How to Hire and Train a Second in Command

April 17, 2024
In this article, we’ll take you through how to hire and train a second in command while avoiding many of the most common mistakes.

You’ve spent years building your shop, but it’s nice to have someone who can step in and run the day-to-day operations now and again. That way, you can take a sick day, go on vacation, or just get a good night’s sleep. Hiring a second in command can also help you free up time to grow other areas of your business.

Start with Requirements
Start by identifying your weaknesses and parts of your job you don’t love. For example, if you prefer managing a P&L to managing employees, maybe an ideal candidate could handle the employees on a day-to-day basis and help you focus on finding ways to cut costs. Striking the right balance can help grow the business and make your job more enjoyable. 

Some areas to consider include:

  • Customer service
  • Training employees
  • Finance and bookkeeping
  • Marketing and sales
  • Managing employees

In addition to filling in gaps, you want to ensure candidates have the baseline skills needed to run the business. If you only have a few employees, you might need someone capable of being a service advisor, technician, and bookkeeper. But if you rarely step into these roles, you might prefer someone with more business experience.

Get ATI’s FREE Second in Command Hiring Checklist to find the best person to effectively run your business, while you work on your business. Download here:

Hiring the Right Candidate
When hiring a Second in Command, you’re looking for someone with proven experience doing what you are hiring them to do. After all, you would never hire a mechanic who has never touched a vehicle, so why would you hire a business "expert" who hasn't run a successful business?

Also, the intangible qualities of a candidate are just as important, especially for the second and command role. Do they have good character, can they lead, are they dependable, and what about trustworthy?  After all, you must be able to trust the person that will run your shop while you’re away. 

Keep in mind that the right person may already exist within your business. By hiring internally, you get someone already familiar with your processes (and potentially your shortfalls) and can step in immediately. The drawback is that you won’t get a true outsider’s perspective on what you could improve, and sometimes, that can be worth its weight in gold.

Develop a Training Plan
Once you’ve hired someone, the next step is getting them up-to-speed on the day-to-day operations and introducing them to the rest of your company. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and during their spin-up, you’ll need to shift from the hiring manager to a coaching role.

Start by creating a handbook of standard operating procedures with everything they need to know, from software systems to human resources to health and safety requirements. Then, spend some time reviewing the handbook with them and coach them on critical areas of the business while addressing any initial questions or concerns that may pop up.

The handbook provides must-have documentation if you plan to step away from the business for any period of time. With these rules and procedures in hand, it's easier for a second in command to keep things running smoothly.

Some key elements include:

  • Day-to-day operations. Daily tasks and expectations are listed, including opening and closing procedures, staff meetings, and workflow management.
  • Reporting structure. A diagram of the organizational structure, including who will report to the second in command and where to go to address problems.
  • Policies and procedures. Detailed guidelines for human resources, operational policies, and emergency procedures as a critical reference.
  • Appendices. A list of essential contacts, a glossary of unique terms, and an acknowledgment form to sign saying they received and read the information.

Next, start including them in your day-to-day activities and introduce them to the rest of your team. As they become more familiar with the business, encourage them to get more involved in the day-to-day activities—especially those you don’t enjoy or require a unique skill set that complements your own. Eventually, they can start taking over.

And finally, work with your second in command to set tangible goals, milestones, and key performance indicators. For example, if you're coaching them to take sales within the next month, you might set a sales target or close rate for them. Setting these expectations and goals ensures you’re both on the same page and avoid conflicts down the road.

Trust and Verify
One of the hardest things for business owners is letting go of the reins. If your second in command starts doing things differently, you may feel tempted to jump in and correct even the most minor things. But getting in the way and micromanaging is almost always a mistake. It's critical to start trusting them to do their job, even if it's slightly different.

On the other hand, you can’t just hire a second in command and check out from the business either. Build time into your calendar for weekly one-on-one meetings outside the workplace to discuss strategy, core values, and any problems. You should have a good relationship with your second-in-command built on regular communication and trust.

It’s also a good idea to set expectations for that communication. For example, you may want to discuss your preferred communication channel and set response time expectations. That way, you won't be surprised if it takes them a day to get back to you or be annoyed by short text messages when you expect a phone call to resolve an issue.

The Bottom Line
Hiring a second in command can help you scale your business and take some much-needed time away, but the process can be challenging. You need someone with experience managing a similar business and someone you can trust. Successfully onboarding your second requires setting good expectations and solid communication.

If you’re ready to hire a second in command, download our free checklist. You’ll get the critical step you need to guide you through the process of identifying and onboarding a successful second in command. Download your FREE Second in Command Hiring Checklist here:

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