Over the years, we have doggedly reminded wholesalers to build a team of the best and brightest. Some readers have taken our suggestions to heart and have created processes to find the best people needed to grow their businesses. Thus far, we have not one wholesaler express regret about the strategy, though we have heard of problems with individual hires. This is to be expected since hiring, in our experience, is like a batting average where .400 is pretty good. Others have not embraced this concept and, generally, it has been our observation that their performance has not been good as those with consciously, well-built teams. There are a bunch of moving parts that drive a company’s performance, and the team is but one of those moving parts.
Some thoughts on where we are going
The future will be different than the past: Almost every facet of your business will need to be reevaluated going forward. The need for good people, we believe, will continue. The role of bricks and mortar will change. The role of the Internet will evolve and grow. The role of the inside and outside salesperson will change. The importance of delivery will grow, and the delivery times will shrink. We think the wholesalers of the future will focus on selling and fulfilling. They will assemble whatever skills and capabilities that are needed to optimize selling and fulfilling.
As wholesalers build their go-forward business plans, nothing should be considered to be a “given.” The rate of change is accelerating. We first became aware of this concept in the book “Future Shock.” It’s like jumping out of an airplane, you keep dropping faster and faster until you reach terminal velocity, beyond which “faster” is not possible due to the drag of the atmosphere. There is probably some version of that for our industry, but for now, we think things will continue to move faster and faster.
Full employment: Where those willing and able to work are employed is here or looming on the horizon, depending upon which economist you believe, so get configured to spend more time attracting, recruiting, screening and hiring than you have in recent times. Some wholesalers are automating processes or outsourcing functions to reduce their need for people.
Outsourcing: We think outsourcing can work well in many areas, but outsourcing is not the “set it and forget it” dream that many outsource providers claim. Someone within the wholesaler’s organization must be tasked with managing the outsource relationship since quality cannot be compromised. This level of involvement can vary by the provider you are working with and even country they reside in. The idea is to determine what task should be done by your team and what tasks are better done by outsourcing. We think there are a very small number of core-competency tasks that must be done “in-house,” but that varies widely from company to company. For example, you might consider outsourcing your content creation to our team.
Paying at market to attract: Over the years, our industry has often been able to control costs by sometimes hiring people at below-market rates. It would be naive to think this will continue into a future of full employment. You will not be able to attract good people at under-market pay rates. As in many things in life, with people you often get what you pay for.
Retaining quality people: This is not all about money, but you should assume it will be impossible to retain good people over the long haul at below-market pay rates. Paying market rates may sound scary, but the idea is to insist on getting what you pay for in the process. We have heard many stories of replacing three people with two really good people. The key to making that work is getting high-performing people in place, then fairly rewarding those high-performing people. When you pay for performance, it is right and fair to expect performance!
Better supervisors: As you seek to improve the quality of the general population of your company, the experiment will probably fail if you don’t front-end the process with better quality supervision. In our experience, leaving people to their own devices results in a productivity hit. Having supervision present prior to opening the store often causes the store to be up and fully running as advertised. Having supervision present through closing often causes the store to be fully operational and productive until closing time, as expected.
Treat all of the team well while treating the best even better: Treating everyone the same has less risk of someone claiming that you were unfair to them. It also has the highest risk that your best people will seek fame and fortune somewhere else. Everyone’s contribution is important and valued. It is important to recognize those contributions with a simple thanks, fair pay and stable employment. Then, think of the handful of people who really drive the business and figure out ways to make them feel especially appreciated. It’s like in pro sports, you need good people at all positions, but some individuals drive the team to greatness and get rewarded for their impact on the team’s performance.
Owners, managers and supervisors are in the spotlight: This has always been true, but in today’s culture, the light is more intense than ever. Company leaders must assume that the team is taking pictures of everything you do, and recording everything you say for publication, without your knowledge or approval. Assume nothing is off the record. Frankly, there are bad actors in all industries, at all levels, whose actions will be moderated by this oversight, but it will also limit any sort of conversation outside of the weather. It is not appropriate, but that is becoming the norm.
Flexibility: Companies will be expected to become more flexible in their benefit packages, their compensation packages and their work policies. In our business, offering flexibility to our team has allowed us access to high-quality people who do not or cannot fit into traditional work situations. Many companies fail in this process by not setting the expectation that the employee perform to make their value worthy of the complexity that the flexibility has introduced.
Labor laws aren’t always common sense: As you work to evolve your policies, work with your labor attorney to make sure you are in compliance with all the laws and regulations that are in place.
Start now: The future is upon us, so, you should be thinking about what you want to be going forward and how you will get there. As we said above, we think you start with what you are selling and whom you are selling it to. Then, how you are getting the product to the customer as efficiently as possible.