Hire Your Replacement

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I interviewed some job candidates today, as NHLA is looking to hire a new office administrator. I asked each candidate “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I received the traditional answer, “working for you and learning new things.” What a bunch of bull, and I called them on it. Let’s be honest; no one grows up saying, “I want to work for the Hardwood industry.” Yes, there are a few exceptions. So, we settle for those who stumble into our industry. Once in a while, we pull someone away, but for the most part, we have been a male-dominated, close-knit group and allowed few outsiders to come in.

That is not to complain about the talent in our industry. We are intelligent, hard-working go-getters, and many people in our industry have accomplished extraordinary things. Every day, I see the skills of the trade as lumber graders bring value to a board. I see mills in small rural towns shipping their wood across the world. I visited a mill this month that was started by a schoolteacher with a few thousand dollars, and it is now worth millions.

I was impressed as the schoolteacher-turned-lumberman walked me through his plant and the smiles with which his staff greeted him. They were happy working there. That is a critical thing for any employee. They must be satisfied at work. If they are not, it is a lose-lose. They lose their motivation, and you lose their productivity and commitment. Before I was willing to interview the candidates, I told them about our industry and why we cut deciduous trees into Hardwood lumber. I asked them if they were okay with that and understood the benefits of using wood that I had just described to them. After asking them about themselves, I got into the heavy questions. When I called them out on the 10-year question and asked, “Where do you want to end up?” I got the real answers. Some were still in our industry, and some were not. But they were real dreams, and why would I encourage them to do anything else? I don’t mind NHLA being a steppingstone on their career path.

If they are happy and working hard at NHLA and see the Association as a way to accomplish their dreams, they will be productive employees. When they leave, they will always say good things about NHLA; if they go on to other areas within our industry, they will advocate for us. If they leave our industry, they will be advocates for the forests and the importance of Hardwood products and infrastructure. That is what we need more people in our world to understand. So don’t be afraid to hire outside our industry and have them leave. Hopefully, we will leave a good impression on them.

As for who to hire, I have made one determination: I will never hire another employee, as long as I live, who could not one day take my job. Sticking a warm body in a position doesn’t do you any good; I tried that for two months last year when we needed accounting help. It didn’t last. Then, I have to start training them to take my job, whether that is lumber grading, public speaking, business classes, or helping them get a degree. I must set them up for success, so they will take me with them as long as they stay. Who doesn’t want that great reference? Who doesn’t appreciate the boss that helps them achieve their dream? Who doesn’t want to hire the best possible candidate?

Why knot hire your replacement?

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