Finding & Developing Future Leaders For Your Business - Tire Review Magazine

Finding & Developing Future Leaders For Your Business

At one time or another, all of us have needed to hire a manager or assistant manager for our store. Maybe it is for a new store or to replace a lost manager or business is so good that we just need more help.

We want to hire the best person we can, someone who can manage or help manage, someone who can sell or help sell, someone who can do whatever needs to be done. If things go well, the next hire will eventually become a leader in the organization.

So you interview a candidate and tell yourself that this person might be too good. Another person ratifies your choice, so you pull the trigger and tell the new hire to start next Monday, to come in and observe at the counter, to learn the computer and that you’ll be there to assist them along the way. You tell them they’ll get some training in a few weeks and there are online courses that they can take on their own time.

Sound familiar?
It might because some version of this happens every week in various tire locations, even ones that have ‘programs’ that say otherwise. If you’re going to hire and develop great managers and future leaders, something different needs to happen, something more deliberate and certainly more planned.

There is a lot at stake. The difference between an average worker and a great performer can make a huge difference to your bottom line. You can fill the position with someone, but a top-notch manager will generate significantly higher profits. A study shows that top performing employees can exceed the performance of average workers by more than 25%. Any tire and auto service retailer or commercial dealer would love to see a result like that.


The first critical step in grooming top-flight managers is the hiring process. You must have good talent to work with, so not doing a good job of hiring the people with the most potential will result in having poor performers later.

When it comes to filling a manager position there are two choices: promote an internal candidate or hire someone from the outside.

Many successful companies have a ‘promote from within’ policy, where every effort is made to promote a worthy assistant manager or service writer to salesperson. Some have strict ‘promote from within’ policies, while others have a looser approach and will look outside if no qualified internal candidate exists.

Why do many of the best dealers promote from within? It might be because they already have a good program to develop talent; a strong candidate who already knows the ropes is always a better choice, right?

Perhaps they want to avoid hiring managers with pre-existing bad hab­its, habits that are not aligned with the company’s values or expected behaviors.

Promoting from within gives you the advantage of being able to assess the basics before an interview. You have a big investment in current employees and you already know about things like attendance record, attitude and ability to work within a team.

So what are the basics on identifying and hiring good manager talent and future leaders?
Kim Sigman, of 2013 Tire Review Top Shop winner Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair in Phoenix, says that they hire “people who are just friendly people, people-people.”

That dealer’s most important hiring criteria is having the right personality to thrive in Community Tire Pros’ “family atmosphere.” They can train people on the specifics of the tire business but teaching personality is not possible.

“If they don’t aspire to be store managers, I wouldn’t hire them,” says Bill Cleary, director of human resources at Buffalo-based Dunn Tire. Dunn wants people that are motivated to take positions of responsibility; they are not interested in those looking to settle for a comfortable position.

Whatever your criteria, make sure it is set before you interview people. Make a list of specific attributes you desire or require – communication skills, computer experience, professionalism, listening skills, cheerfulness, the ability to work needed hours or a host of other required attributes.

Develop a way to score each one during the interview. Quantifying the process will help you find what you are looking for in a potential employee.

Positives are things like military experience, learned discipline and respect for a program for example, or education that is related to the job, like a degree or certificate in retail management. There are certainly well-respected, well-run businesses in your area that can be a great source for recruits, and current or former employees might earn bonus points on your scorecard.

Whether it is in internal candidate or someone from the outside, everyone should go through the interview process.

Having more than one person interview every candidate lets you gain different perspectives and allows for interviews at different times; perhaps each candidate is interviewed by the human resources or hiring director, then the person’s direct supervisor, then the owner. The more input you get the better. Remember that you are trying to find the best possible person for your particular business situation.

Many companies are using behavior-based interviewing. The premise is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so asking questions about past behavior instead of what a candidate would do in various situations is more informative. You’ve already decided what skills are needed in the job so ask questions to see if the candidate has them. Behavioral questions are more specific and direct than traditional questions.

An example: “Have you ever had an extremely upset customer and what did you do?” If the answer is that they “threw the idiot out of the store,” there is a high likelihood they will do that again.

Another example: “Have you ever really impressed a customer? If so, what did you do to impress them?”
Design the questions around the skills that you expect this person to have, but make sure to leave them room to answer.

Other ToolsOften there are multiple generations working within a shop. It is important to recognized the differences between the generations in order to be successful.
Another tool to spot the best talent is personality testing. Whether it is a DISC survey, Myers Briggs or something else, these tests can be very valuable.

