MELANIE HODGDON: Recently, I was working with the owner of a roofing and siding company who was in the process of switching from running his crew to running his business. Complicating the challenge of naming a supervisor who was both technically competent and a good manager was the problem of seniority.

I had no idea how highly valued seniority could be until I worked with a company for which I had to put together a job assignment board. On the board, I listed the employees alphabetically, which seemed logical to me, but the owner took one look and said, “Oh, that will never work. The boys will be offended.” I soon learned that every employee...

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