James DeGraff is a young professional that came to us through our internship program at Lessiter Media. After two terms with us, intern coordinator Kim Schmidt recognized the alignment with LM’s core values and editorial strengths and added him to the newly founded Lessiter Media Depth Chart. When an editorial position opened up, we pulled DeGraff from the chart as a potential candidate before ever publicly posting the position. He accepted and is now a full-time staff member of our team. Pictured above l-r following the August 2017 ASPIRE presentation: James DeGraff, Kim Schmidt and Michael Storts (V.P. of Finance & Human Resources) handing Schmidt a recruitment bonus for her assistance in finding quality talent for our staff.
Editor's Note: The following was published in the April 24, 2017 edition of E-WATCH from Farm Equipment, a Lessiter Media title
By Mike Lessiter, President, Lessiter Media
“At multiple times in your career, your success will be measured on how quickly you can put together a team. You need to be ready.” I don’t remember the name of the business management class nor the professor’s name, but I’ve been hearing the echoes of these words...
I’m mid-way through the new book, The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, by Tom Verducci. The first 100 pages alone are an impressive story about how new Cubs president, Theo Epstein, and the organization quickly leveraged its knowledge of personnel (through scouts’ skills in projecting talent, examining backgrounds and studying fit/feel to a newly defined culture) to do what many thought was impossible — end a 108-year championship drought. (My allegiances are to the Milwaukee Brewers, but I’ll still recommend the book as a top-notch business study.)
It is a timely read on the heels of our recent 2-day strategic planning retreat a few weeks ago. I found myself obsessing about what I recalled of the personnel depth charts at Arizona-based Stotz Equipment, who was the Farm Equipment Dealership of the Year in 2013. And I returned fired up about getting our entire company (not just department managers) focused on “scouting” for the additional talent we need.
So much, actually, that I sought the advice of Stotz CEO Tom Rosztoczy as soon as I got back to the office. Following a new store acquisition several years ago, he’d witnessed a store manager, on three separate occasions, hire a replacement within a week after a departing employee gave notice. That quick action meant the departing employee could train the new one without delay. Three times in a row meant it wasn’t mere luck, Rosztoczy says, and upon examination he learned depth charting was part of this manager’s regular M.O.
“He explained that everyone he spoke with was getting sized up as to whether they’d be someone he’d want to work with, what their interests and strengths were, whether they’d be a good teammate. So, he always had ready a list of people and a position they might fit. He’d also made it a point to have already had virtually every conversation imaginable (including compensation). So, the day an employee gives notice, his call to a name on the list could be at the point of asking if they were ready to come aboard.”
Rosztoczy was so impressed he took this single-store’s approach and incorporated it enterprise-wide, which now includes 25 stores. “We know we’re most successful when hiring someone a current employee recommends and you want those recommendations before you have an opening so managers can get to know them.”
How it Works at Stotz
Stotz maintains a “Candidate Management” spreadsheet on its companywide-intranet site, where employees enter the candidate’s name, contact info, current employer and the prospective position. The screen Rosztoczy shared with me showed names for an array of positions: service techs, corporate marketers, accounts receivable, administrative assistants, field sales, truck drivers, and parts and yard personnel.
The spreadsheet is open and available for every Stotz employee to view, though Rosztoczy says it’s understood that the list reflects “our employees’ interest in someone, not necessarily a candidate’s interest in making a change.” That is determined by engaging with that individual — a task orchestrated after the name is entered.
Making the depth chart everyone’s job (and reinforced regularly) to be talent-ready is impressive, and Stotz puts teeth into it as well. Like many dealers, Stotz has an employee referral bonus for successful hires, but the incentive is doubled when hires are made of those cited beforehand on the depth chart. “We’re motivating and rewarding people so that if they have a friend or former colleague who’d be great, even if we don’t have an opening, the managers can get to know them ahead of time.”
Numbers Don’t Lie
If you remember our Dealership of the Year coverage on Stotz, you’ll know that they measure everything they deem important. “Of all the employees hired over the last year, 65% were someone our employees already knew,” Rosztoczy says. While the standard referral program fills more positions than does the depth chart, the combination of the two means that more than half of the open positions end up “filling themselves.”
“Our numbers show that 9 out of 10 of the new hires we knew — and two-thirds of hires we didn’t know — will turn out to be good,” he says. “We work hard at interviewing, testing and screening but you just can’t know someone well enough in that process alone. So, it’s a world of difference when someone who knows the company and culture presents someone they think would be strong player on the team. It’s almost priceless.”
Rosztoczy adds it’s important to get your recent hires involved in contributing to the depth charts, as they’re the ones who can offer the greatest volume of prospects from their former companies and networks.
I asked Rosztoczy how to get everyone involved and looking beyond the needs of their own department. He asked me some questions, I admit, that had me looking in the mirror. But the short answer is that Stotz does not have that problem. Employees apparently realize how costly unfilled positions are to the entire organization. And I’d conclude that they realize “people-scouting” is as much a part of the manager’s job as selling or fixing iron.
The depth chart is a simple concept, but I can’t say I’ve heard of a lot of dealers who’ve formalized it like Stotz. But I know one media company that is about to adapt Stotz's system, because to be frank, we can’t pursue growth opportunities without first improving our new talent acquisition. I’ll report what we learn from the experience, and how we convey that everyone must contribute if we want results. As Rosztoczy says, everyone shares the burden when a top performing individual leaves.
I expect a formal depth chart process to relieve pressure from the system, bring more self-solving matters at the level they belong and help less experienced managers make the tough but right personnel decisions quicker, while reinforcing the talent-development element that needs to be part of their daily job, too. The working “on” the business instead of “in” the business.
Lessiter introduced a formal Depth Chart program to Lessiter Media employees at the firm’s companywide ASPIRE meeting in May 2017.