Building a team Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

While walking around the office one day, Peter Tibma heard an employee referring to cracks in the concrete as “settling.” The problem was that “settling” was not the correct term. So Tibma explained the right term to the employee, preventing a future miscommunication with a customer.

“Listening to your employees is critical to catching mistakes and to encourage,” says the chairman and CEO of Nohl Crest Homes Corp., which employs about 50 people.

Smart Business spoke with Tibma about how to create an open corporate culture and how not to get sucked into the blame game.

Q: How do you establish an open corporate culture?

Honey collects more flies than vinegar. I don’t want to be a business where we’re blame-dominated. So much of American society is blame-oriented. We do have that around here, but I try to get away from blame. We are people. If we do our work and mistakes are made, hey, we are people — if we are doing our job in a conscious way. If we aren’t, then we have a different story.

But, I don’t try to promote, ‘Go find something that somebody did wrong.’ That’s just the wrong way to live. It’s like raising children. When you were brought up, the best results weren’t to take you out and whip your ass. That just doesn’t bring the best answers. I believe in encouraging.

Through my life, I have found that people would rather work for reward rather than fear or punishment. The most important thing for an employee is not how they get paid, but the work atmosphere is very important. If you have a positive and fun work atmosphere, you are a lot more likely to get good folks and keep them.

Q: What do you look for in employees?

There are skills and attitudes. One of things I don’t want is a lot of turnover or job-jumpers. You see that in a resume, when they jump, jump and jump to job, job and job. I want loyalty, and I give it.

I do want a positive attitude. If somebody comes in, they’ve got rotten teeth, then I don’t want you. Sometimes appearance shows attitude if somebody doesn’t take care of themselves. At one time, I could stand up in front of the whole world, in my mind, and tell them we have the best construction superintendents in the world.

When I first started the business, I used to interview their wives, make sure they understood who they are going to go to work for. I wanted a commitment. As the business has grown, I can’t interview every person. I went into the homes so they knew me. The people look at you with confidence and trust. If they don’t, then they don’t do business with you.

Q: How do you handle mistakes?

We had a situation recently where, at the time to close the house, the customer points out that the microwave was installed in the wrong location. What I did was dug in and found what went wrong. In this case, I found the customer came along after we had given the set of directions, and we agreed to change the microwave location. Our process broke down.

I’m not going to get on my high horse, drag in the superintendent and berate him. My goal is to go to work on the process. We needed to review the process and find out where it broke down.

Now that it has shown there was a process breakdown, I’m going to give it to the people in charge of the process and say, ‘Let’s fix this so it doesn’t happen again.’

Q: What is a pitfall you try to avoid?

Never lie to your people. If you don’t operate with integrity, I could not live my life that way. I would never purposely lie to somebody.

You do have miscommunications and you do get into situations where you say, ‘How much do you say?’ That is a decision that everybody faces every day.

Q: Is it hard to always be honest with employees?

It’s part of life. Once again, we live in a blame society. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

That is one of the hardest things to deal with because you don’t have the truth. If we could just say the truth, we could just work so much better. There’s a real nice faucet going into a house, and the plumber couldn’t put it in. They blamed it on the faucet company. So, I dug into it, and I found the plumber just didn’t read the directions.

It took a lot of work. If he would have said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ OK, I don’t know what to do a lot of times, either. Let’s work together and figure it out.

HOW TO REACH: Nohl Crest Homes Corp., (813) 854-1850 or www.nohlcresthomes.com