Business partners John Gwaltney and Bryan Miller are looking to make their company, Virtus Family of Companies, VFOC, both bigger and “owner-independent.” That latter phrase means what it sounds like: an organization that can operate without them in the office. The goal, says Bryan Miller, is that “we can be less involved and our team will be exceptional, and it will be rote.”
To most home improvement company owners, singed in putting out the daily fires, that must read like Fantasyland. But it’s not if you’re willing to learn about HR, hiring, retention, and training. So now, at a critical growth stage, they’ve just gone through a “lengthy process of finding people and interviewing them and hiring a recruiter” and brought someone on to manage production. Why not promote somebody inside? “I could wait a year and a half to develop that skill in current staff but that isn’t going to help me grow the company,” Miller says. In other words, sometimes there’s no choice.
Promoting someone from inside vs. going outside is not mutually exclusive. Smart companies put the word out inside as well as look around outside for available talent. Every manager will probably sooner or later make the mistake of promoting, from some sense of obligation, a person who isn’t really right for a job only to watch them crash and burn. It happens more in sales than anywhere.
But there’s also the fact that you don’t want good people leaving.
People tend to stay at a company where their skills and talents are recognized and rewarded by advancement. That recognition should be the product not so much of managerial whim as of a system, with training, that shows people a path along which they can advance.
A handful of remodeling and home improvement companies have this down to a science. Neil Kelly Company, based in Portland, Oregon, is the textbook example. Neil Kelly Co. employs two hundred people. Most started in some job other than the one they now have. HR Vice President Julia Spence, for instance, began as a part-time receptionist. She explains that it’s all about making opportunities and training people for them. Neil Kelly offers about fifty different classes, anywhere from an hour to two hours long. It’s not only top management that teaches—owner Tom Kelly does one on company financials—but anybody at Neil Kelly that happens to be good at something. Know building codes? How about spec writing? Maybe you’re good at helping homeowners sort through the myriad of decisions involved in a kitchen remodel? Okay, so teach it. HR organizes the classes and keeps transcripts, Spence says, “so we know what people have taken and what they might want to take.”
Not An Either/Or
Good companies make room for good people to grow. But what if, like VFOC, you’re in a hurry to grow and there’s nobody at the company who can fill a position such as production manager? Then you go outside and hire. Neil Kelly Co., Spence says, advertises a new opening both inside and outside. It’s not an either/or. Plus, if someone inside gets the job, “he knows he competed with the rest of the world to get it.”
In some parts of the country, hiring has gotten so intense that you don’t really have the luxury of deciding whether to hire internally or go outside. When Catherine Honigsberg, General Manager at Maggio Roofing, in Takoma Park, MD, needs someone to work in the office, she contacts a temping agency. Temps know that, in effect, they’re auditioning for a full-time admin job. “I can’t write an ad and put it out there and find someone,” Honigsberg says. When she has, “they’re not competent.” On the other hand, “in production, we always promote from within,” Honigsberg, herself the former production manager, says, because the company’s installation standard is so rigorous. And salespeople? “My only hope is to find someone who’s moving into the area. Or someone young at another company who wants to move up.”
“In order to get to where you need to get to,” says Brian Elias, CEO of Michigan window/roofing company Hansons Windows “you have to have a training program. [Employees are] not going to get there by osmosis.”
Training costs money, even if that money is just time spent.