By Mark Rheaume
As I think about it, it has become increasingly important to me to help find the next generation of industry leaders.
When asked “What keeps you up at night?” my answer is generally how our industry will find its next leaders. It occurs to me that way back in 1982 a wonderful company provided me an opportunity that has provided me a fulfilling career in an industry I still love today. What did they do so right for me (and many others) to create the organization’s future leaders? Here is what I believe they did right and, as a process, it still “holds up” today for any organization.
I was first hired as an “Inventory Control Specialist.” What is that? It turns out I was hired to guarantee that there was sufficient inventory to fulfill orders while assuring that the warehouse did not require additions on an annual basis.
That was the role that was needed to be filled in this organization and it found me through the traditional channel of college graduates looking for work. My competition was other college graduates, people who had recently left the military and people looking to move to the organization from other companies.
I also learned that the company had wisely searched within its own ranks, a step that should never be overlooked. Organizations are full of talented people who simply need the chance to do more. They may exist on other shifts and should not be disregarded or discounted. Bottom line, the world is full of talented people.
Once the right people have been identified, the second step is to train them and keep them engaged. A wise mentor of mine told me, early in my career, that the world is run by people who show up. I understood from that point on that no matter how talented a person is, they cannot help an organization unless they are there to do the work. Lou Gehrig got a chance to play because someone took a day off. He played in 2,130 consecutive games and the guy who took a day off (Wally Pipp) never played for the Yankees again!
I also learned that the needs of the organization take precedence over an individual’s personal needs. I know there are times when an individual has to take care of personal issues and a good organization accommodates those needs. I am talking about teaching leaders that there will be times when extra effort and time are necessary and expected.
The leaders I know do not set their work hours by any clock. They generally work until their work is done each day because they are truly engaged. They also pursue any opportunity to learn. If they are “done” early one day they will spend time with employees to learn more about the processes and daily work flow to deepen their understanding.
If your days are long and you find it difficult not to watch the clock then you should find a different job! Training and engagement cannot be over emphasized. They are the basis for any leaders to build on carrying forward throughout their career.
In the leadership development process, it is important to remember that mistakes will happen. My mentors were wise in ways I sometimes did not understand. They often told me to go out and “skin your knees,” which I learned meant that they trusted me and wanted me to “push” myself to learn more and try things that may result in mistakes.
Understand that they never put me in positions where my mistakes would result in consequences the organization could not recover from. Rather, they were real learning opportunities and often the best learning experiences.
Organizations do not do this today (at least not enough!). In a mirror of today’s society, we want to wrap everyone in a protective shell and keep all the “bad things” away. This is not realistic and prevents people from learning that mistakes do happen and that they are able to correct those errors and move forward. Without knowing this, our young leaders will not learn to persevere and certainly will not learn to explore their ability to improvise and work with others to achieve desired outcomes.
As employees progress, be sure to reward them for their accomplishments. I do not think the best reward is money. Leaders want recognition and respect for what they do. They want responsibility to make a difference while working with diverse groups of people. The money will follow, as has been documented often.
The people you want as leaders will leave if the primary rewards are monetary. Recognizing them for something as simple as perfect attendance sets them apart and breeds a deep sense of loyalty and an atmosphere of ownership.
Leaders also want to have input into how the organization is run and will be run well into the future. They crave open and honest feedback as their performance is evaluated. If you simply give them the highest rating across the board, they feel cheated because they know their strengths and weaknesses. They want your help and insight into how they can overcome and strengthen the performance areas they struggle with. It makes them better and reinforces their respect for you as their mentor.
Finally, challenge prospective leaders to be better. “Experts” today espouse about how best to challenge people. Some get it, but usually the complex ways they write about it make me laugh. It is not exactly rocket science! In my mind it is rather simple: Support them and move them around the organization.
How did I end up working with mail and postage? At first, I thought I was being punished for parking my car in the wrong spot or something! In retrospect, I know the answer was that it was the next assignment in my development. The absolute best operations executive I ever worked with had a plan. He moved his managers into new departments every three years or so to give them an opportunity to experience each stage of the operation fully.
I later learned that his complicated “formula” for determining who went where was to move people into positions they complained about most. Thus my move into the shipping and mailing role! In short, if you know so darn much, you do it.
This proved to be brilliant for the organization from many perspectives. We were all free to employ new approaches to achieve success. This expression of trust facilitated learning, engagement, and understanding. Organizations would do well to challenge their young leaders at all levels in similar ways.
I still benefit from the numerous careers I was able to have in a single organization. The great experiences I shared are still with me today and although I worked hard, what I remember most today is going home with aches in my sides from laughing so hard each day with my peers.
Engagement and education are the keys. This is where businesses today need to focus. It worries me that organizations today seem to be looking for people who can come in and immediately know an industry/role as they see it. Selfishly, they seek this in the name of cost savings (less time spent getting these people “up-to-speed”). To me the truth is that they do not want to invest in their people or their organizations.
When did we stop knowing that we should hire people who can learn and absorb the right way to do things from great mentors? This takes time and effort most organizations seem unwilling to provide. It requires tough decisions and evaluations of employees. Instead, organizations focus on shortsighted goals and performance that support personal rather than organizational needs.
If companies are willing to follow the steps outlined above, they will be rewarded with employees who are engaged, loyal, motivated to learn and respectful of the organizational leaders providing the “lessons”.
Mark Rheaume is the National Postal Affairs Director & Partnership Liaison Officer at AccuZIP, Inc. (www.accuzip.com), Atascadero, Calif. Reach him at email@example.com. A national software company. AccuZIP has provided feature rich solutions to manage Contact Data Quality, Address Hygiene, USPS Postal Presorting and Compliance and Mail Tracking and Reporting for over two decades. Its solutions are used by many industry verticals to streamline, standardize and simplify processes associated with data entry, data management and multi-channel communications.
About AccuZIP, Inc.
AccuZIP, Inc., a national software company based in Atascadero, CA, provides feature rich solutions to manage Contact Data Quality, Address Hygiene, USPS Postal Presorting and Compliance and Mail Tracking and Reporting. Our solutions are designed to be utilized across many industry verticals to streamline, standardize and simplify processes associated with data entry, data management and multi-channel communications. AccuZIP products and services make it easier for businesses to get their message out to the right people at the right location when they need to most. Now in our third decade of doing business, the company has built an outstanding reputation for value, service and innovation. For more information visit www.accuzip.com .
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