Don’t End Up with Drones and Clones: How to Really Invest in Your Staff and Future

by Dennis Gros, founder and president
Gros Executive Recruiters

Think of the future of your organization five, 10 or even 15 years down the line. Who’s in charge? Who’s paving the way?

Really envision it for a moment.

Are your new managers and executives following orders and sticking to Standard Operating Procedure? Or are they taking risks, pushing boundaries, discovering new revenue streams and opening up all kinds of new potential?

Hopefully, you’re dreaming big and believing tremendous things are in store. The reality is, you do have the potential to develop your leaders to actually transform the growth path of your firm, but you can’t just stick to the norm. You have to be willing to mix it up within your organization. You have to help the right people develop in the right ways to create future managers – managers who won’t be afraid to be creative.

Traditional organizational development often backfires.

For too long, company leaders have applied organizational development practices prioritizing a need for employees to align directly with the vision of the organization and its leaders. In an attempt to make sure everyone understands the collective goal of the company, employees and future leaders fall into the same hive mind, mirroring each other’s behaviors, communication and even ideas.

The “vision” of the organization can become a cage, preventing individuals from exploring their own perspectives and applying their own personal experience and education to the business and industry. In plastics, this is a common trap, especially within large companies.

Here’s where good intentions can go wrong.

Plastics employees at large firms are typically saturated in seemingly endless training. These training modules have been standardized to accommodate a large staff and usually appeal to the lowest common denominator to ensure that even the least experienced employees understand. In doing so, the truly remarkable future leaders are mired in a never-ending elementary education when they could benefit much more from something more substantial.

These companies usually keep records on individual progress and feel they are developing leaders correctly by promoting the winners (and terminating the losers, if necessary) to grow their future management team.

Instead, they are simply creating a company culture that’s completely pedigree. They are accidentally churning out drones and clones who – yes – definitely understand the company and each other, but only because they have been indoctrinated. Unfortunately, these practices can lead to managers who act and think just like the managers above them.

In larger companies, when business is good, staff numbers go up. So do corporate information silos. The result can be more people performing tightly defined jobs, but no unique challenges. And, that leaves time for – you guessed it – more corporate training.

Diverse development leads to wild, new growth.

On the contrary, at smaller plastics companies, almost everyone competes in the trenches every day. Accomplishments – and mistakes – become obvious to everyone, especially the person who engaged in them! In this environment, employees feel empowered to contribute. The dialogue around the office tends to be much more open, and ideas (even the radical ones) are more likely to be heard and discussed with all levels of staff.

The employees who do make great contributions feel encouraged when they see their ideas being put to work and bringing in results, which leads them to stretch even further. An environment of open communication tends to breed leadership skills. These women and men often rise to middle management supervisory roles and executive roles organically, as they become personally invested in the pursuit of growth and profitability. The company culture at these smaller firms becomes a melting pot of perspectives and strengths as the collective mission naturally becomes innovation and growth. Then, by augmenting the team with some outside hires (some of whom were trained by the big companies described earlier), the melting pot continues to expand, as does revenue.

Here, organizational development prevails when managers choose to highlight and accommodate each individual’s personality and strengths instead of unintentionally pigeonholing each into like-minded teams, where the individual’s unique perspective is lost. As a manager, how can you ensure you’re developing your organization into creative growth instead of driving toward a dead end?

  1. Find the right hire for the right job.
    Ensure you are hiring the right people from the get-go. Take a look at your typical interview questions and overall process. Audit what you have and reframe the hiring process to prioritize searching for individuals who are self-­starters, always have a desire to learn, can provide a few bold ideas on the fly and confidently express their opinions.By avoiding candidates who jump into the “yes-­man” role right away or take a timid approach to sharing their perspectives, you are working toward building a team of unique individuals who are more likely to embrace new ideas and collaborate. Remember to pay close attention to your overall staff. Look for hires who bring something new and different to the team.
  2. Develop differently.
    Don’t just crank out the same corporate training for every employee and call it a day. Invest deeply in each of your employees. Believe each of your employees can be a tremendous leader and asset for your company. Chances are, the extra attention and care will serve as a self­-fulfilling prophecy as you help guide individuals into upper level roles with more responsibility.Always consider each employee’s strengths and ideas as you help develop each for the right role. Communicate closely with each employee. Learning more about personal growth goals can help you place individuals in the right management positions, which also will make them more likely to stay with your company and continue to produce new ideas for you.
  3. Create a culture of possibility.
    Of course it is important to create goals for your organization, but never let them define your culture. Let your culture define the mission. The last thing you want is to build a culture that closes more doors than it opens. Encourage employees to shape the company culture in their own ways and integrate them through the organization.By providing direct input, employees become much more invested. This can lead to an amazing snowball effect – the more employees who help shape your culture, the more employees who develop the morale, belief and pride necessary to become excellent managers.

Now, for all non­managers:

First, good for you: By reading a magazine devoted to your industry, you already are investing in yourself and your future management potential. Second, as an employee on the front line, how can you continue to work with the leadership of your company to ensure your development is leading toward proper management material?

Take a look at these three action items again, but from your perspective.

  1. Find the right job.
    Every job brings its fair share of challenges, so don’t use that as an excuse to quit just because it was a rough Monday last week. Instead, really think about what draws you to plastics. What do you do better than most and in what role can you continue to pursue that best?
  2. Be unique.
    Don’t stop being curious. Continue to develop your skills and strengths, and embrace the way you look at a problem and find a solution. Be open to learning from anyone and everyone around you, and don’t hesitate to try something new.
  3. Take pride in your organization.
    Make the place you work everything you dream it could be. Believing in your work and your company can do wonders for you in actual productivity and output, as well as for your employer. Even if you are not in a formal leadership role at the moment, you are a part of a team and can help transform it into something truly great.

Dennis Gros is the founder and president of Gros Executive Recruiters. Building on a decade of business-to-business sales, networking and marketing, Gros founded the company in 1989. Since that time, the firm has placed an aggregate of more than $49 million in new employee starting salaries, solely in the marketplace of plastics and packaging. For more information, visit