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Optimizing Your Distributorship’s Human Capital, Part I

Optimizing Your Distributorship’s Human Capital, Part I

If your company is still “doing things the way it always has” on the hiring, recruiting, and training front, then it’s probably already in trouble. Here’s why you need to right the ship now and develop a more concentrated focus on employee recruiting and retention.


As employees have become harder to find—and even harder to “hook” and retain—more companies are doubling down on their efforts to find, recruit, train, and develop their valued staff members. Whether they’re moving leaders up the ranks, filling entry-level positions, or looking for that next great outside salesperson, electrical distributors that focus on good human capital management are the ones that are in the winner’s circle right now.

“We’re in an era where the marketplace is extremely fluid when it comes to hiring new entrants into the workforce, including both the millennial and the post-millennial generations,” says Fleet Maull, Ph.D., an executive coach and author of the upcoming book Radical Responsibility: How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose, and Become an Unstoppable Force for Good.

“There are a lot of job opportunities out there in the world for the individual who is educated and possesses expertise and/or talent,” Maull continues. This reality is often hard for distributors to grasp, and especially those companies that are being led by people who “paid their dues” and “put their time in” as they worked their way up the ladder. Those veteran managers and leaders often take it for granted that their younger recruits will follow in their footsteps. This, in turn, leads to poor (or just downright irrelevant) human capital management and sends those new recruits in search of greener pastures.

Breaking Down Old Structures and Approaches

Maull says industrial distributors that have been doing things the same way for 10 or 20+ years are particularly prone to problems on the human capital front, and mainly because they’ve never adapted to the new hiring realities. Toss the very low national unemployment rates into the mix—and the fact that electrical distribution is hardly a “sexy” industry that new college grads or young job-seekers would naturally gravitate towards—and distributors definitely have their work cut out for them.

“Companies that are operating in ‘traditional’ industries, and that still have old structures and cultures in place, really have to consider some new approaches,” says Maull, who tells electrical distributors to consider “flatter” corporate structures that invite employee input while relying less on top-down, command-and-control management approaches. For example, a privately-held, family-run operation that’s being led by the second or third generation of the same family should embrace higher levels of transparency (i.e., keeping non-family employees in the loop on company performance, challenges, and goals).

The same company can empower its management team to share more information about the firm’s finances, strategies, and direction, while also allowing team members to take greater responsibility for their respective areas of the company. “These simple steps can really help empower management teams that, in turn, empower individual employees,” says Maull. Doing this also helps to break down silos within the company and helps get everyone—even new recruits—involved with company strategy, focus, and success. It also helps distributors improve customer service because contractors no longer have to go through multiple layers of employees to get the answers that they’re looking for.

“It’s about empowering managers and helping them create responsive, flat, dynamic work environments that are very responsive in the marketplace and to the customer,” says Maull. “It all starts with good human capital management and helping team members feel like they are part of the decision-making process.”

Are You Putting Off the Inevitable?

Even in today’s tight labor market, Cal Misener, president at High Performance Culture in Vancouver, B.C., says he sees far too many companies taking the “hire employees and pay them a paycheck” approach to human capital management. “A lot of companies think that’s all they need to do to support their new hires,” says Misener, who sees this as a failed approach in a world where employees are looking for a lot more than a paycheck.

According to Gallup, when considering which jobs to apply for, millennials actually place other attributes ahead of income. These traits include:

  • Opportunities to learn and grow
  • Quality of manager
  • Quality of management
  • Interest in type of work
  • Opportunities for advancement

“Like all employees, millennials care about their income. But for this generation, a job is about more than a paycheck — it’s about a purpose,” Gallup points out. “Despite the financial constraints many millennials are experiencing, they still place jobs that allow them to grow, develop, and do what they do best over jobs that supplement their income.”

This creates challenges for distributorships that don’t take the time to understand the psyche of the typical millennial (or the post-millennials now entering the workforce) and opportunities for those that do. Misener says one of the best first steps is to focus on the individual employee and what he or she wants out of a career and life in general. “Then, ask how you can help them get there,” Misener suggests.

“By simply changing up the conversation to focus on the employees, they’re immediately going to feel like your company is invested in them,” says Misener, “versus just being another commodity in the chain of employees that go out the distributorship’s door.” He says another strategy companies can use is to hire people based on their individual passions and strengths instead of just filling empty seats.

“That’s the secret sauce no matter what industry you’re in,” says Misener. “Everyone has a strength and a passion, and it’s up to your management team to help ferret that out and allow it to thrive in the right position. That’s how you get the additional productivity out of your employees while also reducing turnover.”


Read the SIDEBAR to this article: 4 Steps to Better Human Capital Management


In Part II of this article series, we’ll hear from workplace experts who give their top tips for developing an organization-wide approach to empowering, preserving, and valuing human capital.

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Nicky Herron

Discussion (1 comments)

    Frank Annunziato May 8, 2019 / 8:22 am

    The story is very good.But lets say in the Electrical Dist. field does the college grad have that knowledge.I myself went to a high school / trade school and picked up electrical knowledge. When I graduated the outside field was falling very fast. Companies were moving down south it was cheaper to mfg. goods. So I started in the dist. area. I worked for a vendor for 19 yrs. Started hanging fixtures in the showroom. The owner came to me one day and asked if I would work on the counter. I told him I would try it. I worked the counter for 11/2 years.Again he said I want to meet with you today. He then made me the manager of the counter. That was fantastic I asked what is going to happen with the manager now. Answer I will take care of that. I was the counter manager about 2 years and he comes by me again I want to meet with you. I waited about a 1/2 an hour and went in to meet with him. His first statement was close the door. He wanted to know if I wanted to move in the company. I said sure he said there was going to be an opening in inside sales. Within a week I was put into inside sales he said you will have special customers. I asked which ones Pratt Whitney , Chloride and Yale New Haven Hospital. He said they needed to deal with someone who had more electrical knowledge. So I said OK lets go. Within 2 years he makes me the inside sales manager. He tells me all the people in that department if they have an issue will see you. I worked that job for 10 years. He then sold the business and the new management was letting people go with more then 15 -19 years of experience. So 1 day I was called into this managers office. He turns to me and say “You will be let go and no longer work here”. I am cutting all the people with more then 15 years employment.
    I went across the street at lunch time there was another distributor there.I spoke to the BAM and the manager. He said when you need another job come here. I handled the company’s largest customers.These customers were Utility people and EB people. I stood there about 11 – 12 years. Here we go again called into the managers office and he said I would be let go.I asked why he gave me 6 or7 dumb reasons. Then he said I need a job to take over in sales and your it. So then here I go again get another job in the field that I have now for 22 years. Here I handle all OEM , Manufactures and large corporations. Don’t laugh I have more electrical knowledge then most people. I was told one day that it is very hard to find people with electrical knowledge.

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