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Premier Crew…

In a blog about recruitment, Mr. Loadlink explains why getting shut out of his own boardroom was the highlight of 2018 so far, and suggests all business leaders should try it.

Choosing the right people to work for you is key to growing a business.

Choosing the right people to work for you is key to growing a business.

It was like the Mary Celeste (if the merchant brigantine was the premises of a load cell manufacturer). Computer screens were on; many hadn’t gone to screen saver. Desks were strewn with paperwork, Post-it notes, and other stationery. A stack of catalogues had been left on the corner of a table, as though someone expected to walk past and pick them up any minute. A cup of coffee was half-drunk but still steaming.

I was waiting for someone to jump out from behind a cupboard and yell, “Surprise!” But it wasn’t my birthday, nor do we make a habit of playing hide-and-seek in the office. I didn’t hear a fire alarm and I knew a drill wasn’t scheduled. My watch was still ticking and in sync with my mobile phone. I could hear the machine tools at work in our neighbouring building and a DHL lorry had just driven out of the yard, full of load cells. It was business as usual, yet this corner of the office was deserted, and I really wanted to ask someone a question.

As I widened my search I walked past the boardroom. The blinds were closed and the door shut. From the muffled sound of voices I could tell that the missing team members were having a meeting. So, what did I do—burst in and demand an explanation? Listen at the keyhole to check nothing untoward was being discussed? Send a text message to one of them saying, “Caught you red-handed”? How about slam the table and ask where my invitation was? Or demand an explanation as to why important business was being discussed without my knowledge or consent?

Heel click

No, I did none of those. Instead, I smiled and walked back to my office. The question could wait. Being shut out of my own boardroom by a meeting I knew nothing about actually put a bit of a spring in my step. I even thought about doing a heel click as I went around a corner, but luckily thought better of it. Truth is, this wasn’t the first time a meeting has taken place without my knowledge, but the excitement of discovering such get-togethers never wears off. It takes an efficient, mature, well-staffed business for such meetings to happen.

There was a time when I was ordering toilet rolls, changing light bulbs, sweeping the floors, boxing up shipments, selling, quoting, visiting, and more. And that was just on Monday mornings. Nobody even breathed at Straightpoint (SP) without me knowing about it or having something to do with it. It wasn’t because I was a control freak, but that’s how it is for CEOs, managing directors, and business leaders in the early days of ownership or tenure. We all remember being the boss, finance manager, operations guy, marketing team, and product designer all at the same time.

That’s fine in the beginning but as a company grows its manager must recruit wisely and start to delegate certain responsibilities to other people. Gary Mullins, of Action Coach, sums this up well: “Work on the business, not in the business,” he says. What he means is a CEO is more effective if free to represent the company, plan, strategise, and lead. Too many still wear it as a badge of honour that they hold down five different roles at their company. Nobody gives out prizes to business owners who still order ink for the photocopier or come in at the weekend to clean.

A failure to recruit and delegate can result in a business leader trying to keep too many balls in the air. Eventually they’ll drop one.

A failure to recruit and delegate can result in a business leader trying to keep too many balls in the air. Eventually they’ll drop one.

Talking cobblers

If you’re a cobbler, pick the right moment to go headhunting at Oliver Sweeney.

If you’re a cobbler, pick the right moment to go headhunting at Oliver Sweeney.

It’s a piecemeal process and integral to its success is effective and astute recruitment, aligned with the growth and goals of the business. Take a cobbler, for example. When it’s a startup in a garden shed, it’ll be the one man or woman band described above. He or she will be ordering leather, making the shoes, deciding how to market them, trying them on for size, and delivering to customers. As orders grow and a 50-hour week becomes a 60 then 70-hour one, a need to recruit presents itself. A good option might be to hire an apprentice to work so many hours a week around studies. They can deal with ordering, cutting, measuring, and shipping, whilst learning the trade. Breaking the bank to bring in the top person from Oliver Sweeney would be premature, however.

