Good managers are essential to organizational productivity. As such, it’s imperative to develop those who work in this crucial tier of the organization, as well as the individuals who will occupy it in the future. Businesses save significant amounts of time and money when they build managers from within instead of having to recruit them from outside of the enterprise. More importantly, companies that grow their managers get people who have been extensively exposed to organizational values, processes and goals. This kind of insight is not easily trained.
Allied Building Products Corp., a seller and distributor of structural materials such as roofs, windows and doors, has made a point of offering its managers — as well as its entire workforce — a career path.
“Allied’s slogan is ‘Expect excellence,’” said Human Resources Director Michele Cohen, who handles corporate learning and development along with payroll, comp and benefits, staffing and other HR issues. “We carry that thought process into the entire realm of HR. As that pertains to training and development, it’s to train and develop our employees so we can retain our top talent internally versus having to hire everyone externally.”
A crucial area for internal development is the company’s management-level personnel. Out of Allied’s workforce of about 3,600, about 400 are managers at the branch (store) or regional level. They are geographically dispersed across the United States, from Hawaii to the organization’s headquarters in New Jersey.
“Allied prides itself on internal development and promotions on the inside,” Cohen said. “Our goal for training is to build a skilled and promotable workforce. We measure that by the number of people promoted who have gone through training programs. When we build a bench, and the bench gets promoted, that’s a surefire sign that developmental programs are working. I’m sure there are various different metrics, but at the end of the day, if we can look at the regional manager positions, and 85 percent of that workforce came from the inside versus two years ago, when only 20 percent came from inside, that’s a great indicator for us.”
Despite its geographic reach, the distance isn’t really a serious challenge — while Allied does deliver some of its training content remotely through modalities such as e-learning, the company has several enterprise- and region-wide gatherings of managers that Cohen and her team can use.
“We travel where they travel,” she said. “We look to maximize where people are from a geography standpoint. If we have a branch manager conference, training will participate. We really look to capitalize on various events versus just flying a trainer out to train.”
The biggest challenge in creating and delivering learning programs aimed at Allied managers is the wildly fluctuating skill and experience levels among them, Cohen said.
“We’ll have one training program, and we have various people who approach it from various different positions and years of experience, and we have to try keep everyone engaged and make it impactful for them,” she said. “We overcome that by having several trainings. We keep them in smaller groups, so we can be very specific. It’s sort of the ‘knowing your audience’ concept.”
To ensure their developmental success, Cohen and her department track and manage their progress toward proficiency in areas such as leadership, managing conflict, managing for results, personal organization and product knowledge.
“It’s really a fundamental approach: We have the competency, the standard, the key behaviors and then the priority, which is sort of a weight associated with that. Then, for any supporting knowledge, skills or attributes they need to have, we design, develop or outsource training to meet those different needs,” she said. “We do a follow-up process with those developmental areas, then we tie that back to the SuccessFactors module, as it pertains to those people’s performance. We try to make it a cyclical approach, starting with the job description and ending with the performance-review process.”
Cohen said one of her goals in educating the managers at Allied was to offer them learning that was engaging and entertaining. “We do fun stuff — I wouldn’t make anyone sit through a training that I wouldn’t want to attend myself.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org
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