During my years as an LBM consultant, I spoke up for in-house management and staff development programs. Recently, in my current job at an LBM dealer, I saw again how vital those programs can be. The lesson began when I helped place two new managers within our company. We had vacant positions for which we had advertised internally, online, and in local papers. Neither position could be filled through these traditional methods, so we began an in-house search for likely candidates.

We identified two individuals and approached them about the opportunities (different markets, different locations). Both agreed to accept the challenge and moved into the new roles.

Both of these associates were long-term employees, so they knew the company's systems, procedures, and policies. They also had good communications skills and knew the local economy. Neither had had management training or mentoring, but I wasn't worried. I expected that this would be a smooth transition with little loss of momentum. I was wrong on both counts.

One challenge we faced was what appeared to be a passive attitude by the new leaders–a reluctance to take any action unless specifically directed to do so. There was too much waiting on another manager to give the go-ahead to perform tasks that are part and parcel of the daily activity. Unfortunately, one of these situations came up while one of the new managers was providing service to some long-standing customers who are not accustomed to waiting before we take action.

In today's lumber and building material supply business, we seldom have the luxury of waiting for someone else to give us approval for a particular decision. If your job and responsibility require action, you simply have to move forward with the best interests of the company, location, and customer in mind. I am not going to suggest that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission, but you can't let issues that are critical to the overall operation sit and wait for someone else to say it's OK.

I will take the lion's share of the responsibility for this situation, as I ultimately am accountable for my division. But local management is also partly to blame for not having mentored these individuals along the way.

It would appear that during the past four years, we have overlooked one of the basic premises of being good managers ourselves–identifying and teaching those younger employees to whom we will pass the mantle of responsibility when we move on.

I know that you are sitting in your office reading this with frustration and shouting, "I've been working to keep the doors open. I don't have time to worry about training a young manager."

I agree that we've all been busy, have suffered massive personnel cutbacks, and are operating on a shoestring. Everyone wears a half-dozen hats and is focused on just keeping the lights on and the doors open.

But remember: People are still the lifeblood of our business. Nothing happens until a person–a living human being–makes a sale, keys an order, builds a load, and places it on a truck for delivery. Those people we walk past every day will someday be managing our businesses. Reach out to them, become a mentor and look for that spark that will develop into a professional manager. You have a responsibility to continue this legacy. Build your bench strength.

Mike Butts is director of installed sales at Stock Building Supply. 517.256.9337. E-mail: [email protected]