It’s about timing. As the cobbler grows, recruitment has got to be aligned with that expansion. Perhaps once the apprentice is fully qualified and full-time, the third person to join takes care of administration and marketing. As the premises expand or the business relocates, there’ll be a need for additional personnel. Eventually, when a fully staffed production line is generating seven-figure revenue, it might be time to go knocking on the door of the guy from Oliver Sweeney. Not only will the business be able to afford it now, but also it’ll be an altogether more enticing proposition.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big advocate of planning and I’d like to think SP’s growth is testament to the value of a strong plan. Even a start-up company with one employee can have an aggressive growth strategy in place. Say, a door manufacturer has ambitions to be a £5m company; they can look at the time, costs, logistics, etc. involved with making one set of doors and upscale accordingly. Even on day one they could list the roles required and set about filling them up as revenues and profits allow.


We did the same thing here at SP. What proves effective for us is recruiting to fill two or three roles with one person and adding personnel as workload dictated. For example, a bookkeeper might also wear the purchase order-processing hat until both roles become too demanding; then it might be time to bring someone else in to manage order-processing. A different business might have a delivery and chauffeur service. One man or woman can dress accordingly to fulfill the transportation tasks as long as they’re not needed at the same time. Once it gets to the point where a delivery needs to be made to Portsmouth and a regular client books a ride to Birmingham Airport the same morning, there’s obviously a need to get another driver.

Be mindful that recruitment plans are designed to facilitate not hamper growth. Thus, they’ve got to be flexible. We didn’t necessarily have a role on paper for Wayne Wille, who joined us in the U.S. as technical sales manager a couple of years ago. But with over 20 years of lifting industry experience to offer, it was the right business decision to bring him on board. The aforementioned cobbler might get a knock on the door from the fellow at Mr. Sweeney ahead of time, and they may deem it prudent to get him when they can. Market conditions also dictate. If it wasn’t foreseen that demand for a certain product was going to double, react accordingly; don’t regret it wasn’t in the plan and let a moneymaking opportunity slip away by not properly staffing the production line.

A good barometer by which to measure a company’s status or reputation in an industry is the frequency with which those from competitors or elsewhere in a marketplace looking to switch allegiances approach it. This isn’t a competition (I’ve blogged extensively about my belief in abundance for all companies) but it does give me a tremendous sense of satisfaction when someone from outside the business reaffirms what we think of ourselves on the inside. It’s one thing us communicating to market that our load cells are the best, but when that’s the consensus among competitors and peers, it’s clear we’re doing something right.

Does the competition knock at your door looking for a job?

Does the competition knock at your door looking for a job?

DNA match

Introducing the right people to a company isn’t only based on their experience or résumé. At SP, we’re big believers in hiring professionals whose DNA fits with our culture. Phil Roch, marketing executive; Kyle Milne, technical sales engineer; Marcus MacDonald, machine shop supervisor; and Dave Mullard, business development manager (our latest UK-based heavyweight recruits), all have impressive curriculum vitae, but their attitudes, charisma, and personalities have allowed them to fit in with the existing team and buy into the over-arching SP concept.

It’s true that recruiting at a higher level will cost a business more than the apprentices and junior members of staff that a start-up might acquire. It’s not a reality to be feared, however. Don’t view more experienced personnel as ‘expensive’; look at them in terms of the overall value they’re adding to a business. Of course, if greed is evident in early exchanges or a person senses an opportunity to take advantage this will not only put off the prospective employer but it also raises an issue over the person’s moral fibre. Would you want someone like that working for you?

Sometimes an employer has to conduct a more forensic analysis into a prospective employee’s DNA. It’s not about trying to be too clever or catching people out, but we’ve found that questions like, “How would you sell a load cell?” or “What goes into designing a new force measurement product?” are pretty fruitless in terms of getting to know a person. “Why might you not still be here in two years time?” is one question that often extracts a more interesting, rounded answer.

A new recruit must have SP DNA.

A new recruit must have SP DNA.

Compact DISC

Action Coach introduced us to the DISC profiling system whereby candidates answer simple questions. The resulting score can be analysed and compared to existing employees. It’s doubled up as a great tool for managers as they have an idea of how someone might react under pressure or to a certain situation before they’ve even started. In sporting terms, I guess it’s about knowing who to give the hairdryer treatment to and with whom to take a softer approach. A recruiter might be encouraged or dissuaded if a score suggests the candidate is very similar or completely opposite to those he or she will report to or work alongside.

