition is centered on not changing. Celebrating inertia. How does a company drive innovation, continuous improvement, and attract a youthful workforce by celebrating inertia? It’s difficult. Most companies struggle to the point of this being at the center of their largest strategic problems. 


The answer is not using old solutions to solve new problems. 

Use your leadership skills to share your industry knowledge with curious, engaging, coachable professionals. Focus on those who have the drive and desire to make a difference. Share your family history, share your success story – celebrate it! But not at the expense of growth and success. Attract people that possess the passion to grow, relevant business acumen and leadership skills you desire – hire them! You can teach them what a 2x4 is. It was a snail’s pace at which you learned from 1990- 2010. Now we laugh about the flip phones, while remembering how encyclopedias were only for the smartest households when you started your career. The speed of business and technology has allowed 25–28-year-olds to learn industry nuances at lightning speed. Your competition knows this and is embracing it. 


Top 3 steps of hiring and building great leaders:


  • Build your talent pool with candidates from outside and inside the industry

  • Weigh high potential and skills expertise over industry experience

  • Reconsider how your traditional culture might be a drag on your cultural and business growth 


To continued success – Michele

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