We have all talked about the shortage of skilled production labor, which is still an ongoing problem among door and window manufacturers. But what happens when you lose a key member of your management team? What do you do when someone as important as a director of engineering, VP of operations or VP of sales and marketing heads out the door?

Such a departure can represent a really rough patch of road ahead with new obstacles surely to also appear in the coming years. Why would this be so? Why is it not as simple as calling a headhunting firm and having a new guy on board within a few months to pick up where the other person left off?

Well, as everyone in the door and window industry knows, once you are in this business for at least five years or so, you can “check out” and go to another door and window company, but you can never leave…sounds like an old Eagles song, right?

Well, from what I have seen over the years, this has been true. This means one thing. The technical director or lean manufacturing expert or VP of sales who just walked out the door is not leaving to join the chocolate industry in Hershey, Pa. Nor is he or she leaving to be a part of the fashion industry in New York City. The usual scenario is that he or she is leaving to join a competitor — and this spells trouble for several reasons.

The first issue facing you is that this person was a key part of your organization, somewhat like a spoke in the wheel. This person spent years getting to know all the dynamics of your organization and the secrets to your success. The more spokes that go missing, the weaker the wheel becomes as a whole. This creates a risk of a crash down the road. Replacing a key spoke in the wheel does not happen overnight. It takes time and the expense of an executive search. It will likely cost the organization a great deal of expense in terms of recruitment fees, job interviews and human resource hours. And once the new person joins the organization, there are no guarantees that he or she will work out. It will take at least a year for them to get acclimated with your company dynamics to the point where he or she becomes a significant contributor.

The second issue is related to your competitor’s wheel. If this person leaves you for a competitor, he or she then becomes a new spoke strengthening the wheel which you are racing against. Not only do they bring their own individual expertise to their new position, but they also bring an intimate knowledge of what makes your organization tick, and this is like a new high-tech engine oil that gets fed directly into your competitor’s engine. And it isn’t like you traded players, like the NBA teams do in the offseason. You just lost a person to your competitor’s team — and you got a draft pick with no guarantees.

But what about the non-compete agreement? Doesn’t this protect your company from losing key players to direct competitors? Such legal instruments can definitely hinder the process but are by no means a guarantee. The problem with non-competes is that many businesses call their legal departments or outsource this to a legal department with instructions to “get me the toughest non-compete agreement possible.” This often backfires because if a non-compete agreement is overly restrictive, chances are that it usually will not hold up in court. This is because most jurisdictions take the view that such an agreement cannot hinder an individual from making a living, and if one’s background is made up of a long tenure in the door and window industry, then where else can such a person go to earn similar wages than another door and window company? Jamal Jackson, JD/MBA, posted an excellent article on Linkedin a few years back entitled “4 Reasons Why Your Non-Compete Agreement Probably Isn’t Valid.”

This brings me back to my analogy of the wheel and a discussion of the hub of the wheel. The hub is the key to success. The hub is the center of the wheel and connects all of the spokes. The hub is the leader of the organization, and he or she has the critical job of making sure that the connection to each of the spokes is tight and secure, keeping them all in place, with each one contributing to strengthen the wheel as it speeds down the road ahead of the competition.

So, what does it take to become such a leader or hub, so to speak? Well that becomes a discussion for another day.

2 Comments

  1. Great article, Jim!

  2. I look forward to the next article.

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