Keep your company fresh with the best talent.
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series. Part 1, which appeared in the November-December 2008 issue of Precast Inc., covered the first four of seven steps of promotion and advancement: the program, identifying candidates, approaching the candidates and considering more than one candidate. Part 2 looks at the final three steps: preparing the individuals for advancement, helping them succeed and what to do when it doesn’t work out.
A management position just recently came open at your plant and, rather than searching outside the company for a replacement, you have decided to promote a longtime employee. A new hire may be more experienced at the position, but you are sticking with someone you know and who knows the business to move up to a new skill.
Can he or she handle the new duties? You can do several things to give yourself and the person in question some assurance of success.
Preparing the candidate
When discussing the details of an advancement with the selected candidate, explain what the new job will entail to make sure the employee comprehends the responsibilities. “Some people may want to take themselves out of consideration when they understand what would be required in the new job,” explains Cynthia Guy, a partner with the HR consulting firm Crystal Clear Concepts, St. Clair Shores, Mich.
Hopefully, according to Joe Buys, also a partner with Crystal Clear Concepts, you can minimize failure after promoting an employee by providing responsibilities along the way before a formal advancement to see how the person handles things and demonstrates leadership ability.
Also consider the idea of having two advancement tracks. That is, when companies consider promotions and advancements, they usually tend to revolve around supervising or managing people. However, many qualified individuals have a lot of technical skills and can provide a lot more value to your company by being promoted in ways that don’t necessarily involve having to supervise others.
Some people have good “people skills” and can thrive managing people. Others have good technical skills and can thrive in other ways. Guy reports on a company that takes advantage of this understanding. “Realizing that some people are technically oriented and others are people-oriented, one company set up two advancement tracks: one for people who wanted to advance on the equipment side, and one for those who wanted to become supervisors and managers,” she says. “Both groups were accorded the same status, and both received the same amount of training. Of course, the training was different.”
One precaster that takes the time to prepare employees for advancement is Atlantic Precast Concrete, Tullytown, Pa. “If someone is interested, we let him know what he’s in for,” says Scott Ditcher, operations manager. “A promotion can sound good, because it involves more money, but the person needs to know everything that is involved. He may end up deciding that he doesn’t want to take on the additional responsibilities.”
Gainey’s Concrete Products, Holden, La., is also careful about properly grooming employees for advancement. In fact, the company establishes goals each year. This year, the goals for Lisa Roache, vice president of sales, involve improving hiring, training and retention practices in the company. “One of the best ways to retain employees is to let them know that there are opportunities for advancement,” she explains.
Many of the company’s employees have moved up in the organization. One employee, for example, started out as a receptionist and is now the controller. Two other people who started out as assistants to Roache are now managers in the company. “We just continued to give them a little bit more responsibility over time,” she says.
Before moving someone up, the company explains clearly what the job entails so the person can decide whether to make the move. “You don’t want someone just saying, ‘OK, I’ll give it a shot,’” explains Roache.
To train and prepare a person for a promotion, Firebaugh Precast, Colorado Springs, Colo., provides some opportunities to experience what the position would actually entail before actually moving into it. “In most cases, if we are considering someone for a new position, he or she probably already has most of the management skills and technical skills he or she will need,” explains Randy Lindsay-Brisbin, vice president and general manager. “It’s more just a matter of working out the details. We may provide some trial assignments, and we may arrange for him to shadow the person who currently has the position.”
Firebaugh has five additional plants around the country. As such, there may be times when the company will send a person to a different plant to work with someone there who has the position being considered to get a feel for the job. This may be for two or three days or even up to a couple of weeks. “We have found that getting some on-the-job training at a different facility can be helpful,” explains Lindsay-Brisbin. “You get to see things through a different set of eyes.”
Making it in the new job
Selecting someone for a new job is not the end of the process. In fact, it’s only part of it, because it is also important to make sure the person succeeds. According to Jonna Contacos-Sawyer, president of HR Consultants, Johnstown, Pa., when moving a person into a new position, it is a good idea to provide that person with a mentor or coach to help him get his feet on the ground. “This person should be in addition to the person he reports to,” she says.
Training someone to be a supervisor can be difficult, adds Ditcher. “A lot of people are used to doing the work themselves, and it can be difficult to get them comfortable delegating things to other people,” he explains. “They want to keep trying to do everything themselves. As the work piles up because of the additional responsibilities, it becomes too much for them.”
