Solid foundation Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

After separating from his business partner in 1999, Bernd “Bernie” Ronnisch found he had underestimated the effort and knowledge it took to manage people. Ronnisch Construction Group, with 2006 revenue of more than $50 million, was experiencing a lot of turnover, so Ronnisch began to hire people based strictly on the skills on their resumes, “thinking, if they can build a building, I’ll work along with the quirks of their personality,” says the company’s president. “That never worked.”

Then about four years ago, the company established core values and began making decisions that reflected those values.

“We hire and fire based on those core values,” Ronnisch says. “We’ve hired the right people. We don’t have the turnover we had.”

Smart Business spoke with Ronnisch about how establishing core values and making decisions that reflect those has helped his company succeed.

Q: How do you handle problems?

As a leader, it’s my duty to look at the company from 30,000 feet above, look down on it and think to myself, ‘What are my goals as a company? When people say Ronnisch Construction Group, what do you want people to think?’

We have a core value, and it’s called, ‘United we stand.’ There were many companies I worked for where everybody toed the company line until they got out in the parking lot. Then it is this cancerous conversation that took place that undermined everything that we just sat through in a meeting. There were just under-currents and a cancer running through the organization. The management didn’t even know about it, so they couldn’t react to it.

So, we try to have open and honest communication. If someone has an issue with something, let’s air it out. Let’s sit in a conference room and fix it. We leave the room saying, ‘That’s resolved. Now I don’t have to speak badly.’

We ended up getting rid of an individual that would call up and tell everyone what his bonus was and how they were going to get laid off or just stir bad karma. We warned him once. He was a great employee in one way, really performed on the job, but the cancer was terrible. We warned him once. The next time I had a cab waiting for him.

He found another job, called me up five months later and told me it was the best thing anybody had ever done for him. It made him realize that he actually did that.

Q: How do you know if potential employees will fit in?

You have to take a leap of faith, but you are putting it on the table for them to show. One of our core values is, ‘Family comes first.’ If a guy is a philanderer and doesn’t do well with his family, then he’ll probably second-guess about the position.

If accountability is an issue, and he knows he’s a procrastinator, and he doesn’t get things done when he’s supposed to, he may not accept the position.

What you are doing is putting it out there from Day One. You aren’t trying to scare them with it. You are just saying, ‘Hey, I’m sure you can do your job, but you just may not fit in here. If you can’t fit in, you’re not going to stay here.’

Q: How do you handle failure?

You don’t ever want to chastise somebody for making a mistake if the decision was well thought out, and they took the initiative to make the decision. If you chastise and criticize, you will contaminate that person forever.

If they have confidence, then you destroy some of the confidence in their ability to make decisions in the future. You can sit them down and say, ‘What were you thinking?’

But, on the same token, you have to give some positive reinforcement to that mistake. Mistakes are made in our business every day. Some of them cost nothing, and some of them cost a lot. If the decision was well thought out, and you can understand the logical nature of that decision, then there are no issues. If the decision made was off the cuff and more made on emotion than thought, then I have an issue. That’s where you have to sit down with them and say, ‘I think this is where you went astray.’ Maybe bring them back down to basics and try to build them back up that way.

Q: What’s one thing a leader should never do?

Adopt a management style that doesn’t fit your personality. It will always be trying, unnatural, and people pick up on it, and I don’t think you can excel.

You read all these management books, and everybody has a way to manage people. I think you can take bits and pieces to help establish who you are and how you manage. To try to fit the square peg into the round hole does not work.

HOW TO REACH: Ronnisch Construction Group, (248) 549-1800 or