Training staff to be empowered, involved and empathetic means success in the present and in the future.
Although it was years away—10 to be exact—from when Jerry Grimaud, president of Lawrence Fabric & Metal Structures Inc., St. Louis, Mo., became the company’s sole owner in 2005, he didn’t waste any time considering an exit plan. Knowing a transition was inevitable, he began attending both local and national business seminars to explore his options. “One of the things I learned is that you cannot sell a company unless you have a good management team in position,” he says, “so, the whole time I owned the company, one of my focuses was to develop managers.”
Grimaud eventually transitioned out of ownership with an employee stock ownership plan, which was officially implemented in October 2015, and credits his confidence in the decision to the strength of his management team. “That’s what builds value,” he says. “Many small company owners wait to decide on an exit plan until they’re too old, and then all of a sudden their company doesn’t have a value because they don’t have a strong management team.”
Success from the start
To Grimaud, a successful manager:
- Is knowledgeable in all aspects of his or her division.
- Has the ability to manage people.
- Can relate to and be empathetic to his or her subordinates.
In addition to these qualities, Chris Fredericks, president of Top Value Fabrics, Carmel, Ind., describes a successful manager as someone whose department is full of people who perform well and look forward to coming to work.
So, how can a company build a management team that meets these standards? When searching for candidates, Fredericks looks for someone who is:
- Passionate about driving results
“During the interview process, we always try to paint a fully honest picture of the position and the culture; there shouldn’t be any surprises for a new employee once they’ve joined and learned how things really are here,” he says.
“We try to focus not only on ability but attitude,” Grimaud adds, explaining that he aims to bring interviewees back on three separate occasions to see if their demeanor changes from one day to another. “I once heard if a person is not polite to a waiter at a restaurant, he will not be polite to anyone, so it’s also a good idea to take interviewees to lunch to see how they interact with people,” he says.
Owners must lead managers by example, stresses Dan Niehaus, vice president of Miami Corp., Cincinnati, Ohio, cautioning family-owned businesses: “The No. 1 priority is that it has to be company first; look at it like a business—not a piggy bank or family bailout,” he says. “You can’t be funneling money out for yourself, paying family members more or hiring people who can’t do the work just because they’re family. Build a business with good people and processes and systems with checks and balances.”
Once a candidate is in position, the training begins—and, ideally, never ends. Fredericks’ approach includes an informal monthly discussion and coaching process. Grimaud looks for seminars and webinars that pertain to a certain topic. For example, his company’s insurance carrier recently sponsored a human resources (HR) seminar at the office. Presented to the management team on two separate days, topics included:
- Common mistakes of a new supervisor.
- Generational differences.
- Management’s responsibility for documentation, and how to prepare for and conduct a discipline meeting.
- Up-to-date meanings of common HR acronyms.
Cling to the core
Establishing company-wide core values can also reinforce the standards managers are expected to uphold. After narrowing down a list of more than 100 values Grimaud received from a consultant, he picked his top 10 and also asked employees to vote for their top 10 to see where there was overlap. Presented at a company meeting two years ago—and continually promoted ever since—the values hang on a banner in the plant and range from empathy and enthusiasm to loyalty and professionalism. “By making the values known to every employee, it is easier to make decisions when issues arise,” Grimaud says.
Whether training seasoned managers or hiring new employees, business owners should keep this guiding principle in mind: Small or big, a company is only as strong as its management style.
Holly Eamon, a former assistant editor on the Review, is a Minneapolis-based business writer and editor.