Brian Grainger | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brian Grainger

Background:  

Boulder, Colorado-based Spectra Logic is a global IT company with offices in seven countries. It offers data storage solutions that allow customers, such as TV stations and movie production companies, to retain digital assets for long periods of time.

The Mistake:

I didn’t understand the impact of the old saying, “A great sales person does not necessarily make a great sales manager.”

One of the most expensive mistakes anyone can make in a role like mine would be hiring the wrong person. A related mistake, of course, would be elevating someone to a position that he or she is not a good fit for. That’s the mistake I’m guilty of making.

I remember back when I was the vice president of sales for our federal sales group, there was an instance in which I had an open position to fill. This was a leadership position.

It was an easy decision. I approached one of our top players, a leader in one of our sales regions at the time, and asked about interest in this management role.

The person said yes, and I elevated the person without understanding that person's short- and long-term goals. More importantly, I neglected the onboarding process. That deprived the person of the tools needed to be successful.

I made assumptions. I thought this person must know what I know. But the person didn’t, and it took a lot longer than expected for this person to get up to speed.

It was a costly mistake, and it exposed a lot of issues within our company.

The Lesson:

Whether you’re in sales or finance or any other industry, leaders face this same problem.

At the time, our company didn’t have any mechanism for identifying people that wanted to take the step into management, be it three months or three years down the road. We spent a lot of time putting together a leadership development team. It’s now a very robust group dealing with a high level of content. They evaluate people that either raise their hand and say they want to be a manager someday or people that we’ve identified as potential managers.

A big part of it is cross-department coordination. All the people in this leadership development group learn a tremendous amount about how each department works. They learn about the sales process, the marketing, the manufacturing, and every other key component of the company. We also bring people in all the time to talk to the group about conflict resolution, hiring, underperformance, recruiting, etcetera.

We put all this work into the group so when the time comes for people from this leadership development group to step up, they have access to tools that will make them successful.

I’ve noticed that since we started up this program, the time it takes for our new managers to get up to speed has gone down from years, in some cases, to months and even weeks. That’s not the only benefit either. This program is also great for people who participate and then realize they don’t want to be in management. We’ve had situations like that, and that’s a good decision too.

It’s all helped create a culture within our company of interdepartmental awareness and self-awareness, and I think it’s been highly effective.

Brian Grainger is on Twitter at @BrianonStorage and Spectra Logic is at @spectralogic.

Photo courtesy of Spectra Logic.

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