A key component of successful recruitment is keeping existing employees engaged, motivated, challenged and incentivised. We give our new starters a warm welcome and recruitment usually results in media coverage and a spotlight being shone on the individual. But that doesn’t mean they’re better than what we’ve already got or that we’re introducing new people because of the existing team’s shortcomings. Again, if the DNA match is right, a person will acknowledge the marketing function but recognise that they’re part of a team.

If a business is regularly recruiting, it’s a good idea to empower all staff, particularly those who’ve been on the books a long time, to contribute to strategy and growth. My door is always open and, only recently, Zoe Silk, sales and hire, approached me with a number of good ideas that we will be sure to implement going forward. It’s a surefire way to demotivate and disengage employees to not listen to their ideas or comments, particularly if they’re being relayed from the coalface to a CEO who has lost contact with the market. We have people working at SP who tried to communicate such issues to previous employers but were told their observations, no matter how astute, were not a fit with company policy.

Good luck with your next recruitment campaign!
Mr. Loadlink

Smooth as Silk…

A recent order for SP load cells proved the value of simplicity, says Mr. Loadlink, who also reflects on U.S. planning meetings and wishes an old friend a happy retirement.

I rarely get through a blog without referencing the importance of planning (this one is no exception!). As a business, SP is a meticulous planner; we break yearly plans into quarterly plans, into monthly plans, and so on. Everyone has a set of responsibilities and individuals know their roles as they relate to the wider mechanics of the company. If something happens—good or bad, expected or unexpected—you can bet your bottom dollar there’s a plan for it.

Sound complicated? Wrong

The purpose of these plans is to simplify the way we do business with an end goal of making it easy for customers to work with us. I’ll elaborate but first let me share a short story to demonstrate what simplicity feels like as a customer:

Zoe Silk, sales and hire here at SP, took a telephone enquiry for some load cells from a potential new customer recently. It was a Thursday. Within 30 minutes she had delivered a quote and later the same day followed up. The order was taken and shipped the following day prior to arrival onsite on Monday.

Upon taking delivery of the equipment, the customer told Zoe how impressed he was at the ease with which we processed the order and got the kit to him. He said he’d asked for several quotes but two of them arrived the day we shipped the load cells and the other still hadn’t arrived. The SP load cells could literally have been on a crane while another supplier was still assembling information to provide a quote. Think about whom he’ll call next time.

Sure, Zoe is a diligent professional, but all she did was follow a simple plan. Simple for her, simple for the customer. At no point in the process between taking the call to rigging the equipment below-the-hook was there a complexity to overcome. In that moment, Zoe was responsible for the company upholding its commitment to work to the shortest lead times in the sector, but she didn’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to deliver.

I’ve heard stories about companies adding layers of complexity, particularly when it comes to quoting new customers. Before an enquiry can be advanced in some instances, personnel are required to fill out long forms about the person on the end of the phone, before initiating an unnecessarily complicated process to gather the relevant information from different departments. This may well have been the case when Zoe beat three others to the punch.

Beauty isn’t skin-deep

Simplicity isn’t effective if it’s only a facade; it has to be in the DNA of a company. We share information and communicate with each other with the same clarity and simplicity that our customers experience. Facts are outlined clearly, not buried in lengthy emails that skate around the issue. If staff always follow a plan and aim to simplify their processes, that will filter into client engagement and order fulfillment. Try it.

Simplicity is intrinsic to a good plan. When we sit down for a quarterly planning meeting, we don’t arrive burdened with briefcases full of paperwork or calculations down to the last dime. It’s not a time to blind people with science or compete over who can work out turnover or profit down to the most decimal points. There’s no digital chart on the big screen with 15 different measurables fluctuating every minute with the stock exchange.

Instead the content is much simpler: how is this product performing? What problems are we experiencing with its supply chain? What did we do well? What did we do not so well? How can we do more of the good stuff to boost the next quarter? What isn’t working? What are our distributors telling us that we need to be aware of? Has anyone got any feedback from relevant markets they’d like to share?

