I could ramble on for pages about the importance of baselines and performance benchmarking, but I won't. Instead, I'd like to introduce you to an individual who can shed some light on an important but often overlooked use for benchmarking: employee performance.

I recently chatted with Bert Zinkand, the director of Employee Selection and Development (www. employeeselect.com), an employee testing company based in Bradenton, Fla. His firm has invested a significant amount of time to carefully measure the personality traits, skill sets, and work characteristics that top-performing LBM salespeople have in common. This information is being used to test sales applicants and to determine with a high degree of certainty whether or not an individual will be a good match for an organization. In the following interview excerpt, I'd like to share his thoughts on how building materials suppliers can benefit from using a systematic process for hiring employees and ranking performance.

In his own words: “About two years ago, we began working with the lumber and building material industry. We learned that some companies were losing salespeople at an alarming rate—and with margins declining they could no longer afford the cost of turnover. On average, we found the turnover cost of a salesperson to be $15,000 to $17,000. With this in mind, we tested the best salespeople from leading lumber companies in Florida with our personality profile. From this data, we developed a baseline to compare applicants.

“The value of a baseline comparison cannot be understated. The more an applicant is like the baseline, the better he or she will do in the position and the environment. We also found that it takes motivation, drive, and skills to be successful. In many cases, we saw salespeople with all the selling skills and knowledge fail because they lacked drive and motivation. Conversely, we also saw many salespeople with the right drive and motivation fail because they lacked selling skills. Thus, a measurement of selling skills must be combined with a personality profile baseline.

“Finally, we also found that turnover was being caused by personality conflicts. In our process, for example, we can spot these conflicts before they happen because managers can compare their own personality profile to an applicant's. Everywhere there is a four-point difference in the personality trait scores, there is a conflict waiting to happen. For instance, we measure an ‘aggressive trait.' Say the boss is an 8 on the aggressive scale and a new hire is 4. Typically, we've found that after the first 90 days, the boss sees the new hire as working too slowly, not catching on fast enough, or unmotivated. The new hire sees the boss as too pushy, too controlling, or micro-managing. As a result, in 50 percent of the cases, the new hire usually quits within 150 to 180 days of being hired.

“The bottom line is that by using testing to identify applicants who have the necessary motivation and skills—and can work with a particular boss—a yard can reduce sales turnover by as much as 50 percent! To put it in terms of dollars, if a business turned over 20 people last year, it cost a minimum of $300,000. Why not do testing and put $150,000 toward the bottom line?”

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Mike Butts is director of installation services for United Building Centers. 507.457.8453. E-mail: mike.butts@unitedbuildingcenters.com.