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Your Best and Brightest Are Hiding in Plain Sight


Imagine your business was like Tom Hanks in BIG: you grew overnight. Suddenly, you’re stressed about maintaining momentum and staying on top (not to mention that your shoes don’t fit). But while you’re focusing on winning in the market, it’s important to remember to invest in the employees who helped you get there.

Sudden growth spurts can leave companies playing catch-up with onboarding, training, and professional development programs. This is problematic, but what’s worse is that some startups never get around to investing in these programs because it’s seen as costly and – in some cases – “uncool”.

We’ve doubled our corporate staff in the last two years and we know that professional development (or lack thereof) directly affects our bottom line. That’s why COO Erik Church launched the Leadership Way development program in 2014: to ensure our people get training for the job they’re doing and the job they want to move into.

There’s solid evidence that developing internal staff for leadership roles is good business sense. Studies find that while external hires might seem enticing, they cost more and are likelier to leave. They also receive significantly poorer job performance evaluations over the first two years on the job, compared to people promoted from within.

With that in mind, I ask you: what’s “uncool” about saving money, retaining staff, and amassing a team of creative problem-solvers?

Exactly: nothing. So here’s how to develop a training program that will turn your current employees into a leadership dream team.

If you can’t hire from within, ask yourself, “Why?”

Erik says that when he started working at our biggest franchise operation, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, “there were hardly any employees to be promoted, because the company had not invested in them.”

That’s a painful statement, but it’s true. In those salad days, instead of viewing our employees as potential leaders, we only ever saw them in their current roles. We pigeon-holed them — and as a result, we stunted our own growth.

Today, we take a specific approach to hiring. Every position at O2E Brands has promotion opportunities, and job candidates are considered for his or her contribution now, and in the future. They show a strong desire to develop new leadership skills and they possess the traits of someone who will fit within our collaborative corporate culture.

Executive recruiter John Swan uses what he calls the SWAN Formula for hiring: Smart, Works Hard, Ambitious and Nice. We look for people that are sharp and ask a lot of questions; they are accustomed to hard work without constant supervision; they are ambitious and forward looking, but they know they have to throw themselves into their current job; and they’re nice — which, in our world, means they are aligned with our core values. We have our own acronym for those values: PIPE. That stands for passion, integrity, professionalism and empathy.

Don’t let average breed average

Business consultant and author Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus.” At O2E Brands, we say that average leaders hire people who won’t challenge them, creating a weak culture and environment filled with employees of average skill level. Great leaders, on the other hand, hire people who can and will replace them so that they can move on to their next great role.

And spoiler alert: without new challenges and opportunities, your best people will leave.

Our people are encouraged to take on new roles about every three years. As Bidwell says in his study, it takes about two years to get up to speed in a new position. We believe it takes about another year to grow into a leadership role.

Picture your job without you in it

Leadership coach Peter Baeklund shared this exchange: A CFO asks a CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” The CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Some people will stick with a dead-end job, even if they’re not growing or developing — and that’s sad for everyone. This ties back in with another Collins idea: to think of your organization or your next project like a flywheel that takes tremendous pushing to gain momentum. You’re going to need the collective passion and talent of your best people to get going and keep going.

Every employee is expected to take advantage of our professional development classes and training, and to guide another team member to fill their shoes. We even take advantage of vacation time to groom the future generation. When any one of us goes away, we “go dark,” which means we become unreachable. Going dark means that someone else is responsible for your work, and it’s an opportune time for that replacement to work on their new role, and on their leadership skills.

So, no matter where you’re at in business – scrappy startup or veteran – invest in your people by training them properly and developing them professionally. Having a team that is always reaching for more will provide your business with forward momentum. None of these words have a “cool” ring, but the impact on your bottom line will be pretty damn awesome.


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