This was very much the tone of our Q2 review when I visited the states earlier this month. Also on the agenda was finalising a restructure of the U.S. operation under Jeff Miller, the general manager of Straightpoint Inc., based at HQ in Camarillo, California.

Job titles and roles are another area of business that gets overly complicated by some people. The key consideration should be matching a person’s skills to a role where they will be best-suited and most likely to make a positive difference.

(As somewhat of an aside, I’d rather have somebody in a place where they can positively influence or disrupt a marketplace through development of their personal brand than restricted within the confines of a job description written for someone else. I think we’ve discussed square pegs and round holes before.)

Using a blueprint

One could probably define blueprints as successful plans, meaning there’s a place for them at any successful company.

Here in the UK, David Mullard, business development manager, and I have benefitted from a clear plan on how to develop business. It’s also allowed Mike Neal, product sales engineer, to improve our lead conversion on non-standard products. It made sense, therefore, to implement a similar strategy on the other side of the pond.

To that end, Wayne Wille has stepped into the role of national business development manager, and Aaron Orsak is now regional business development manager. The pair will take care of developing our distribution channels and meeting with dealers. John Molidor, as director of projects and market development, meanwhile, can focus more exclusively on engineered load cell projects and large-scale orders. Say the military want 250 load cells of a certain type, John will be well placed to advance…the enquiry, that is.

Since returning from the states I’ve been involved with product development. I can’t say too much about the innovations yet, but it’s relevant to this blog because of the extent to which we simplify the process through planning.

If you don’t already use a Gantt chart (named after creator Henry Gantt) to track a product development schedule, you might be overlooking important detail that will later impact the launch or production line. From the initial design concept to product unveiling and posting a video on YouTube, a good Gantt chart will cover it all.

This excerpt from Gantt’s 1919 book titled, ‘Organizing for Work’ resonates with me:

‘…it is so simple that it is readily understood by the workman and employer, and so comprehensive that one intelligent workman made the remark, ‘If we chart everything we are doing that way, anybody can run the shop.’ While we are hardly prepared to agree with this opinion, we are entirely satisfied that if the facts about business can be presented in a compact and comprehensive manner, it will be found possible to run any business much more effectively than has been the custom in the past.’

Hear, hear!

Stalwarts set sail

In closing, I want to pay tribute to two friends who recently announced their retirements—Fred Ashcroft, who has called time after 47 years in the weighing industry; and Geoff Holden, former chief executive of LEEA.

We celebrated the retirement of Fred Ashcroft (third from left) after a suitably hot curry! SP’s David Mullard (far left) and Mike Neal (to his left) joined us. Mike is also ex Weightronix

We celebrated the retirement of Fred Ashcroft (third from left) after a suitably hot curry! SP’s David Mullard (far left) and Mike Neal (to his left) joined us. Mike is also ex Weightronix.

I worked with Fred for a number of years at Weightronix and then employed him at Solent Scales when I owned that business. He has been selling load cells and weighing systems since 1970 and is a true legend of the sector. I was honoured to be among SP representatives at his retirement curry. Fred always did like it hot!

Here I am with Geoff Holden (third from right) and friends on what turned out to be one of my last pints with him as chief executive of LEEA

Here I am with Geoff Holden (third from right) and friends on what turned out to be one of my last pints with him as chief executive of LEEA.

On Geoff’s watch, membership in the association grew to 1,100 in 62 countries. He frequently travelled to all four corners of the world (I know that because our paths often crossed en route!) to represent the association and its members. Geoff always spoke about LEEA and the lifting industry with a passion that will be sorely missed.

More importantly, Geoff always seemed to be a trustworthy, salt of the earth bloke that I always looked forward to seeing at trade shows and events. He was constantly willing to share the benefit of his experience, yet equally forthcoming in giving younger professionals a chance to shine. I hope his retirement affords him the time to drop into the industry again, when we’ll be sure to find another bar to catch up and exchange battle stories.

I hear Geoff plans to spend a lot of time on his boat—I’ve heard many a tale about his sailing antics—and I wish him, and his wife, Linda, a long and happy retirement on and off the water.

As Rat says to Mole in ‘The Wind in the Willows’

‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing about in boats—or with boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.’

Literally or otherwise, happy sailing, my friends.

Mr. Loadlink