Recently, I had a chance to catch up with a former co-worker. We worked for a small manufacturing company that made mobility equipment like scooters, walkers and other devices to assist people with disabilities. We enjoyed the company because the product literally changed lives for the better. I was young and I learned about production scheduling, interviewing, assembly and inventory management. It was a great chance for me to gain experience.
One of the organization’s big challenges was getting the right people in the right positions. It was a family owned business, which I liked, but only family could be in upper level leadership positions. That meant even the most talented employee could not advance past a certain level. Leadership often struggled with driving results.
One family member was in charge of regional sales. The problem was he’s not a sales person (by his declaration). He was rather innovative and came up with new product ideas. A few of his concepts even turned into rather popular products. Unfortunately, he was on the road selling. That didn’t work well and revenues suffered.
Another family member was in charge of engineering. His prototypes were solid and he understood how to effectively turn concepts into reality. However, he was not as adept at budgets, blueprints and project management. As a result product development had unusually long cycles and in some cases things just never got done.
The owner’s daughter was initially in charge of accounting, then transportation, production and eventually she was named president. I think it was a grooming technique used to expose her to all areas of the company. Unfortunately, her time in each position was short. As a result she never learned to drive accountability.
I was in the organization for about five years and worked in two departments. I remember wondering what things would have been like if others had been given a chance to work in positions that better suited their skills. It taught me a few lessons about leadership:
- When people are given tasks they fear or are unwilling to improve performance suffers.
- When there is no accountability the outcome will not be good.
- A good leader will find people with superior skill and let their expertise push the organization.
Looking back at my former employer, the focus was (and rightfully so) on sales and new product development. Unfortunately, the managers for those departments were not equipped to make things happen or hold people accountable and it drained company resources.
A few years after I left they shut their doors. It was sad, but looking back it was time. Everyone eventually moved on and took jobs in areas that better fit them. This was my first lesson on the importance of getting the right person for the right job. To this day I share this lesson with my career clients.