Building people Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

An employee at Hisaw & Associates drops his wrinkled dollar bill into the pot and then timidly steps on to the scale to see if he’s lost any weight in the last week. He sees that he’s lost another 2 pounds since the last weigh-in, smiles and steps off.

It’s not some company policy requires employees to be a certain weight; rather, it’s a corporate challenge, based on the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser,” to encourage employees to be active and healthy. At the end of the challenge, whoever has lost the most weight gets all the money.

It’s just one initiative that President Kathryn Rehm Hisaw says has made a difference at the general contracting company. By encouraging and rewarding employees, she strives to make all 40 of them feel like family at Hisaw, which posted 2007 revenue of $120 million.

Smart Business spoke with Rehm Hisaw about how providing employee incentives, such as a trip to Las Vegas, makes people feel appreciated.

Get buy-in. It’s important to listen to people and hear what people have to say and be open. A lot of times, companies are not open to change and not open to listening to people in their own organizations. 

Let’s say it’s [an idea] in the accounting department. We discuss it in the accounting department at our weekly meeting, and we get the pros and cons, and I or [CEO] Richard Hisaw will ultimately make that decision. We don’t come out and say, ‘This is a new policy for Hisaw.’ We say, ‘Debbie has made this suggestion, and we think it’s a good policy, and we’ll try it.’

That gives people a self-worth of being part of the company and part of the team. People hate change. [But] if people feel they’re going to derive a better life, or something will make their work life better, that they’re going to become an intricate part of a company they’re proud of, they’ll change.

That’s part of just being a team. If they’re not going to do that upon knowing that, then they’re never going to change and never be part of the team.

Give people authority. One of the toughest things for people to do is delegate that power away from them. People are frightened to do that. 

If they start working with someone that’s going to be their protégé, and you take them as if they are your protégé, and you give them bits and pieces, and you test them, what also happens is you’re empowering them and giving them ability to make their own decisions. You’re giving them the ability, and they know that you trust them enough to make those decisions. Without that trust, they’re not going to be happy.

It almost allows them to feel they’re in a laissez faire leadership themselves because they feel they can be a leader for other people.

I don’t care how small the job may seem to a person from the outside looking in, every job we have is an intricate part, and nobody is insignificant. Everybody is a pertinent part of the machine that keeps us working.

Make people feel they matter. If it’s a birthday, we have a special cake for that person, and the office goes out to lunch together. In our best years, we match the 401(k) dollar for dollar and give profit-sharing and bonuses.

They become part of the company, and they know the profitability they create will equal bonuses. At Christmas, they all come to a party, and we do reverse gifts. Maybe you’ll get an ornament or a professional waffle iron. It could be anything, but the final name that is drawn out gets a trip, and, usually, it’s to Vegas for two nights, three days, airfare and $500.

It’s not just for department heads — it’s for Hisaw team employees, and they know everyone has an equal chance.

Those are the things that give people great satisfaction that they’re really appreciated. People are quick to call you and tell you how bad that is or how bad that is, and there’s a problem here, but the simple words of, ‘I really appreciate you — thank you so much,’ go a long, long way. We have some longevity here. Longevity is everything because longevity is also loyalty. That’s what gives you optimal growth and exceeds your break-even points and gives you your maximum profit.

Constantly communicate. Seventy percent of all the mistakes are due to communication or lack thereof — 70 percent.

Communication is everything. Once you have a structure, communication is so vitally important. Listen to your client. Hear what he has to say. Don’t prejudge it and think what he wants. Know what he wants and do it.

When we talk to our people, we are talking with our people because when we communicate, we often ask for feedback and we ask their opinion. Sometimes people are shy, and they don’t want to tell you, but as they work with you longer and longer, they will tell you, and that builds strength within a company.

That communication is really, really important. Some people have a breakdown, and that breakdown in communication breaks down the trust. Once it breaks down the trust, then it erodes wherever you’re at.

HOW TO REACH: Hisaw & Associates, (972) 380-4448 or