Eric Allais | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Eric Allais

Background:  

Headquartered in Bothell, Washington, PathGuide Technologies provides warehouse management systems for wholesale, industrial and retail distributors. PathGuide was founded by David Allais, an internationally known developer of bar code technology and the former president and CEO of Intermec, which is today known as Honeywell.

The Mistake:

A couple of years ago, it was becoming apparent to me that one of our departments wasn’t functioning as well as it could have. Some of the folks in our engineering department appeared to be dissatisfied with their jobs and their output kind of showed that.

When I began interviewing staff-level folks and managers to see what was wrong, I figured it out: I had asked internal staff members to step into management roles for which they had little to no experience and, as I later learned, little to no desire to inhabit. These individuals, who were otherwise quite talented, didn’t embrace the managerial work.

Because I’m an optimist, I imagined that the energy, enthusiasm or human gratitude for the promotions might naturally kick in. In fact, quite the opposite happened: Output and the quality of work lagged.

When evaluating people for managerial positions, practice extreme care.

The Lesson:

When evaluating people for managerial positions, practice extreme care. If you don’t, and you end up with the wrong people in these positions, a ripple effect can ensue. All of this is to say: Don’t hesitate to explore talent from the outside, because they can greatly help with blind spots you didn’t know you had.

We’ve since brought in outside talent, and it’s been going well.

Another lesson I learned from this situation is that you can’t really fabricate passion or charisma in a person for a job. If an individual says, “I’m on the wrong bus,” listen to that very carefully. I could have listened a lot better and said, “I don’t think promoting this person is the right instinct.”

It was hard, because no one specifically told me what was going on in the department until I started interviewing them – which makes sense. It’s human nature to consider the political risk of exposing too much about certain goings-on. But I should have probed more deeply and consistently to figure that out sooner.

Follow PathGuide on Twitter at @PathGuide

Photo courtesy of PathGuide

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