Terry McKenna is principal and co-founder of Employee Performance Strategies Inc. (EPS), based in Chantilly, Va. You can contact him at (888) 788-9090 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m asked many times by clients: “What’s the most critical element to store-level execution?” My answer’s always the same: store leadership — be it dealer or manager. Another question I’m asked quite often is: “If you could fix one thing in our company, what would it be?” Same answer: store leadership. I always get a surprised look when I respond with leadership, since almost everyone expects me to say store employees. Let me be clear, store employees are absolutely critical to store success. After all, the majority of the contact made with customers in the store is done by someone other than the boss: store employees. So why do I think the boss is more important than employees? Because employees take their cues from the boss. No other single aspect of the bosses behavior that has been measured has a greater impact on profits than bosses who “walk their talk” since it directly affects employees trust and behavior. That is the link. Selection Process: Many companies have done a great job over the past 10-years improving their dealer selection process. Standards have been raised, business plans are now required, and the selection criteria is much more structured and demanding. Sadly, the same cannot be said for selecting store managers to operate company-operated stores.
A healthy company requires a good pipeline of talent working its way up to higher positions. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have in place: succession planning, career development and leadership development for their up-and-coming store employees who are flashing management potential. If you’re not polishing your “diamonds in the rough” how will they be ready when they’re needed? Many companies are unable to distinguish their high-potential store employees from their high-performance ones. And it’s usually the high-performance employees, not the high-potential, who are promoted to store manager. High-performance employees are the ones who perform their job very efficiency, are reliable and require little supervision. As a result, they get promoted to store manager and many fail miserably, leaving the people who promoted them scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. The real damage is done when the high-performance employee is promoted to store manager, is uncomfortable and struggles in their new role, resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety, causing them to quit. You just lost a great employee who felt like a fish out of water because they were unfairly cast into a role they were completely unprepared for. Being a great high-performance store employee does not guarantee that they will become a great store manager. The difference between high-performance employees and high-potential employees is that the high-performance employee are very good at performing their jobs, while the high-potential employees have demonstrated measurable skills and abilities beyond their current jobs. Many high-performers actually don’t have high-potential. In my experience, no more than 30 percent of those employees you would identify as high-performers would turn out to be high-potential.
Process vs. Guess Work A systematic process will help your company identify your high-potential from your high-performers. There are many elements to a successful succession plan, but here are the big three:
Communication — let your high-potentials know that they have been identified for bigger and better things within the company. See how they react to the news: excited, energized and confident or scared to death?
Provide hands on experience — the best test of all is real life experience. Let your high-potentials take a safe and supported “road test” of what it would be like to be a store manager. Don’t throw them head first into the water without a safety vest. Provide opportunities and exposure but with a “walk before you run” mentality.
Mentor — assign a mentor that will help your high-potentials to understand his or her experiences, learn from them, and put them in the proper context so that their experiences will translate to greater wisdom and improved performance as they continue their development.