Brick by brick Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

For the last 20 years, Howard Tellepsen Jr. has been seeking professional help, not only for himself but for every employee in his company.

For Tellepsen, owner, chairman and CEO of Tellepsen Builders LP, this help comes in the form of an industrial psychologist who has become an essential member of the Tellepsen team.

This outsourced counselor performs compatibility tests with job candidates, facilitates team building and visits the company two days each month to help Tellepsen’s 345 employees manage personal and professional issues.

“It’s an ongoing commitment to have this industrial psychologist as a resource for our employees,” Tellepsen says.

The fourth-generation owned and operated construction company posted 2007 revenue of $283 million, and Tellepsen says that making a counselor available to employees has reinforced his company’s philosophy: Treat everyone with mutual trust and respect. He says this leads to a feeling of ownership, which fosters an atmosphere of empowerment.

Smart Business spoke with Tellepsen about how he builds the foundation for his company’s greatest asset — its employees.

Hire to fit your culture. We work closely with our industrial psychologist in terms of recruiting employees in the first place. Culture is very important here, and it’s based on values.

The most important value — mutual trust and respect — is how you treat your employees, and it’s how you get that same trust and respect from them in return. Mutual trust and respect is how you want them to conduct their business with the people they deal with internally and externally.

These tests that are given by our industrial psychologist have allowed us to identify people who have a high probability of fitting into our culture and growing with the company. We have very low turnover because we spend time on the front end making sure that we are the right culture for them. It’s important to make sure that employees are going to fit into our culture because our company was built in 1909, and our culture is well established.

When you have that kind of culture and you have employees who fit that culture, it makes it easier to be able to empower them because you can trust them. Somebody certainly might be smart enough to work here and they might have experience, but they may not be able to thrive in our culture.

When they understand the culture, it allows us to empower them to be responsible for their actions, and holding them accountable is part of the empowerment. You have the right people in the first place, and then they understand that’s how we function in terms of giving a lot of responsibility to the employees. We allow them to make decisions because we want them to take ownership and to be held accountable.

Don’t take chances. If an employee isn’t compatible with a company’s culture, especially when the company has a very strong culture, you risk a low-performing, unhappy employee, and that is not healthy to the rest of the employees. You then risk a short-term employee who does-n’t stay.

Try to make long-term decisions rather than short-term decisions. Our people are our most important asset, so it’s a long-term decision to spend that time on the front end having them test with our industrial psychologist. It’s a real investment.

You’re only as effective as your people. I don’t know how you could not make a long-term decision on your people because they are the ones who are representing you every single day to your clients. Your company becomes — in the eyes of your clients — who your employees are, how they conduct their business and how they treat their customers.

Provide opportunities for feedback. Employees appreciate the time that we’re taking on the front end, and then every single month, there’s an opportunity to see this industrial psychologist. Not every employee gets to see him each time he’s here, but we continue to provide that resource throughout their career at Tellepsen and show them that we have a caring environment.

Each session that employee has with our industrial psychologist is confidential, but if there are growth issues from a personal side or a business side and the employee gives the approval, the industrial psychologist will double back to the employee’s supervisor, and then all three of them will sit down and talk about it.

Having a counselor available to our employees provides another avenue for them to communicate their interests and share what’s on their mind. Over a period of time, a confidential environment is created where the employees are comfortable, and they feel that the company cares about them.

Use that information as a springboard. We translate input we receive from the industrial psychologist, and then during our annual evaluation with each employee, we discuss the employee’s development — what they would like to learn about and what areas they would like to grow in — and we establish a plan for them to take courses, attend seminars, go to conferences — whatever it takes for them to accomplish the agreed-upon growth issues that the company feels would be helpful for them.

This continuous process is reviewed on an annual basis to see how we’re doing, and that’s the accountability part. The company is accountable to the employee; we need to help them and give them the tools to continue to grow personally and professionally.

HOW TO REACH: Tellepsen Builders LP, (281) 447-8100 or www.tellepsen.com