Invest In The Other Side of the Desk

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Few people join the ranks of management prepared for the totality of the task because few companies in our industry invest the time and resources necessary to grow their next generation of managers and leaders.

June 01, 2003


Heather McCune, Editor in Chief


Does anyone ever forget the feeling that comes the first time you sit across the desk from an individual with the power to determine your professional future? On the outside the image is of a confident, qualified candidate in total control. On the inside it's a little different. The heart races, the stomach churns, hands sweat and knees knock. There's nothing like a job interview to test a person's physical and emotional mettle.

Few interviewees know that on the other side of the desk the situation isn't a whole lot different. On the outside the interviewer appears completely in charge of the situation. On the inside, the interviewer often experiences the same physiological responses to what is for him or her also a stressful situation.

The reason for the shared pain is simple - most managers are promoted to the position because they demonstrated excellent performance in their previous positions. They mastered a specific set of skills in the disciplines of home building and for this past performance, were promoted to a title that usually includes the word manager.

Manager is a loaded title in business today and often a difficult transition for any individual new to the role. Suddenly, the behaviors that had defined success in the past are what now hold back an effective manager. It's no longer enough for you to make the extra call, review the numbers one more time, recheck the plans and work faster, harder and more carefully than others. As a manager, the job isn't to do, but to motivate, direct and assist others to ensure that the work gets done correctly, on time and within budget.

Few people join the ranks of management prepared for the totality of the task because few companies in our industry invest the time and resources necessary to grow their next generation of managers and leaders. There is still the "sink or swim," "learn it the hard way" (like I did), "school of hard knocks" mentality in the residential construction industry. How stupid this is. The money wasted, hours forsaken and talent lost by this adherence to the way we've always done it is criminal in an industry still crying about, and coping with, shortages of labor and management personnel. We're creating our own nightmare while still looking over our shoulders for someone to blame.

Enough already. If you make no other change in your business during the last six months of 2003, commit to putting a plan in place for 2004 to help new managers - hired or promoted - better meet the challenges before them. The reason for doing so isn't altruistic at all; do it to improve the bottom line. Growing a company - or growing the bottom line - isn't going to happen without good managers and a great leader. Increasingly, the job of a great leader is to grow the talent necessary to keep all the other indicators - customer satisfaction, sales, employee satisfaction, construction costs, trade partner satisfaction, margins, etc. - headed in the right direction.

Ara Hovnanian, CEO of K. Hovnanian Companies, knows there is no task more urgent in his rapidly growing home building empire than devoting the energy needed to develop the company's next generation of managers and leaders. "The focus on people is clearly a major part of my job," he says. "Succession Planning Committee meetings are a great way for me to regularly, consistently and systematically get to know our future leaders." It is also a way for future leaders to learn from those now in the company's management ranks.

Learn from K. Hovnanian's example. Yes, its program is big, involves a lot of people, countless hours of staff time and many layers of management, but it is that way because of the dynamics of that organization. Create a program that fits the dynamics of your business. It doesn't need to be as formal, but it must be as effective. Nothing else you do will deliver the same results - today or in the future.

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