The costs are not big and the time needed to conduct them is short. Learning how to use these tools and interpreting the results is the key.

I know of two dealers using the DISC surveys that wanted to set a baseline personality profile for the manager position in their stores. They gave the test to other managers to determine what the good manager’s profile was and tried to find people with a similar profile.

That is a very simple example and certainly these tests can be used in more sophisticated ways, as well. Some internal training is needed to use these tests most effectively.

The value of hiring the right people at the right time is very often under appreciated. When you are in a hurry to fill a position or don’t take the steps needed to ensure the best choice, you can make a bad hire.

Taking the time to establish a hiring plan that helps you identify future leaders can save you time, money and the problems associated with terminating someone that didn’t work out.

From Hired to Developed

It is often tempting to drop a new hire right behind the counter on Day One. Sometimes it is necessary because you need help immediately. However, without a clear and formal plan for working them into the day-to-day operations, new hires can end up simply staying at the counter.

Your development program then becomes a mixture of ‘on-the-job training’ with online and vendor ‘training’ thrown in for good measure, instead providing the kind of training that gives the manager the opportunity to build their knowledge, performance and confidence.

Many tire dealers have set up successful manager training programs. For a specific period of time the new manager might rotate through all the store jobs, cross training to give them a better feel for what their charges face day-to-day. Your program might include spending a day with all departments, like marketing, finance/­accounting, warehouse/distribution, sales, and every other area of the company.

You can even have new managers meet with your advertising person, your accountant or your local distributor in addition to internal departments.

A less formal option is to set up your best performing store as a “training store.” New managers would work in those stores for a specific period of time to learn from your best.

Regardless of the approach, have a written plan with schedules, key learning areas, tasks to be performed and goals. New employees want to be productive quickly so give them smaller, specific tasks to perform until they have the basics under their belt.


‘Employee development’ is the practice of encouraging staff to gain new and advanced skills through training and coaching. Every organization is improved as managers and leaders learn how to do their jobs better and get everyone in the store working together toward established goals.

“The company is responsible to make sure that they create a situation where managers can be successful,” says Sigman.

You can do a great job in hiring people with good skills or lots of potential, and end up with mediocre performers because of a lack of attention and planning around their development.

Leaders seldom just show up and develop on their own. Any time a good manager leaves it can be view­ed as a failure on some level. Maybe you weren’t doing everything possible to create the situation they need­ed to be successful.

Growing companies can offer the best opportunity for advancement. Joe Tomarchio, executive vice president of Monro Muffler Brake, states, “After our customers, our second greatest asset is our people. Attracting the right people to groom, mentor and lay out a career path is always challenging. We are fortunate that career paths at Monro are nearly endless.”

 So what do growing tire and auto service companies do to develop future leaders? Whether you are a chain with more than 800 locations like Monro or a local distributor with three warehouses, having good people in the right positions performing well is a huge challenge. Good results are best achieved by having a well thought out plan to recruit, evaluate, coach, retain and develop future leaders.

Budget and time constraints are a common problem for dealers going through the hiring, training and development cycle. When it comes to dedicating time for new managers to learn, dealers of all sizes often say they just “don’t have the time” or “can’t let people out of the store that long.” They are willing to short-change the long-term potential for short-term counter coverage.

While the typical tire dealer has various training programs available, these are often not part of a formal, consistent program. Dealers heavily rely on web-based training from suppliers and manufacturers, followed by in-person sessions with vendor sales reps or formal after-hours session at vendor locations.

Many dealers have some type of in-house training program, even if it’s just a monthly meeting. Larger dealers might bring in an independent trainer for a targeted session, like phone training or customer complaint resolution.

It is important to establish a clear and specific development plan and stick to it. Don’t make it too complicated or difficult. Ask yourself if you will actually be able to put it in place and follow it. Have a plan for all positions in your company, and a clear-cut line of progression for employees.

Tire techs might move to sales and then to assistant manager and then to store manager and then to district manager and so on. Service techs can become service managers and then store managers and so one.

An overall development and succession plan will also show people what the advancement opportunities are in your business. Good managers and aspiring leaders want the opportunity to learn new things and take on more responsibility.

You should also involve your employee’s goals. What do they want to accomplish – and how can your company help them get there? By tying the two together, you can clearly address the skills needed by your managers – and gain their buy-in.

