I've just returned from facilitating a session that brought together 12 lumberyard executives. To a man, all 12 are running with very slim staffing levels and all have only "A Team" members on staff.

On the surface this may seem the ideal situation, and in some regards it is. But it also is dangerous, because all of these top-notch players are doing the work of at least two and sometimes three people. These starting lineups are capable of performing at this level, but for how long?

A 13th dealer could not attend because one of his employees took a vacation and this owner was working the sales counter to take his place. Think about that for a moment: The owner cannot attend a valuable meeting with his peers because he must run the sales counter. Another person observed that if a salesperson brought in a set of blueprints, he wasn't sure if he could gather the people to actually bring about the sale. From completing the take-off to delivering the load, he's so short-staffed he worries about simple logistics.

When conditions get to this point, do you think that maybe we've cut too much? We've drawn down our reserves to the point where we are no longer capable of delivering service if and when called upon.

I asked the 12 execs about hiring staff and came away just as concerned. Everyone agreed that when the market begins to show signs of returning, they planned to stand pat and stay at current staffing levels in order to maximize profits when profit was there. No "wasting money" on new employees, they said. They also doubted they could actually find good people when the time came to re-hire. And everyone surmised that the employees who had been discharged–the "B List"–left the industry and probably would not be available to come back.

These comments frighten me on several levels. Who will be there to sell the material, pull the load, and deliver it? If you needed to hire new people, where would you find them, how would you get them through the learning curve, and how long would it take for them to be trained? Certainly you cannot expect an already overworked staff to take time away from daily activity to provide on-the-job training, can you?

How quickly you respond when the market begins to revive will have a significant bearing on your long-term survivability. Builders are going to be hungry for any job that comes along, and whoever can provide material, delivered on time and in full, will receive this new business.

As difficult as it may be, we need to think long term. I know that keeping the lights on next week is important, but making sure that you and your staff can provide sales and service next year and the year after is important as well. Keep the A Team and start building a B List that will comprise your bench squad.

How to start? Look into cloning your A Team employees. Identify those personality traits, professional habits, and work ethics that make someone stand out. Ask the employees who they know–people just like them–who might need a job or be a good fit for your company. Begin to collect resumes, perhaps conduct some preliminary interviews, and starting compiling a list of who you would like to call when the market returns.

Start planting the seeds that will grow into your future star performers. These people don't develop overnight, but with this being an employer's market, good people are yours for the asking.