Character Counts: A Lesson Learned…the Hard Way
By Darryl Kemp CGR, CAPS
Last year, I was diagnosed with Scheuermann's Kyphosis, a congenital condition of the spine that required surgery and a year's recovery.
Before scheduling my surgery, I needed to make plans to keep my business going and to have the right team in place during my absence.
My company was small; two salespeople (I am one), a project manager, carpenter and my wife, who runs the office. We had many meetings to plan what needed to be done while I was recovering and how best to handle the year's work load while I was away.
Since the salesperson was the newest member of my team, I felt that our project manager would be the best person to leave in charge. He was the one most familiar with the day-to-day operations and company procedures.
Heading toward my surgery, I was confident with my team and felt comfortable letting them run the company. My salesperson knew the numbers, had many qualified leads to close and had fair follow-up skills. My project manager worked well with clients and knew the trade partners. The carpenter, who'd been with me the longest, knew the company's philosophies and the standards of quality I expected.
But as my surgery got closer, things changed.
It didn’t take long before there was a power struggle between my salesperson, who wanted to lead the team, and the project manager who I put in charge. I spoke to both of them and felt I had settled things about the company’s leadership, but I was wrong. Things continued to escalate until I had to let the salesperson go ― just three weeks before my surgery.
With the project manager now clearly in charge, I felt things would go a lot more smoothly.
I had a couple of jobs that just needed signatures. They would provide about five months worth of work, and I felt comfortable that my project manager could close those sales because part of his job is to get signatures on additional work orders. Having gotten through the power struggle, going into surgery I still had confidence in my team.
My surgery, performed earlier this year, went well. But my company didn't.
Several problems became apparent quickly and I had to return to work much earlier than anticipated. My confidence was gone as I realized that my employees had failed me miserably. They exhibited no leadership, no follow through and no commitment.
In my absence, my project manager had failed to close jobs or finish up any of the sales. I let him go soon after I returned to work. Then I found out that he was running his own projects — while using my company's assets.
It didn’t stop there. Because of the project manager's lack of leadership, the carpenter, who I had learned to trust, had lost his motivation and work ethic. So, I had to let him go, too.
I now had let almost all my employees go — something I hated to do, but an action I was forced into taking in order to preserve my company.
So what’s my lesson to other company owners after all this? Simple, character counts. Character is inside a person, skills and procedures can be taught.
When you’re hiring new employees, hire people who have strong character and a good work ethic. You can teach them the rest. I learned this the hard way.
Darryl Kemp CGR, CAPS, is president of Blackberry Builders, Inc., a full-service remodeling company based in Elburn, Ill. The company's range of custom-built work includes kitchens, baths, room additions, basements and specialty trim. For more information, contact e-mail Kemp at email@example.com, call him at 630-557-2526 or visit the Blackberry Builders Web site at www.blackberrybuilders.com.
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