According to Kevin Dier, vice president of business development for Johnstone Supply (Portland, Ore.), "If a branch has people going the extra mile to serve the customer, building personal connections with customers, conducting themselves professionally, and being resourceful and following through, there is an excellent branch manager behind it all making it happen."
But how, exactly, does a branch manager become excellent? What knowledge and skills should a branch manager possess? And where can they learn and gain those skills?
With the help of a new HARDI training program being rolled out this month, distributors will soon have answers to all these questions and a full curriculum designed to train successful branch managers. Under the direction of Emily Saving, HARDI's director of education and research foundation, HARDI's Professional Development & Training Committee (PDTC) has been diligently working to create this new program. Dier serves as one of the members of this committee, and he and fellow committee member Ken Perotta, director of sales and marketing at Crescent Parts & Equipment (St. Louis), shared their input on the new curriculum.
PROGRAM FOCUSThe new training program is focused on four key areas that have been identified as critical to the success and effectiveness of a branch manager: leadership, sales and customer service, financials, and operations. The focus areas were identified after extensive research by the PDTC.
"We invested considerable time, effort, and energy performing a job analysis to make sure we were clear about what is required of this role," Saving said. "We surveyed a number of HARDI members and job-shadowed those performing the work to develop a solid job description and list of knowledge, skills, and abilities required for optimum performance."
Within each of the four focus areas, the curriculum has pinpointed specific performance measures that will be reported and gauged for each participant in the program. For example, the performance measures under operations include open orders, the percentage of customer invoice disputes, the percentage of dead inventory, and the days without a lost-time accident.
In essence, Perotta said, a branch manager is responsible for running a small business for a distributor. It's a large responsibility and easy to fall short in one area or another. For example, he said, "In the branches, it can seem like products show up on the shelves like magic." To move beyond this mentality, HARDI's training program is designed to encourage branch managers to learn about and consider all of the behind-the-scenes processes that contribute to a successful branch.
PROGRAM STRUCTUREThe new program is structured into a series of four steps. For the first step, participants will need to complete an evaluation that determines their current strengths and weaknesses.
As part of this, they will be tested on their job knowledge and be analyzed through a 360-degree assessment. The 360-degree portion will not only include self-assessment, but also input from a participant's supervisors and subordinates. According to Saving, this assessment is intended to "capture an accurate representation of the leadership strengths and weaknesses of each branch manager participant."
Dier further explained, "The assessment will make it clear what gaps, if any, exist in their knowledge, skills, abilities, and results so that participants can make a real and measurable shift in performance that is sustained long after the certification has been achieved." Participants will also be required to submit their branch numbers in certain key areas so that these areas can be monitored for improvement.
After the initial assessment is complete, the second step will be a series of online classes. According to Perotta, the online classes will be customized for each participant based on the deficiencies identified during the preliminary assessment. The classes will be administered through HARDI's online learning management system, HEAT.U.
The third step requires participants to attend an instructor-led workshop and dive deeper into the curriculum. In addition, Perotta believes that another benefit to the workshops is that they will expose participants to great networking opportunities with others who hold similar positions.
The fourth step will include additional coaching through six webinars held monthly to reinforce the knowledge and skills taught in the training. During these sessions, participants will report on progress, share learning experiences and best practices, plus continue to develop their knowledge and skills.
After participating in these four steps, participants will re-submit their branch numbers and be reevaluated to calculate their post-program results. They will receive a Branch Manager Level I certification from HARDI. Further down the road, HARDI will also offer the program at a higher level of skill and learning for a Branch Manager Level II certification.
APPLICATION AND RESULTSOne important aspect of the program is its emphasis on application and results. While everyone agrees that training is a good thing to do, many also realize that it doesn't always have much of an impact on participants. To counter this, HARDI's new program is designed for application and will measure each participant's results.
"We're really focused on changing a branch manager's behavior so their improvement is noticeable and ultimately profitable for the branch," Saving said.
Because of this, Dier refers to HARDI's branch manager training as having an "action bias." Participants will be required to report on their progress and how they applied what they have learned, and they will also be assessed again at the end of the training to measure their improvement against the program's benchmarks. This will help reinforce how what they have learned is affecting their job performance.
BROAD BENEFITSAccording to Perotta, the whole HARDI membership can benefit from the new curriculum. It is designed to fill the gaps in training that seem to universally affect distributors. The curriculum is designed to help any owner who has ever wondered, "I have a high-performing service manager; how do I get him to be promotable to branch manager?"
For Perotta, the curriculum will be immediately applicable to his own staff. "I'm looking at it from a practical standpoint and thinking about how it's going to affect my branch managers," he said, adding that the majority of Crescent's branch managers will go through the Level 1 training, and it will be especially beneficial for four of his young managers who are under the age of 30.
"Right now we're responding to the training need," Perotta said. "But we like to do things early and be proactive, so in the future we'll have employees do the training prior to becoming a branch manager."
Perotta also stressed that the branch manager program, along with HARDI's counter certification, are just the first two pieces of a broader goal to provide career path training for all the employees at a distributorship.
HARDI members have been able to enroll in the branch manager certification program since May 1, 2012. The first instructor-led training is scheduled to launch in September 2012.