TOUGH CALL: Oil and Water

By / 3 weeks ago
Online Poll – Read the scenario below then place your vote at the bottom of the page.

Oil and Water
Finally, after nearly a decade as general manager of Water Lumber, a mid-sized lumberyard in a growing area, you understand the wisdom behind the owner’s mantra: “Do enough of the right things everyday, and good things will follow.” That’s how the owner led the company, and you’ve been conscious to follow her example. It seems to have worked. After all, for as long as you remember, Water Lumber’s growth has never been explosive or jarring—but it’s always been steadily trending in the right direction. As a result, your company has established a clear leadership position in your market.

Any questions about your company’s success are quickly answered by just a cursory examination of your team. Your company’s outside and inside sales pros are well-trained and very good at what they do. Operations-wise, your company is a well-oiled machine, coordinating seamlessly with both the sales force and management. Your state-of-the-art software system does what you need it to do, and delivers the information you need to keep your company moving forward. After years of slow, steady growth, your company has been running smoother than ever.

But that might be about to change. As good as your team is, growth in your market has effectively stretched them to near capacity. Your proximity to a fast-growing metro area—with an estimated 1,000 new single-family homes to be built within the next decade— means it’s time to ramp up your capabilities. You’d hoped to tackle this challenge the same way you’ve always done it, by growing organically, and adding the right people as you found them. The owner had a different idea.

“Our market hasn’t been this strong for as long as I remember, and I see an opportunity for us to really take the company to a whole new level,” she explained. “That’s why I’ve hired the top two outside salespeople from Oil Lumber, our leading competitor, along with their director of operations. Since Oil Lumber has always done things very differently than us, this is a golden opportunity for you to leverage and meld their abilities with our team.”

Despite some initial misgivings about how these new hires would fit in your company, you were determined to make it work. But your initial meeting with them went poorly, and their first few weeks on the job are going even worse. The first problem is their attitude. “Look, your owner hired us because we’re the best in the market at what we do. Frankly, there’s a lot of things that our old company did differently and better—so we expect to be able to make some changes here.” Since they were top performers at their old firm, they expected to have the same position with you. But you already have top leaders in those positions, and you’re not about to push them aside.

Just two weeks in, there’s serious discord and pushback among your top people—and the new additions have little respect for the fact that they’re joining an established team, and are pushing for changes that just aren’t going to happen. Plus, customers are noticing that something’s amiss—and mistakes are happening where none happened before.

What would you do?

1. COMPANY MEETING. Bring everyone together, and let them know that they’re all on the same team, and everyone has to work together—or else.

2. PULL THE PLUG. As much as we’d like it to, oil and water will never mix. It’s best to let the new employees go before there’s any lasting damage to your team.

3. ENGAGE THE OWNER. It’s time to tell the owner that new people aren’t a fit with your company. She hired them; what would she like to do now?

4. MAKE IT WORK. It’s your job as GM to work with your people, individually and as a team, work through conflicts and get the best out of everybody. Not easy, but doable.

What would you do?

Something else?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to

See how your judgment compares with others in the industry at
Final results will appear in The Buzz section of the November/December 2016 issue.

Rick Schumacher

Rick Schumacher is the editor and publisher of LBM Journal, and has more than 24 years experience covering the industry.