Who Will Load the Truck?
When a position comes open in your company, do you promote someone from the inside, or go outside to find the talent?
At Lang Masonry, we got a surprise near the end of 2012, when a project manager (PM) decided to leave the company. Although we understood why the employee left as he had family issues, that never made it any easier to find a replacement – especially, when he was doing a good job for us. So, for weeks, my top staff and I studied whether to fill the position by promoting from within or looking outside the company.
Both options had advantages and disadvantages. The positives of hiring outside were: We could bring in someone who already had the skill set to be a PM, so he would not need training and could hit the ground running. He may also bring in outside knowledge from experience with other companies that could be incorporated into our systems. Negatives: An outsider may not be as loyal to our company as someone who grew up in the company. I had a huge concern as to whether he would fit into our company culture when, after all, our existing foremen are the culture.
Positives of promoting from within: An existing foreman would be very dedicated to the company, as the foremen who were being considered have 14 or more years with our company and tremendous people skills. They would already know all our incentive and management systems. Negatives: The paperwork required for high-profile jobs today is intense, and none of our foremen have more than a high school education. Therefore, extensive training is needed to become a PM instead of a field foreman. The two jobs have quite a different understanding of what is needed in managing a project. It would require more of my time, personally, during the training process, and I was already buried trying to manage four companies.
This had to be one of the most difficult decisions I have made in my 28 years of business. I kept going back and forth, while soliciting advice from my staff and peers. I also had to consider my past experiences. Over the years, when I had brought people in from the outside, they would work well for a while, but they always wanted to go home as they were not comfortable living in Waterford, Ohio. I guess that what I considered paradise was just an old country hick town to them.
Another thought kept running through my mind: "Who will load the truck at 2 a.m.?" That came from an oil and gas conference I attended during which the speaker, Brooks Miller – a young guy who was a growing star in his father's very successful business – told us what his father kept beating into him time and again. His father, Ken Miller, would say, "Son there is only one thing worse than having to load a truck at 2 a.m. – having a competitor load it."
I knew that if I picked one of our own foremen, that person would be willing to "load the truck." Therefore, after considering all the advice of others, and going back and forth several times, I picked one of my foremen – an inside guy.
Who we promote to help run our companies is a big deal. Time will tell if I have made the right decision. There are some foremen who have been with me longer; however, in the end, it isn't about tenure, it's about who I believe deep in my gut has what it takes, right now, to do what I need done.
In the past, I have talked about promoting from within and the importance of it, but the bottom line is this: You can only promote from inside if you have someone who is qualified (or has the potential and willingness to be trained to become qualified) to do the job. If not, you must go outside. In my case, I luckily had options to explore both scenarios. It was just a matter of gathering the information, then having the courage to do what was best for the future of the company. It may not be the most popular choice among all of my people, but one way or another, we will keep "loading that truck."