by Jim T. Ryan
Contributing Writer

Cleo Weaver faced a tough decision this year: maintain the status quo at his business, Triangle Refrigeration Co., or go for growth.

Weaver said his company has posted solid revenue, but it hasn’t undertaken a significant expansion in 10 years. “We’re not on a fast track to success,” Weaver said. Nonetheless, he decided it was time for the company to start a larger term of growth.

To accomplish that, Leola-based Triangle went to work with Success Performance Solutions, a company that help businesses find potential future managers within their existing employee ranks. Usually, this means looking at labor-level employees to find individuals with untapped leadership qualities.

Success Performance Solutions told the company that, if it wanted to expand, it would have to grow its management team with the next generation. The goal, Weaver said, is to take young motivated employees and train them for future senior management positions.”If Triangles Refrigeration Co. is to be healthy and strong, we need new leaders for the growth and to eventually replace current leaders,” Weaver said.

Success Performance Solutions President Ira S. Wolfe said succession planning is a strategy that helps companies identify the skills and abilities of current employees that will be useful to the employees as managers.
“We help (companies) set the standard for that position” Wolfe said. “Then we help recognize the people best suited for the position.”

Succession planning is usually a six-week to eight-week process, Wolfe said. Triangle took most of last summer to complete the reorganization, starting in June and finishing in September.

The process of training new leadership starts with analyzing employees for management potential. Among those skills analyzed are integrity, leadership, motivation, problem-solving, known as soft-skill competency and hard-skill competency or mechanical, hands-on skills. Then it is just a matter of reviewing employee surveys and reports and identifying the best people for the open or new jobs.

The session then moves into the final phases. This is when reports are shared with the individual employees, the company picks leaders and teams based on the analysis, and the transition begins to take shape. Wolfe said his company helps with some training and coaching of new teams and leaders, but it doesn’t do it all. “We try to remain independent, so our analysis is balanced,” Wolfe said. It’s all about fitting motivated employees into leadership roles, he said. And according to Weaver, that’s what Triangle was trying to accomplish. “This is a long-term planning deal,” Weaver said.

Succession planning has been a worthwhile venture, Weaver said, adding that it has helped the growing process by providing Triangle with new leaders and skills to find others in the future.

Wolfe said Success Performance Solutions usually works with companies that already have two-to- five year plans. He said those are the corporations that are looking ahead and want to find workers in a market where there are many job seekers but few with the qualifications companies are looking for.

In this respect, Triangle is ahead of the game, Wolfe said. It already has a five-year plan. Wolfe said the question that many executives and managers have to face now or in the near future is, “If you left today, who takes over?”

Another problem corporations face, Wolfe said, is a dwindling number of young managers. At the same time, there has been a rise in the number of management positions available.

He said he believes this situation is a product of the gap between the baby boomer generation and Generation X. Because there are nearly twice as many baby boomers as Xers, management jobs are more likely to be filled by older people, he said. This also means that outside the company, there are fewer people between the ages of 25 and 40 who have the experience needed for a management role.

Wolfe said these numbers are a good reason for companies to look to their young, motivated employees for future leadership potential.

Weaver said it is still too early to determine the full effect that succession planning has had on the company. He said the five-year plan is to see 20 percent annual growth in revenue, or doubling of revenue over five years. The company is on track this year, having already topped its growth goal, Weaver said.

According to the Business Journal`s 2001 HVAC list, Triangle was ranked 10th among regional heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning contractors. It had a local revenue of $3.5 million and total revenue of $13 million.

In the 10 years prior, Weaver said Triangle’s average annual growth rate was just 6 percent.

Since Success Performance Solutions started working with Triangle, company and employee morale at the company has risen, Weaver said.

He said everyone seems to be on board with the changes. He attributed this to the involvement of more employees in decision-making. “We’re still in the early stages,” Weaver said, “but I feel real good about this process. We want to see new, young leaders become part of our company.

John Rudder, Triangle’s director of refrigeration operations in Lititz, agreed. “Things are going well,” he said.” It’s a new adventure for the group.” Rudder, who had been with Triangle for 22 years, said people in the company are excited about the changes. For him, the fact that more employees are being made active in company decisions has brought about a sense of importance and team spirit.

When decisions are made at the employee level and not just on the board-room level, he said, new jobs and directives are more readily accepted by employees. “The guy out there in the battle (field) has the best sense of what’s happening,” Rudder said.

He said the new, out-of-the-box mentality at Triangle would help the bottom line because employee enthusiasm equates to increased productivity. If an employee believes that his ideas are just as important as those of the executive managers, then the employee is not as likely to have an attitude that his job is only 9-to-5, Rudder said.