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Attract More Talent By Creating a Culture of Leadership

It can be hard to find high-quality employees in today’s job environment. However, it’s not impossible. This week's guest talks about how they’ve managed to grow their team by 20 percent year over year while decreasing turnover through their culture of leadership.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Josh Hendrickson is vice president of sales and marketing at Wilson Lumber, a third-generation owned lumber dealer operating outside of Huntsville, Alabama. He talks with Deanna Murphy, director of strategy at Venveo, and Zach about Wilson Lumber’s unique leadership structure.

Hiring for Culture

Josh explains that Wilson Lumber’s overall approach to leadership is to “develop and lead our people with their managers.” That’s because they know that leading people and developing people are more important than simply managing people.

To that end, Wilson Lumber partnered with a leadership coach who comes several times a quarter to teach the employees.

This dedication to developing leaders inside the company is a huge reason why they’ve been able to grow the company so quickly. “All these different ways that we can develop our leaders have helped us grow and do a lot of battlefield promotions within the company. These people are prepared to lead people and grow our company to the scale that we've been,” says Josh. In fact, they’ve grown 20 percent YoY for the past five years. “If we didn't have that program in place, there's no way that we could manage that growth effectively.”

This program has also had a positive impact on culture. When Josh talks to new hires, he finds that the majority of them applied because they’ve heard about the culture. About 80 to 90 percent of candidates come into the process understanding Wilson Lumber’s culture because the team talks about that culture in every part of the interview process.

They care so much about the culture that they’ll hire for culture over skills: “We believe that it's okay to hire somebody that may not have the skillset that you need that's a better cultural fit because we can get them there.” In fact, companies that hire for culture have been shown to have more success than companies that hire for skills.

Wilson Lumber doesn’t just read their list of core values in the hiring process, however. “We actually have gone in so far as to develop statements behind the core values because it's not enough to say, ‘One of our core values is: do the right thing.’ Well, that's a very subjective statement. We explain to them, ‘This is what that means to us and our company. Do the right thing means do what's right by everybody involved, even if it's not best for you or the customer or the employee. We want to do what's most fair for everyone.’”

Having new hires understand the culture’s ground rules on day one positively impacts retention and overall culture.

The Leadership Program

Not every employee goes into the leadership program, however. To decide who goes into the program is a multi-part decision.

First, every non-frontline employee takes a DiSC assessment, which is a personality profiling tool (of course, the team has training on how to read and analyze these assessments). Then, they take a Working Genius assessment. This tells the person what they’re capable of, what they love to do and what they really don’t like to do. Using those two assessments, they’ll pick which new hires they think will be a good fit for the Wilson Lumber leadership program.

The program itself is a six-month-long course where they’ll take six different classes. The classes answer questions like how do you communicate with people, how do you like to communicate and how do they receive communication. After all, management is really just getting along with people and knowing how to talk to them effectively. “If we can equip them better on how they deliver a message and how people receive it and figure out how to bridge that gap, then it's not that hard to develop leaders,” says Josh.

The decision to implement a leadership program at Wilson Lumber happened over time for a few reasons. Owner Rob Wilson read many of Patrick Lencioni’s books on leadership and loved them so much that he now requires the team to read several as well. Wilson Lumber is also on the C12 board, which is a Christian board group for business owners that does monthly training. Each month, they meet to talk about different aspects of business, including leadership development, and several Wilson Lumber leadership members go to the meeting each month.

From there, the team simply became passionate about training. “It's a real commitment investment from the company and from our team members,” explains Josh. “And once you go through the program, it's not enough as a manager and the leader. Who doesn't need more training to learn how to work better with people and lead people? So we continue to go through more classes. It's a constant evolution that I don't think will ever stop in this company, but that's what makes it so great to work here.”

Wilson Lumber uses the Traction Framework for their project management, and it plays into their leadership style. The leadership team started using this framework five years ago — and after two years, drove it top down into their team, layer by layer. Today, it’s company-wide.

“Without Traction, it would have been really difficult for us to get through this explosive growth that we've had and to hold people accountable to the things that we've got to get done,” admits Josh.

Social Media

A lot of Wilson Lumber’s leadership team is also active on social media, which is a strategy that has developed over time. Several leaders post regularly on LinkedIn for several reasons. “We're wanting people to help understand who we are. We're growing. We're getting into newer markets. It's a whole lot easier for people to come work for us or do business with us, and we felt like LinkedIn was a great platform for that.”

However, these posts haven’t just affected the company’s interactions with vendors and customers. The desire to share company culture has also spread to the employees. While no one is sharing “go like our LinkedIn page” or “come to our website,” they’ve seen explosive growth in both social media platform followers and website traffic. “I think a lot of that is a result of what they're seeing and reading about us on our individual pages,” says Josh.

The team tells a lot of positive stories on LinkedIn because that’s what they’ve found resonates with the audience. “As a business in social media marketing, you've got to understand those platforms and which one you need to use for what audience and what tone you need to use when you send those messages. We've spent a lot of time reviewing those different platforms internally and trying to figure out which one is the right one to use for the right message.”

When they want to target builders who will give Wilson Lumber repetitive, regular business — i.e. pro builders — they generally connect with them through Facebook. They use Instagram to target pro builders’ clients. They use LinkedIn to connect with vendors, industry players and multi-family clients.

Want Even More Insight?

For listeners who want to elevate their leadership, Josh has some advice for you. “Be intentional. Have a team. Work on that team. Make sure that everybody's in lockstep. Outline the objective and write down a mission statement of where you want your leadership team to be — and make those goals clear and defined for everybody in the company so that they understand where they need to be as leaders in the company. And then just work on it constantly, never stop.”

When you do it right, hard times like The Great Resignation or COVID can make your company stronger. “It exposed weaknesses areas that you just had to step up and get it done, and those were the times that we identified ‘That's the next leader. That's the guy that was looking for something to get into, that came with a solution and not a problem.’ And we just kept seeing that over and over and over again in our company, and it was pretty exciting to go through. As tough as it was, it was an exciting time.”

To learn more about creating a culture of leadership, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Josh Hendrickson at [email protected] or on LinkedIn.

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