The building authority Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

A few years ago, one of Robert L. Moultrie’s best construction project managers came to him with a request.

“I’d like to go into sales,” the employee said. “There’s no way,” Moultrie responded. “You’re too valuable to us in our construction division.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I’ll leave,” he said.

Moultrie and the employee went on, and after much deliberation, Moultrie decided to let him try sales.

“The mistake I made was I should have put him in sales 10 years earlier,” he says. “He was awesome, and he knew what he wanted to do ... and today the volume of business he brings to the organization is unbelievable.”

While that employee has brought great business to The Facility Group, it may never have happened if Moultrie, chairman and founder, had a different attitude. If he told the guy not to let the door hit him on the way out, or if he acted like he had 1,000 other things to do, his business may not be as successful as it is today, something he attributes to his employees, who grew the company to nearly $300 million in revenue last year, up from $10 million in 1986.

“My problem was simple,” Moultrie says. “I had so many weaknesses, I had to hire so many great people to take care of all my weaknesses, that it’s caused me to end up with a great organization.”

Here’s how Moultrie has conquered some of his biggest personnel challenges as he’s guided The Facility Group to new levels of sales and success.

Hire strong

When Moultrie needs people at his construction management services firm, he only wants the best.

“You’ve got to hire the very best people, and you’ve got to empower them to do the job they have in front of them,” Moultrie says. “By empower, you can’t be micromanaging them. You’ve got to find the very best people possible and let them do their job.”

Moultrie says that to find the best people, you have to be active in the marketplace and network. As he meets people, casual conversations serve as informal interviews. He also occasionally uses agencies, but the best way to recruit top talent, he says, is through referrals from satisfied employees.

Moultrie advises spending as much time as possible with job candidates before hiring them to make sure they will be a good fit for your company.

“I want to know everything about his background,” Moultrie says. “I want to know as much as I can about his mother and father. I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know if he has a positive attitude or a negative attitude. The only way you can do that is sit sometimes two or three hours with an individual.”

On occasion, Moultrie will have a candidate come back and have lunch with him.

“Sometimes over lunch, someone may show one tendency when he puts his guard down that he may not share in an interview process,” he says.

Beyond assessing if the person will fit in, Moultrie wants to ensure that the fit goes both ways, so he’s upfront during the interview process.

“I said to an individual interviewing with me, ‘Look, this is a twoway street. You’re putting on the table your capabilities. We’re letting you know what our desires are. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be convinced we’re the type of organization you want to be with, and we’ve got to be convinced that you have the skill set and capabilities that we need,’” Moultrie says.

If both the candidate and Moultrie decide the person is a good fit, then Moultrie trains him or her about the company’s procedures during much of that person’s first month. He says it’s crucial to have procedures to teach someone how his or her role affects other roles in the company.

“You’re dealing with the intellectual capital of these people,” he says. “You have to train them and make sure they understand your procedures. If you don’t, you could end up losing that person because they don’t understand how they fit in the whole organization and how their role is important.”

Establish trust

If leaders want employees to feel valued, it starts with making sure their No. 1 representative genuinely cares about them.

“Your HR department has to have the respect of the people that make up your organization,” he says. “If they believe that the head of HR is looking at the interests inside the company, it makes them first feel better. They feel they can go to the HR head with any concerns without fear of reprisal.”

When Moultrie’s human resources director left to start his own business, he did what seemed natural and promoted the second in command. Soon after, he realized that he made a mistake.

“She did not have the rapport with the people,” he says. “She didn’t have the same compassion, although she was more schooled from an administration standpoint.”

People skills can’t be taught, but technical skills can. He soon saw an executive vice president in the company who people respected, and while she didn’t have the human resources background, he trained her for the position.

“You want your HR person, above all else, to care about the people,” Moultrie says. “That’s their function — to make sure that the people are looked out after in this company. ... It’s a little bit like sales and marketing. On your sales and marketing staff, you want them to be on the client’s side. You want your HR director to care about the people, and they’re looking after the interest of the people.”

Having an effective leader in that department creates a culture that employees feel comfortable expressing concerns and issues in, but it can’t stop with one department. Moultrie says it’s important for senior leaders to show employees they care about them, too, and part of that comes with how they react to people’s mistakes.

“If you empower people, you’ve got to let them make mistakes,” Moultrie says. “You don’t want the same mistake to occur again and again, but if someone makes a mistake because they were genuinely trying to do the right thing, you don’t end up openly criticizing them for it. You accept the fact and try to make sure they learn from those mistakes and go forward.”

Moultrie says senior leaders need to own up to their people’s mistakes and not blame them.

“At the end of the day, if your people make a mistake, it’s still your mistake,” he says. “The buck stops with me, and I don’t try to blame anybody. If we lose money in a given year, it’s my own fault. It’s not somebody else’s.”