Dealing with backlash from former co-workers can also be a problem. “It is important to explain to the person that he may still be friends with his former co-workers,” suggests Ditcher. However, the person has to be able to differentiate and to let the people who were once co-workers and are now working for him that the relationship is now more about work than friendship. In some cases, this may mean that the new supervisor has to sever the ties of being a friend.
To help newly promoted individuals deal with employees who used to be co-workers, Gainey’s provides a lot of training. “We have videos and books here,” she says. “We also provide outside training opportunities for them.” (See the sidebar “NPCA Introduces Precast University.”) In addition, for the first couple of times when the newly promoted individual either has to evaluate one of his employees or reprimand someone, the company arranges to have that person’s manager sit in with them to provide moral support.
To help new supervisors and managers succeed, Ditcher suggests the idea that their bosses can also be their mentors for a period of time, helping them get comfortable in the new job.
Another idea: Allow new supervisors to experiment with some of their own ways of doing things, even if they are different than you think they should be done or different than previous supervisors have done. This allows them to be themselves rather than being force-fitted into roles they may not be comfortable with. In addition, you may find that one person’s way actually works better – at least for that person.
When moving someone up, it is very important to provide him with really good objectives, suggests Roache. “Let them know in detail what you consider to be a definition of success,” she suggests. Example: “If you do this and accomplish these objectives within this period of time, you will be doing this job successfully.”
To help newly promoted people at Gainey’s get a good start, at the end of the first seven work days, the person’s manager sits down with him and goes over any questions or concerns that he may have. “We have a formal document that they fill out,” says Roache. On the eighth day, the person meets with a co-worker, someone who has been in the same position for a while. “This person also asks for any questions or concerns that the new person has.”
The company also conducts formal evaluations at 30 days, 60 days and 90 days. “During the 30-day evaluation, we tell them some areas where they need to focus for the next 30 days,” she says. “We then set some objectives for them to work on, and we discuss their progress during the 60-day evaluation. We then set additional objectives at that point, and we discuss their performance on these during the 90-day evaluation.” At 90 days, they receive some objectives to work on until the annual evaluation.
The specter of demotion
Despite a company’s best efforts, what happens if a newly promoted individual doesn’t fit well in his new position?
“If it doesn’t work out, it can be difficult to demote the person and reintegrate him in his old job,” says Buys.
Lindsay-Brisbin agrees. “If a person doesn’t work out, it is tough to deal with,” he says. If the person is a good employee, it may just be that the “fit” wasn’t right. As such, the company would still want to retain this person. Sometimes, however, he says it’s not difficult to move the person back to the old job or a different job. Rather than saying that the company is not happy with the person’s performance in the new position, the employee himself says he is not happy in the new position and would prefer to move back to his old job.
Lindsay-Brisbin may also explain that it might have been his fault for moving the person into the new job. “The last thing I want to do is create an environment where employees are afraid to stretch themselves or try new jobs for fear of being fired if it doesn’t work out,” he explains.
Roache is also sensitive to situations like this. “When you are considering a person for a move, and that person is considering the move, it is important to have a safety net,” she says. “In some cases, we let people take a new position on a temporary trial basis. We are doing that right now. We have a receptionist who is working as a delivery assistant for a three-month period.” If it works out, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. The company told her that she could have her old job back if the new one doesn’t work.
There is a difference between moving a good employee who doesn’t work out in a new position back to his previous position and moving a poor employee from job to job, though. “We don’t move people from department to department if they are problems,” explains Roache. “If a person is a problem in one department, he is probably going to be a problem in another department. In most cases, it simply means that the person is just not a good fit for the company as a whole.”
This is why the company, when it hires in the first place, looks for people whose characteristics mesh with the company. “If they do, then we feel this person can succeed in every area of the company,” she says. One very important characteristic the company considers during the hiring process is a work ethic. “Since we are a small company with only about 45 employees, people need to wear different hats and do many different jobs.” This, in fact, helps with moving people into new jobs, because they probably already have experience doing things beyond their basic job requirements.
A truly successful company spends as much time and effort on its promotion and advancement efforts as it does on its recruiting and hiring efforts. These two efforts need to work in tandem.
William Atkinson, Carterville, Ill., is a freelance writer who covers business and safety issues