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7 Ideas You Can Use Now from LBM’s Future Leaders

Panelists at NLBMDA conference
"The Future Is Now" panelists at NLBMDA's Pro Dealer Summit in Kansas City on Oct. 5, from left: Sunny Bowman, Dakota County Lumber; Anthony DiPrizio, Ricci Lumber; Sadie Hammond, Hammond Lumber; Kylie Holland, Curtis Lumber; Virginia Lewis, Tart Lumber; and Bobby Sanford, Sanford & Hawley

A half dozen lumberyard executives notable for their lack of gray hair and wrinkles took over the stage Oct. 5 at the Pro Dealer Industry Summit loaded with suggestions on ways to boost business and engage with younger workers. Here are seven of them:

Promote Yourself as a Growth Opportunity

Tart Lumber is a $12 million, one-location institution near Washington. Its size limits the number of opportunities to rise up the corporate ladder, potentially discouraging hires. But VP Virginia Lewis compensates for that with an alternative pitch.

“I’m perfectly happy to be a stepping stone and not your career,“ Lewis said. She touts Tart as a place where a junior staffer can learn skills and then get connected with Tart’s contacts who would welcome someone with such skills. “We take someone who moves on as an opportunity to celebrate that growth,” she said. “And the employees notice that.”

Slightly bigger companies can provide slightly more options. “People really want to have that pathway for upper mobility laid out from Day 1,” said Robert “Bobby’ Sanford, Operations Manager at Sanford & Hawley in Connecticut. “That’s something we struggle with, but we’ve had multiple success stories of people coming in with no experience—just an extra set of hands. We’ve cultivated them and trained them up and have given them that product knowledge, … getting them into trucks and on our equipment, and up to the next level.”

Create Opportunities to Speak Up

Sadie Hammond, Director of Organizational Development at Hammond Lumber, helped create an Employee Engagement Committee in which a couple of employees from each of Hammond’s 22 branches meet regularly online with leaders at headquarters to discuss operational issues. “It’s not just a suggestion box. It’s having conversations that are appreciated … that they’re being listened to,” Hammond said. “Being able to listen and hear ideas is important to employees.”

Monitor New Hires Closely

Numerous surveys indicate that new employees who quit soon after joining a company often do so because of disappointing experiences in their first days after arriving. Kylie Holland, EVP and Co-Owner of Curtis Lumber, said her company has altered its onboarding process in two ways. First, it devotes its initial day at work to focusing on Curtis’ work culture; only on the second day does it start job training. And second, Curtis has begin checking back with employees 30, 60, 90 and 180 days after they were hired. The goal: “Reaching out and helping them understand that we care and we want to know what challenges your having that we can provide support for,” Holland said. Curtis also has increased the number of conversations with more veteran staffers to make sure they know that their opinions and concerns matter.

Be Flexible About Flexibility

All of the panelists’ companies have examined ways to loosen employment policies, and each has made changes based on their special conditions. “Flexibility can mean a [four-day, 10-hour] work week, or changing days off, or hybrid work schedule,” said Sunny Bowman, President of Minnesota’s Dakota County Lumber and the panel’s moderator. “It’s not solely about going 100% work from home. … It might not look like a fully remote option, but let’s start moving there” when it makes sense., she added.

Hammond Lumber decided to give each employee 8 hours away from the job to do volunteer work. “This show you support the causes they care about,” she said. Tart Lumber now gives time off for bereavement. “If we’re a family based company, family comes first,” Lewis said. “I don’t want people to think they can’t take PTO or afford to honor the life of a loved one.”

“We tend to generalize a lot of assumptions about what people want instead of very pointedly asking: ‘What is your expectation? Curtis Lumber’s Holland said. ““You can put this back onto your employees—‘Tell us what’s going to work for you, and then we can have a conversation.’ Also, when you collect all the info, you owe a response. Sometimes your response might be a no. [but what matters is]. it’s letting people have an opportunity to share what they’re expecting.”

Promote a Family Atmosphere—Even If You Aren’t a Family

Anthony DiPrizio, Operations Manager at Ricci Lumber in New Hampshire, joined the company because it was small and family owned.“It’s how they treat their employees, “ he said. “They want you to succeed and help you with every step you take.”

Sadie Hammond, who shares the company’s name, feels the same should hold true even when you have hundreds of team members. “It’s important for us to have that family feel,” she said. “…. The younger generation wants a place that they can brag about to their friends.”

Cross-Train for Fun and Profit

Since joining Ricci, DiPrizio’s employer has been acquired by Kodiak Building Partners. Now he’s able to take advantage of management training opportunities that a multi-billion-dollar company can afford. But at the same time, Ricci is actively working on ways to expand its staff members’ skill set.

“Our employees love trying new things, so we do a lot of cross-training,” he said. “Lumber sales and millwork sales are example. A new person in millwork might start with lumber sales, and vice versa. We’ll have load builders do receiving or run the gate house) “It keeps things interesting if you’re not doing the same job every day, and it provides visibility. You’re gaining the perspective of what others do on a day to day basis and what your coworkers do.” The cross-training also benefits Ricci in that it has an easier time temporarily filling a role if the usual employee is on leave or vacation.

At Sanford & Hawley, “We don’t have resources for big meetings, but we have 1 on 1 conversations to develop an avenue of growth that fits their life,” Bobby Sanford said. “It’s usually unique to the individual. Nothing set in stone.”

Culture and Listening

All the panelists stressed the need to create a strong culture that’s built in part by communicating with the team. Tart Lumber uses the CultureWise app to reinforce company tenets.

“They want to be heard,” Lewis said. “They want purpose in their job, and that’s a unique area where we can succeed. In our work, you see a house at the end of it.”

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