Randal J. Richardson Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

As president of Classic Residence by Hyatt, Randal J. Richardson leads 3,600 people nationwide, so being a people person comes with the territory. With the belief that happy employees lead to happy residents, Richardson has guided the Chicago-based luxury senior-living provider to the top of its industry, posting $260 million in annual revenue and serving more than 6,000 retirees in 18 communities nationwide. Smart Business spoke with Richardson about how collaboration leads to satisfaction for employees and, in turn, for customers.

Develop a collaborative environment. Communication is up to me to begin with, but you have to have a lot of people who have high interface and high contact with the broader employee base in your company.

They need to understand those cultural values and goals that are important to the organization so that they can communicate effectively with all the people they interview with. As important, it’s up to all of us in those positions to be role models.

People watch what you do, and you need to make sure to understand that your actions will be evaluated and interpreted by a larger audience of employees within an organization, and they’ll take those actions and their interpretations of those as direction as to how they might act in a similar situation.

It’s extremely important that people, to the extent we can, involve people at all levels of the organization in understanding what our goals and objectives are. If we can do that, we’re going to have a better chance of delivering that at the end of the day.

Develop your employees. We’re doing a lot of development today, and it’s a lot of fun to talk about a growing organization in that fashion, but I also talk about our organization growing in terms of capability. (As) important to us as expanding, in terms of numbers, is our capability of continuing to improve.

Most of the answers are out there. It’s a matter of developing an environment that allows people to contribute, and if they know what the goals and objectives are, they’re going to have a much better opportunity to bring solutions to the table around different problems.

Communicate change, and then do it again. The most important thing that you can do in a changing environment is to communicate. Do it often and do it much more than you think you need to.

People want to feel connected to where the changes are going or where the company is going, and if you give them an opportunity to do that, not only does it reduce the anxiety around the unknown, it again engages them actively in helping the company to change as it might need to.

Work together to make decisions. I involve people in decision-making, yet I won’t spend a lot of time overanalyzing things.

I find if you want commitment around strategy and a particular action, then involving people that are going to be responsible for ultimately executing is very important so you get their buy-in and commitment and you get the desired outcome. It also helps you come to better solutions.

It’s a style issue, so first of all, you have to model it and you need to coach people in leadership positions within the organization to approach their business and their particular challenges in a similar way. If you’re involved in a meeting with somebody and you can witness or evaluate their particular style and how they’re approaching a situation, there’s opportunity then to perhaps give them coaching lessons.

Hire the right people. That’s one of the things I try to get at in the hiring process. If I find they have a style that allows them to approach their business in that way, they’re going to be much more successful in this organization and have a better opportunity to succeed than somebody who doesn’t.

I don’t know that there’s one thing you have to look for when hiring. It’s a lot of things that you put together, and it’s about trying to understand an individual’s character, discussing how they make decisions, how they work with people, talking about some experience they have had that might illustrate the processes they use. It’s information you collect from a lot of different places.

In the interview process, in particular, it’s good to have many people involved because you’ll get many different points of view and a much more balanced perspective on an individual at the end of the day, and amongst the interview group, you’ll be able to find those values you’re looking for or not.

Bring new hires up to speed. Any time you have an expanding organization, a couple of things happen. First of all, you bring people from outside the organization into your company, so in a growing environment like that, it’s a challenge to keep your culture intact and developing.

You need to take special care to not only hire the right people but then to make sure that they’re indoctrinated appropriately so that they know what kind of organization they’re working for and they, too, can step up to the values of the organization. Our values in our company are pretty simple.

Our core values of integrity, compassion and excellence are what we use to talk about the things that are important to our organization.

That’s a big part of our vernacular and a big part of the language we use to communicate with people and develop that culture.

There have been jobs I’ve had where I’ve started, and you kind of show up and start working. I like to give people exposure in a more formal way. You can call it training or orientation, if you will, but more formal exposure to the values of the company — what we’re all about as an organization, the company history — so that they have an opportunity to connect with the organization in a deeper way much quicker.

If you involve people in a rich enough way in what you’re trying to accomplish and why, they’ll have an opportunity to embrace that then and contribute much more quickly.

HOW TO REACH: Classic Residence by Hyatt, (312) 803-8800 or www.classicresidence.com