Develop your team and a succession plan to be ready when you move on

Let’s talk about growing your business from that small startup you created as an entrepreneur. You had an idea, the energy and the desire to be your own boss with your destiny in your own hands. I know that feeling from 33 years ago. Eventually you add more staff and you need to manage more people. And you don’t have enough time in the day.

This is when you need to develop a management team to help you grow the business. I like to call it creating a succession plan and a sustainability plan that insures your baby continues, even when you aren’t there anymore. Plus, you are creating a much more valuable business that you can cash out when you are ready to stop running on that daily business treadmill.

Where do you find that senior management team? I started with my immediate staff. It worked for a while because they knew the business. But are they really trained to grow a business or to just run their part? I looked outside the business by hiring people from like businesses. The hope was they would bring new ideas and talent to the table. Some did and others were just looking for more money as they job shopped.

Then I stopped looking for job-specific talent and started evaluating their desire, attitude, willingness to learn, openness to change and ability to teach others. I wanted to know what size business they really like to work in. Some like the security and slower pace of the large corporation. But is there really security in today’s business world? Others prefer the fast pace, multiple hats and always changing scenery of a smaller business.

Keep it lively

That is when I started to understand how to develop a cohesive senior management team. The reality is, they aren’t always cohesive and that is a good thing.

I like to see lively discussions between them that help generate new ideas. Plus, that goal of bringing in new talent from the outside for new ideas and new energy has led to continued growth without me having to be the driver (boy do I sleep much better now!).

So how do you train your senior management team? If you pick the right people, you will find you don’t need to train them on the management side. You just need to counsel them on ideas. Plan to train them on your business, but don’t tell them it is written in stone. You hired them to be creative. Don’t micromanage them. Your job should be to coach, mentor, motivate, encourage, counsel, be a sounding board…..  Your job is to grow the business, not run the business.

If you hired well and helped train them, you have developed that succession plan for management and sustainability of your business for future generations or that cash-out phase of your career. Congratulations!

Dolf Kahle is CEO of Visual Markings Inc.

2015 Pittsburgh Smart 50 specialty award winners

2015 innovation winner

pit_DanielleCuomoDanielle Cuomo
Virtual Assist USA

President Danielle Cuomo’s commitment to thinking differently about the on-demand, virtual assistant business model not only allowed her to build the largest team of virtual assistants in the country, but also fend off better-funded competitors such as Richard Branson.

She constantly challenges the Virtual Assist USA team to think “What if?”

The company has an ideas board, and Cuomo says if they don’t come up with three ideas daily then that idea muscle atrophies. They don’t have to be terrific ideas, but they have to be new.

She listens to all ideas and is willing to implement any that might help.

“If it fails, if we lose money, if we lose clients, that’s OK, because I want to make sure that we are continuously innovating, continuously getting ideas,” Cuomo says. “And if someone’s first three ideas don’t work, maybe their fourth is a really great idea, so I don’t want to stymie that.”

Her Ambassador program also provides opportunities for employees to join different teams for 90-day internal assignments. Someone from marketing might go learn from Web design.

“What is innovative about that is not that the marketing person is learning about the Web design department,” Cuomo says. “But what the Web design department gets to benefit from — they benefit from that marketing person’s fresh ideas, innovation, creativity.”

Virtual Assist USA sparks innovation just by switching people around.


2015 impact winner

pit_DennisWilkeDennis Wilke
President and director
Rosedale Technical College

Dennis Wilke, president and director of Rosedale Technical College, understands that training people is less important than training them for jobs employers need to fill. So he partnered with the corporate sector to determine the technical skills in demand and built programs designed to educate and train students to fill those jobs.

Today, more than 450 students are often enrolled at one time, with about 700 students completing Rosedale courses each year.

Wilke is also willing to experiment with the college’s secondary schools partners.

For instance, Rosedale has dual enrollment with the Parkway West Career and Technology Center, where some of its students come to the college three days a week. The first year, after those students graduated high school, that turned into 13 enrollments and close to $350,000 in tuition revenue.

And, he works with his team to recognize employees who go above and beyond the call of duty, while celebrating and learning from failures. By eliminating the fear of failure, Wilke sparks innovation and makes Rosedale an employer-of-choice.

“By creating an opportunity where people feel enabled to act on their own ideas, and they’ve got some freedom to have some control over their environment — that’s how you become smart because you’ve got everybody pulling in the same direction,” Wilke says.


2015 sustainability winner

pit_TacyByhamTacy Byham
Development Dimensions International

Under new CEO Tacy Byham and her father before her, Development Dimensions International develops intuitive talent management and recruitment processes that help organizations with succession planning, leadership development and training the next generation of workers.

“It is the thing that keeps the CEOs awake at night. Do I have the right amount of talent? Do I have the right quality of talent?” Byham says.

DDI employs organizational psychologists who study behavior, as it helps leaders deal with challenges that you don’t normally get to prepare for. For example, you might find out your company is polluting and then a member of the press comes up and asks you about it.

Also, there’s a focus on helping leaders have an insight into themselves, so DDI has created engaging online assessments. As you use a video program, you could actually get off of an elevator and be met by your assistant, so it feels realistic.

The assessment, which includes testing, looks at how people perform, she says. Do they delegate well? How are they using influence skills? Can they put out a conflict?

Everything DDI does is with the future of its clients’ organizations in mind — helping make companies sustainable for years to come. And that in turn has helped build DDI to last with more than 1,000 employees in 72 offices in 26 countries.

We’ve got an album of pictures from our Nov 10 Smart 50 Pittsburgh event. See them all on our Facebook page.