Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jay Goltz - lessons from hiring & firing 8 production managers

Jay Goltz is a seasoned entrepreneur who in his spare time writes for the You're The Boss blog in the New York Times. In this post, Goltz talks about his long-ago struggles to find a suitable production manager for his custom-frame shop in Chicago.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is struggling to find a production manager to run his small factory. The conversation brought back painful memories of my own struggles, many years ago, to find someone to oversee my factory.

At the time, I was trying to delegate so I could move on to working on the business instead of in the business. These were not the good, old days. I was in my early 30s, and the company was growing quickly, perhaps too quickly. Things were out of control. I worked long hours, had constant problems, was stressed out all day — and I was going through production managers the way Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands.

In one four-year period, I went through eight. Their tenures lasted anywhere from three weeks to a year. Believe me, as I write this, it sounds as nuts to me as I’m sure it does to you. But I learned three very important lessons that turned the situation around completely — and I do mean completely. My current production manager has been with me for more than 15 years, and his predecessor was here for five years. My factory is a well-oiled machine, and I do very little of the oiling....

[After trying and failing with the eight prior production managers], I spent a lot more time looking for the right person and checking references (which is not a waste of time). I spent months training him. I continued to manage. And it worked. So here are the three lessons:

1. Hiring. I was very bad at it. I was young and naïve, and I didn’t understand that a custom-order factory like mine is very different from a widget factory. If you don’t have the right person, it isn’t going to work. And you might have to go through 200 résumés to find the right person.

2. Training. I thought that I could hire the person, point in the right direction, and move on to other things. I was not delegating, I was relegating — giving it away. A smart consultant summed it up for me accurately: “Jay, you are hiring a production manager, and you think you’re hiring a C.E.O. He needs to be managed.” Voilà.

3. Tenacity. After every one of my missteps, I wondered whether it was possible to do what I was attempting to do. Most frame shops are run by the owner. Maybe what I was trying to do could not be done. But if you fall off the horse, you really do have to get right back on. Let me repeat. I did this eight times. (O.K., truth to tell, it was really 10 times. I just don’t remember anything worth saying about two of them.)

Goltz is a little hard on himself - he also writes this: "I wish someone would have told me [how to hire better] — but that’s the nature of entrepreneurship. We’re always reinventing the wheel." The truth is, in any position of leadership, and especially as the head of a business, you will find yourself in a position where you have to learn from your mistakes. Even if someone tells you what you should do, you won't really learn until you dive in yourself, make your own decisions, and your own mistakes.

You can find a collection of hiring mistake stories here.

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