Because of that, he works with people to help them avoid making the same mistakes again, sitting down with them and discussing what went wrong to pinpoint where the error in judgment occurred. Once identified, managers should monitor that person the next time they are doing the task so as to avoid making the same mistake again and to help make that employee stronger.

“They recognize that they’re not at risk of losing their job because they made an error,” Moultrie says. “You accept it, and you recognize their strengths, but you don’t hold them up for ridicule or let them go because he made a mistake. It causes people to be willing to think outside the box and causes them to be willing to be a leader.”

The other part of establishing trust is communicating with employees. Moultrie walks around and talks to people about what they’re working on and what he’s doing as well.

“Let your people know that you care,” Moultrie says. “Let them know that you’re not just a figurehead sitting in an office someplace. People today, they want to understand what your philosophy is about. They want to know that you’re doing things that are meaningful to them.”

He says it’s also important to communicate the state of the business, so employees don’t feel like management is hiding information from them. When they feel informed about the business, it creates buy-in for goals.

“If we’ve had a great year, we let them know,” Moultrie says. “If we’ve had a not so great year, we let them know. It’s critical for people to be kept informed.”

When you foster that atmosphere, people will come to you and ask questions and make suggestions for the betterment of the company.

One employee came to Moultrie and asked why the company didn’t have a 401(k) matching program. He never realized that was important to people, so after six to eight months of planning, the company unveiled a matching program for its employees.

“That means we’re listening to what people are saying, and we recognize that this is a need here,” he says.

Let go

After 17 years with the company, one of Moultrie’s employees told him he had an opportunity at another company.

Moultrie spent three days talking with him, hoping to convince him to stay, but after that time, he agreed that it was a better opportunity — one he couldn’t provide, so he told him not to turn it down.

“You should never be upset and bitter toward anybody that elects to leave you because they have a better opportunity or an advancement that you can’t offer to that person,” Moultrie says. “I don’t even mind having competing firms that may have come out of this organization because, if that’s the case, then we’ve done the right thing of training individuals and making them entrepreneurial and making them bring value to themselves. ... None of us should ever be fearful of that.”

Sometimes employees leaving the company don’t do so voluntary, though, and Moultrie says there’s a proper way to deal with those situations, as well. If it’s a matter of an individual’s performance, he advises giving that person a year to prove him- or herself.

If, at that point, performance still isn’t satisfactory, examine if the person has skills needed elsewhere in the company. If he or she doesn’t offer something needed, then it’s time to let that person go.

If it’s a case of a market downturn, you have to choose who should stay on board.

“A situation is a situation, but first off, you go through your whole organization, and you ask yourself who are the absolute core people that you have to hang on to in any circumstances and who has the values that you want to continue with the company, and then you downsize from that point,” Moultrie says.

Any time you have to let people go — either by firing or layoffs — a leader needs to communicate honestly about why the changes are necessary and continue to show he or she cares. He also suggests helping employees find jobs elsewhere. This helps maintain respect, which has helped Moultrie hire good people back when markets improve later.

“If you’re honest with people, they understand,” he says. “There’s no need to sugarcoat a bad situation.”

He also says that layoffs and firing people help indicate if you have the right managers in place, because having the right managers is critical to ensuring employees feel valued and trusted enough to stick with the company.

“I never want any of our managers to not suffer about having to let someone go because if it’s easy, then I’ve got the wrong manager,” Moultrie says. “I want them to care about our employees because that’s all we have. The success of a service organization is the people you hire.”

HOW TO REACH: The Facility Group, (770) 437-2700 or www.facilitygroup.com

The Moultrie file


Born: I was born in a small Georgia town called Woodbury — population 1,200.

Education: Georgia Tech, bachelor of science degree, civil engineering

What has been your biggest business challenge?

Always the biggest challenge is finding the best people possible to fill the roles. It’s a service organization. All you’re selling

is your people, so you have to have the best people possible to be successful.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

Never get so conceited that you believe that you’ll always be successful. You have to accept that there’s some bumps in the

road. Not everything goes as one may dream. The economy will go against you. 9/11 will happen. Things that will happen,

you will have no control over, and you have to be able to manage yourself through those times.

What was your first job?

When I was 11 years old, I was paid 11 cents an hour putting peach baskets down a chute, and after three weeks I was fired

because the guy said I was not serious enough about my job. It had such a serious impact on me losing that job that I have

made sure that never in my life that, that ever happened to me again. To be honest, that was a very driving issue with me from

that point.

What’s your favorite game and why?

My favorite game today is that thing called Sudoku. I find great pleasure in sitting and doing that because, being an engineer,

I enjoy working with the numbers and making them all line up. Anything that’s challenging is what I enjoy.