Craig A. Kasper didn’t create the company culture at Hull & Associates Inc.
In fact, Kasper, the president and CEO at the development and engineering company that solves challenges related to land, energy and the environment, credits the company’s founder and chairman, John H. Hull, with instilling integrity and two-way trust. And, he says, his people keep it going.
But whether he wants to toot his own horn or not, Kasper has a role in keeping up that mentality with his roughly 200 employees, which, after a recent merger, are in seven offices. From forming an executive group that can have candid conversations to creating transparent systems for leadership transition, he finds ways to sharpen that integrity-based culture.
“All of our leaders are that way, and again, it’s about transparency, honesty and trust,” Kasper says. “It’s gone a long way, and the company has never really changed that.”
Smart Business spoke with Kasper about how you can create transition strategies people believe in and why you better know your plan before sharing it with others.
Create transition opportunities. About 10 years ago, we created an associate level where we bring people in, they have a different compensation package, different incentive package, (and) that’s the group that we mentor for future ownership and leadership. So we identify future leaders and owners out about three years and then we start mentoring them. And the closer they get, assuming everything goes well, they know they’re going to be a shareholder or in a new position at least 12 months before they’re actually there.
At both levels, associate and shareholder, you can go to our intranet and look up the dozen criteria that we look for — and they’re different, obviously. So anyone who feels compelled or worthy of being an associate can come to us and say, ‘Here’s my criteria, I feel like I’m ready.’
At the same time, we are actively trying to look for those people; we look for their performance, things like that. So we have the objective criteria and then, after that, the leadership team will sit back and say, does this person make the group better from a subjective viewpoint. And then, once they’re associates, the next step, they have another dozen criteria they can look at to become a shareholder — obviously the difference there is they actually have to invest in the company.
We started back when we had only six or seven shareholders and … we wanted to make sure we had transition, that we weren’t going to be one of these companies that didn’t prepare the next generation and, all of the sudden, there’s no one to take over our firm. So we stepped back and developed criteria, and through the years, it evolved.
Know your expectations for transition. You have to understand your goals. What are you trying to get out of transition? In our case, we developed our ownership structure so that we’re not trying to sell the company on the outside; we’re trying to turn it over to the people that work here, so understanding your goals is important.
The other one is culture. What’s your culture? We’re an extremely family-friendly company, we always have been. It’s important for anyone to understand their culture to decide what type they are developing and how comfortable are you in turning it over to them.
Build a group of leadership resources. I go to a leadership conference every year in New York City, and the person that puts it on came up with this acronym, DDMS — dysfunctional decision-making syndrome. His comment to all the CEOs was [that] you need to make decisions, you need to attack the issues and not to be careless, but sitting back and not addressing an issue is detrimental to your business. You need to put your group together, and you need to attack and evolve as quickly as you can.
The first thing is the CEO leadership team. They’re my resources, and we’re all peers when we’re in there. We meet six times per year, and it really helps us, me, to deal with the issues.
There are about eight of us on it, and just having the two-way trust allows you to sit there and effectively battle the issues and come out with a resolution. You have to trust someone enough that you can constructively say what you need to say and they can say the same thing back to you.
We have a board of directors that really focuses on the big decisions. What I needed was more of a boots-on-the-ground-type group, so our COO is on it and our CFO, so that takes care of pretty much all of our operations. Our founder is on it, and then our director of development. And then we have four markets that we’re in, and each one of those market leaders is on my team also.
Fully explain your direction. At a minimum, I do two town meetings a year, one in February (and) one in July, and they focus on the previous year’s performance and where we’re going in the future. With the economy being so tough the last 18 months, I do a lot of communications every month or so to let employees know how we’re combating the economy.
It gets back to being able to trust the help around you. ... It’s just like being in front of a client; it’s important to be in front of the employees so they feel you’re connected with them.
Some of the cost-cutting measures that we’ve done have not affected the employees. We’ve not reduced health benefits or 401(k)s, salaries, so being able to not change their life while we’re going through this time. But it’s telling them things that are going to happen: We’re going to reduce our marketing, and we’re going to change things that may not impact them directly … but if they see it, they’re wondering if they are next. What’s really important is they’re keeping real busy bringing in work. As long as people are busy they feel secure. It’s when they’re sitting around thinking about, ‘Well, what am I working on now?’ that they get worried.
How to reach: Hull & Associates Inc., (614) 793-8777 or www.hullinc.com