Investing in your managers and future leaders pays off, but realistically you may be investing in someone who moves on. This is a concern, especially for smaller dealers that don’t have the budget to groom future leaders only to have them go elsewhere. But training is what you must do in order to have and retain good people.

The issue may not be how well you trained and developed them, but what you have done to create a ‘career’ for them in your business. Employee development is a long-term investment and you will have a better chance of retaining high-caliber people if they feel they have a long-term secure and growth-oriented opportunity with you. The ones that chase greener grass may not be worth keeping anyway – or they simply don’t see a career with your dealership.

Generation Consideration
You’ll do better if you know what drives your future leaders. An interesting personnel dynamic is the likely presence of three very different generational types in your business.

Many tire dealerships are family businesses, often second- or third- or even fourth-generation businesses. And many times they have multi-generational management. If you’re one of those, then you know about the unique challenges that exist, right?

In order to develop people to their full potential it is important to recognize these differences. Companies that adapt to them are more likely to succeed.

If the patriarch owner takes the “my way or the highway” approach, they are clearly falling short in succession development and not operating in the best interest of the company.

Today, three different generations potentially come together in your business – Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers and Generation Y-ers.

Baby Boomers are still working hard but retirement is in sight. An Ernst & Young survey earlier this year indicated that Baby Boomers are the most cost effective workers, the hardest working and but the least entrepreneurial.

Generation X-ers, those born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, were shown to be the easiest to work with, the best team players, the best problem solvers and the most entrepreneurial.

The Generation Y-ers, born since early 1980s, don’t lead any category in this survey, and Ernst & Young pegged them as the least cost effective. But be careful what these surveys say. This group is extremely tech savvy and wants to use more technology in the workplace. Being able to access information easily is important to this age group. But they also want and need more feedback. That means effective development of a Generation Y manager will require timely and clear reviews and training. They want a clear direction, but also the freedom to reach their goals.

Closing the generational gap can lead to more effective development of manager candidates from this age group. Anything that can increase communication and understanding will be beneficial. Try a mentoring program that matches up an experienced Baby Boomer with a younger manager. You’ll probably find that the younger one respects and wants to learn from the mentor more than they both realize.

Outside the Box
One of the most explosive areas in training is talent management software. Large corporations are spending millions on software from Oracle, IBM and lots of smaller companies that includes tools for recruiting, performance and succession management, compensation and training. The market for these software tools is growing at an annual rate of over 20% and totals more than $4 billion.

A 2009 study by Bersin & Associates stated that for 2010 the top two priorities for retail organizations were performance management and leadership development. These software tools help companies accomplish both. Costs are usually estab-­ lished per employee per year, and one recent online quote showed an annual price of $6,600 for 50 users.

The retail tire and service segment is probably a few years behind that technology curve. It’s probably the same with wholesalers and commercial dealers, as well. Frankly, only the largest dealerships are in a position to buy a high dollar talent management software package. If you have the budget look into these software tools that can help you be more effective with your employee development program. There are dozens of suppliers and hundreds of variations of software from which to choose.

Regardless of technology, it is critical to spend the time on leadership development. Having a specific, dynamic and complete plan for finding, recruiting, evaluating, coaching, training and retaining top-flight employees – your leadership team – is critical to your company’s success.

Some leadership training is available within our industry, but not much at present. Major tiremakers are a good place to start, but most of their management training is focused on their company store employees. Some marketing groups offer training seminars and special programs, but nothing very extensive or continuing.

There are options available in general retailing. Some of these programs are free, but many are not very rich in content. At the other end of the spectrum is a Certificate in Retail Leadership program offered as an online, 18 credit hour program from Drexel University.

Executive and leadership coaching is prevalent in large corporations. A high-potential individual could benefit greatly from a professional coach. This might be a little outside the box for our industry, but it is commonplace in others because it works. Remember: It is only expensive if it doesn’t work.

I recently heard that a big announcement is forthcoming from an independent group that has developed a leadership training and support program specifically for tire dealers. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks.

With all the resources available, building an effective employee leadership development program is within everyone’s reach. It needs to be plotted out, but it doesn’t take big money to get it done. Borrowing ideas from various sources and building your own criteria, performance reviews, training programs, and deciding how to best develop your emerging talent is a good start and will certainly pay off.

If you can recognize high potential employees and spend time on leadership development, you’ll get leaders that can consistently deliver that great customer experience – and higher profits.

At that point you’re not only making more money, but will have new potential leaders asking for an opportunity to work for you while well-trained, engaged managers take ownership to provide leadership for the future.

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